Children of Chaos


In the Preface to his Unweaving The Rainbow Richard Dawkins wrote:

‘A foreign publisher of my first book confessed that he could not sleep for three nights after reading it, so troubled was he by what he saw as its cold, bleak message….A teacher from a distant country wrote to me reproachfully that a pupil had come to him in tears after reading the same book, because it had persuaded her that life was empty and purposeless.’

Dawkins continues: ‘My colleague Peter Atkins begins his book The Second Law in this vein:

‘We are the children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.’

(Dawkins again) ‘…..Presumably there is indeed no purpose in the ultimate fate of the cosmos, but do any of us really tie our life’s hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway?……Our lives are ruled by all sorts of closer, warmer, human ambitions and perceptions. To accuse science of robbing life of the warmth that makes it worth living is… preposterously mistaken …..’

But there is a major paradox or contradiction in what Dawkins is saying there. If there is a warmth that makes life worth living and if materialist science does not investigate, contain and express that warmth as part of its world-understanding, then it is partial, incomplete and misleading. Certainly in the terms that Dawkins proposes it, we don’t go about intellectually tying our hopes to the ultimate fate etc. On the other hand why does he think that his ‘cold bleak message’ had the effects he describes in the opening paragraph? The fact is that it is hardly possible to overestimate the depth and complexity of the human being and how far that being radiates into the cosmos and receives back from other beings. To be told, as our present culture and education largely tell us, that we just happen to be alive in an otherwise dead cold empty meaningless purposeless universe has its effects. Teenagers are committing suicide. Pervasive materialism and the powers that stand behind it are part (I only say, part) of the cause.

I remind us of the Peter Atkins quote again:

‘We are the children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.’

Atkins is a Professor of chemistry, author of books on the subject, and an active atheist. His book The Second Law is subtitled ‘Energy, Chaos and Form’ and was published by Scientific American. I trust that he has had better luck with the molecules than he has had with more subtle matters.

From the thirties to the fifties there were certain existentialist philosophers who thought life was meaningless and absurd. Nevertheless, they said, we are Man, and, despite the meaninglessness, it is our distinction to choose to be moral and display courage in face of the dreadful facts. That was what they thought. They expressed it articulately. They had a perfect right to their opinions and to state them. It came under the heading of philosophy. One could disagree totally or in detail. There could be, and was, debate.

What then are we to think of persons who present their thoughts, their opinions (i.e. expression of soul-condition) as fact, as the only logical, totally unavoidable, necessary conclusions of the work of science? Not philosophy, not part of a debate: the cyclotronic goddam facts, buster. What else can one say but that, whatever the range of cultural quotation they may affect, they do not know their way about in the world of thought. They are not taking part in discourse: from their pinnacles atop the heap of discarded dictaphones, Geiger counters, oscilloscopes and eeg machines, they are telling us.

When Atkins says things like: ‘We are the children of chaos…at root there is only corruption’, it could be taken as poetic philosophising or rhetoric. Fair enough. It can’t be accepted as a statement of facts supposedly arising out of meticulous research. As poetic, it expresses where he is as a being. He is in the abyss; does not sound as if he intends to cross it; probably, in fact, been happy to set up home and laboratory there.

It will mean nothing to such exponents of amoral intellect – which is what ‘dispassionately’ means here – to know that for thousands of years it would have been plainly understood, as rebellion, as a disgrace, for a person of intellectual power to come into contact with those forces, ‘chaos’ (for short), that seek to undo and disrupt humanity in its evolution and to ally oneself with them. Real people do not allow meaning and value to be wiped out of them. Rather with the energy that meaning and value engender, and by willingness to endure, they forge and hone themselves in the furnace; under the pressure of what is, after all, an attack.

‘The deep structure of change is decay’. Well, in nature, the deep structure is growth and renewal in which decay plays a part. We are not ‘the children of chaos’. Drink possibly, but not chaos. ‘Gone is purpose’. But in fact many human beings are deeply imbued with purpose: so that isn’t true. ‘All that is left is direction’: in his context that has no meaning. It’s just a phrase. If there’s no purpose, there’s no direction. ‘We peer deeply into the heart of the Universe’. Many scientists make similar ‘peering deeply’ statements. What they mean is – with the help of the machines, we have taken matter apart and all we have found are ultra-temporary little whizzing things that cost fifty million bucks just to have a quick look at. That’s what he means. And he has the nerve to come on to the public stage with this trash, this inchoate subhuman mumbling of a limping darkened mind.

Meaninglessness, emptiness, chaos are qualities of a place, a spiritual place. It exists. It doesn’t mean that’s all there is. It can happen to be where a person is at the moment.

A large number of the intellectual portion of humanity has reached the place of unmeaning, willy nilly; not as a result of personal karma merely, but of the karma of our time in the general unfolding. The tragedy of the distance between what the material intellect is capable of seeing and what we and the world actually are and need, is now one of the major themes of present and future history. The condition in human beings that expresses itself as atheist materialism was very rare before, say 1800; was not that common then and only really became at all widespread in late nineteenth and on into our times. Part of the incalculably monstrous arrogance of the materialists is that their position forces them to think that all humanity before Darwin, and most of humanity now, are compared to them, deluded infants. Freud said as much in The Future of an Illusion.

What connection is there between the amoral intellect of the materialists and the abject cooperation of scientists and technicians with Government, Military and Business? A country whose poets and artists collaborated so readily would be despised throughout the world. Yet materialist science is presented as the highest and most important activity of the human mind.

Peter Atkins’ use of the word ‘dispassionately’ has to be questioned from another angle. Dispassionate is not what the propagandist materialist scientists are (I know there are other kinds). They are part of an elite. Their productions have altered the world. They work daily with machines than can do amazing things, machines that routinely cost anything from a quarter of a million to many millions of dollars. They work continually at full stretch, intent, night and day, for years. They have a direction, a purpose: to take apart everything in the world and remodel it as they wish, as asked, as paid to.

This is not dispassionate; it is high octane power. It is comparable only to the top level of politics at certain times, or to the intensity of artists. It is consuming, it is hypnotic, it is driven. Very hard to give up. What! And become an ordinary person? The effects of working with terrific intensity through the medium of the unredeemed intellect are, can only be, dehumanizing. It reinforces and takes to the highest pitch the already given alienation. Robert Oppenheimer’s statement about working on the A-bomb is well-known: ‘It was a technically sweet problem’.

But there was no avoiding this. We human beings have been gradually over many centuries led out of our immersion in nature which we saw and felt in very different ways in older times. That immersion took place along with the inflowing inspirations of the gods, the felt presence of spiritual beings at work. This is what the cry of the modern pagans is about, the desire to go back in time, to when we were flowed into and guided. That is how the great civilisations were able to rise with their magnificent arts and architecture, and complex social organization. Quite frankly, when we look at what they left us, what we are seeing is, in many ways, the work of the gods.

This is not how it is now. We are no longer connected in the old way. The last few centuries have seen a phenomenal increase in personal intellectual power, growing awareness of individuality, and a deepening inwardness of the personality. We do not make the spirit conditions of the time we find ourselves in: that is the evolving work of the gods. And the present given spirit condition presents the necessity of standing naked in the face of darkness and, with one’s own courage and tenacity, find truth, love and meaning; engender and secure them in oneself. The real danger that this involves is a condition of our freedom.

We are only at the beginning of this stage of our unfolding. It is awesome. It is terrifying. It is a hell of a lot to be asked to do. People sense that and shrink back, That is why a very great deal of the vast and varied complexity of what we get up to on the planet can be summed up in only two words: running and hiding. Hide in the gadgets, hide in the ‘music’, hide in the sects, in the tribe, in the nation; in the dope, the booze. So great is the desire to hide I believe people would hide up their own ass if it was possible.

Poetry , Prose and Sparkle, Assassin