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Order vs. Chaos in the Flow of Events

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Are the events that unfold in our lives, and in our world, part of an order or a function of chance? (Or, of course, some of each.)

The question of "order" has many dimensions. At the highest level, it could be the order embedded in the notion that everything that happens is according to "God's plan." This embraces the bewildering array of the happenings we see within the ordering principle of PURPOSE: not just any purpose, but a good and moral purpose. Even if we cannot SEE how things fit together, according to this belief, we can rest in the assurance that it all happens for a good reason.

I have never been able to see things this way. If there is a God, and if God has a purpose, I suspect that this order is not powerful enough to determine completely the flow of history. I tend to regard this particular form of "seeing things whole" as a manifestation of people's believing what they want or need to believe. But, then again, I know I cannot be sure about things of this sort.

Another large ordering idea is the idea of "karma." This idea has already been interestingly broached and discussed in the comments on the first installment here ("SEEING THINGS WHOLE: Introducing a New Project," at click here This is the idea that each soul goes through many lives, and that its destiny is governed by a kind of "as you sow, so shall ye reap" kind of justice. "Karma" does not (as far as I understand it) contain the same purposeful, governing kind of order as the idea of God's plan. But it does provide a MORAL PATTERN to the flow of events.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the perception of events as permeated by disorder, a sequence in which random things come forth out of a cosmos governed by chance. "History is one damned thing after another," as someone (apparently the much-quoted Anonymous) said. Or, to (almost) quote a famous bumper-sticker, "Forrest Gump Happens."

I expect we can explore this question of how much or how little "higher level order" there is in the unfolding of events in history and our lives.

In the meanwhile, I want to reflect on some of the kinds of patterns and interconnections in human events that are (to some extent) visible to me, and that I also find meaningful. I don't know much about purpose, but I do see patterns operating in history. For one thing, the central thesis of my "Concept of Evil" essay is that the traditional religious notion that forces of good and evil battle for control in human history is a valid and important insight. But I also find it meaningful to contemplate smaller frameworks within which patterns and connections operate in history.

Here's but one --at that more modest level-- that has lately stirred my mind.


Consider the pattern made by all the connections implied by the statement, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped bring about the American Civil War.”

For that to happen –for so large an effect to be contributed to so meaningfully by words on a page—such a vast array of many ripples must have moved out from that source.

From the mind and heart and imagination of Harriet Beecher Stowe, to the distribution of the book, to the tipping point into the book's widespread popularity, to the impact of those words on the thoughts and feelings of many people, and onward from there to the book’s influence on how those people converse with their friends, on how they view political issues, on how they vote.


I believe that it is in contemplating such matters of the workings and texture of history --such as this instance of the way in which the imagination of Harriet Beecher Stowe produced ripples into the wider society that contributed to a cataclysmic wave of historical transformation-- that the way gets opened to seeing some of the still-vaster patterns embedded in human history.


I plan to continue exploring ways in which patterns and connections operate in history. And I invite you to share any thoughts and specific examples you think might contribute to such exploration.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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