On Not Staying Stuck in Disorder

Over the past three weeks, Richard Rohr explored his longtime framework of order, disorder, reorder as the fundamental cycle of the cosmos — the cycle that we’re all invited to participate in as people, as citizens, and as creatures sharing a common planetary home.

There’s much that struck and stuck with me from that exploration, but one of the ideas that’s been most persistent is that going through disorder is essential (“there’s no direct flight from order to reorder,” as Richard often says), but staying in disorder is harmful.

As a society and as a species, we’re reckoning with a lot of disorder right now. We’re sick of our politics, our economics, our culture, and our history (at least as we’ve learned and inherited and continued to live into it).

But we also seem badly stuck — and many of our modes and media of discourse are actively and/or structurally keeping us there.

As Tanner Greer wrote in June, summarizing Marc Andreessen,

In the 21st century, the main question in American social life is not “how do we make that happen?” but “how do we get management to take our side?” This is a learned response, and a culture which has internalized it will not be a culture that “builds.”

I won’t be the first person to observe that it’s much, much easier to tear down, brush off, or grandstand in 280 characters than it is to build, engage, or empathize. But the cynicism that comes from staying in disorder is badly corrosive.

One of the great insights in design thinking is that the way forward is prototyping and iterating. This is extremely hard to do at scale: to pick an edge case, we can’t “fail forward” by amending the Constitution every month, even if that were politically possible.

But prototyping and iterating should be possible at smaller and more local levels, and I expect that’s where we’ll begin to see solutions emerge. We may never get a federal law about who can and cannot be bronzed, but lots of cities are taking long, hard, overdue looks at who their streets are named after and who’s been put up on pedestals.

Ultimately, the problem with endless critique and disorder — with trying to get management to take our side — is that, in a democracy, we are the management. Of course we have leaders, elected and not, but the system is premised on the ideas that they come and they go, and we should change them if they’re not taking us where we want to go.

So critique away. Just remember that the point of critique is to make room to create something better.

[This being 2020, I need to acknowledge the privilege argument here. Yes, it’s easy to say “Isn’t it time we just moved on?” from the safety and leisure of my desk. But I don’t mean to say that, in a few short months or years, we’ve all identified or confronted all the problems with the old order, so it’s time to just hustle along. Hardly: we’re still being called to our senses, and I expect — and hope — that will go on for a while. My point is that prophetic work is helpful, but piling on is not. Sooner or later, we’ll need people to build a future we can all live in.]