“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order- and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.”
-Douglas R. Hofstadter
I proposed in my piece The Desert of Nihilism and the Throne of God that the different forms of religion (animism, polytheism, monotheism, etc) evolved over time as we began to conceptualize different elements of the world.
Arthur C. Clarke said, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” but here we could say “any sufficiently novel mental experience is indistinguishable from the divine.” The first settlers in the “new world” were greeted as gods, after all, and this miscalculation on the behalf of the native peoples was as excusable as it was fatal.
Divinity, then, seems to be something like the realm of the unexplained. God lives hidden beyond the gaps in our knowledge, and so long as we remain blissfully ignorant, we can attribute the motions and workings of the unknown to the divine.
Unfortunately for us, if you’ve ever heard any of the many renditions on how we got here in the first place, you’re likely familiar with the fact that humans are pretty damn bad at remaining blissfully ignorant. We have a taste for forbidden fruit, we like taking fire from errant titans, and even Pandora couldn’t help celebrating Boxing Day entirely wrong.
Thanks for nothing.
So, we fall into the world of time. Death looms heavy on the darkened horizon, as we labor in the dust from whence we came and are yet fated to return to. We are born in pain, live in pain, and die in pain, and so it goes.
However, the sorry state of things here has not stopped us from continually seeking to know the hidden truths of the world. You would think we’d have learned our lesson, yet here we are.
I’ve made the (rather silly) metaphor before, but it’s a bit like perennial classic The Cat in the Hat. Our parents (re: God) have left (re: died) and now we’re home alone with our pet fish, who is exceptionally boring and straight-laced (re: conservative thought). Now, unfortunately, the Fish is the voice of reason, but like many a voice of reason, he’s not particularly convincing when his idea of reasonable solutions is to sit in a quiet room, touching nothing, simply to avert a possible disaster.
Unfortunately for our Fish (and those with fish-like inclinations), something wicked this way comes, pussyfooting around and generally ruining a nice fun day of safely doing nothing for an indefinite period of time. The Cat in the Hat, here a metaphor for the unrelenting primordial forces of chaos that arise from the abyss that lies in the subconscious of all bored children and social science grad students, has come to cry havoc and let slip Things 1 and 2 (re: progressive thought.)
In this metaphor, after the death of God, the children basically fail to stick with the traditions kept by the Fish, who echoes the parents. The Fish, of course, lives in a fish-bowl, which is effectively a sheltered microcosm of a primordial world- he is, of course, not related to the adventurous fishes that risked flopping on the shore like a real asshole for the sake of growing legs.
The Fish is the sheltered world of eternal childhood! His is the belief that one can stay there by avoiding any sort of novelty or fun, because we all know that fun is the hook by which the devil snares us on his infernal fishing rod- wait, no, that’s just the natural fear of a fish… you get the gist.
The point here is that while we may like to conceptualize a perfect socio-cultural fishbowl of our own design where kids don’t ever do anything interesting or listen to rock music, reality proves that there is always a Cat, sometimes in a Hat, who is certainly coming to fuck your shit up…
Thus comes the Cat, bringer of wrath. Chaos enters the house not long after God leaves it, and mischief abounds. The Cat is a bit of a neutral force here, as Chaos itself seems to be, but those spawned of Chaos, Things 1 and 2, are certainly forces for bad.
This is a salient point- Chaos itself is a force, but just as rain can flood a town, it also waters crops. The Cat himself is a pseudo-divinity, some sort of trickster god, but the Things are his Dionysian cultists, here serving as a black mirror of the children and the chaos that lives within them.
The children initially outsource their morality between the Fish, who is wholly against the possibility of ever doing anything new, and the Cat, who does as he damn well pleases. However, from the interplay between the Fish and the Cat we’re able to fall into Time and the world of changes- the boring house becomes the stage for a morality play, and the children are able to see cause and effect as Chaos and Order begin their strange dance.
Then, the Things are let out of a suspicious looking box. If there is anything we can learn from mythology or the movie Se7en, it’s that no, you don’t want to know what’s in the box.
The Things are the first conceptualization that the children have of what happens if they were to follow the chaos brought by the Cat. Through the other, they are capable of seeing themselves as independent actors with moral culpability, and thus it is not the Cat who ultimately restrains them, but the boy in the story. The masculine ordering force which accepts responsibility is the thing which subdues the agents of Chaos and turns the story around.
From here, the Cat seems defeated in his demeanor, but he submits and thus returns to serve the children, reciprocating the show of responsibility. He comes back with the gift of technology, a cleaning-machine, and helps the children set things right.
What’s the takeaway?
Chaos arises from the stagnant. Our conservative inclinations are well-intentioned but as useless against the inevitable unforseeable chaos as a fish in a bowl. Chaos is neutral and likely necessary, but that which serves chaos is no bueno, and we must meet chaos with responsibility and establish order to combat it. Once order is established, we gain knowledge and technology from our understanding, and for a time, chaos is subdued.
The kids become a bit more like their parents having met, faced, and conquered chaos.
It seems that God leaves empty rooms for us to explore and cats for us to grapple with, and perhaps as we continue delving further into the mysteries of the world, we may find a room where we’ll meet.
Until then, be wary of cats and those that serve them.