Why We Need To Talk About Order and Chaos Today
The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College
Elle Rogers is on the Interregnum Committee as the Academic Coordinator
Order & Chaos marks our fifteenth Interregnum, and it’s a timely theme.
This year, we hope to identify and practice together the disciplines that build properly-ordered lives. Habit formation may not immediately spring to mind when considering a theme like order and chaos, but it is something that defines Interregnum.
Indeed, the rhythms of Interregnum – the debating, the late-night prepared lecture writing sessions and early-morning performing arts practices, the brainstorming over which historical figure could feasibly have introduced Abraham Lincoln in 1838 – are not constrained within a theme for practicality’s sake. Instead, they point towards larger, defining questions.
It’s not difficult to find the questions latent in a theme like order and chaos. The Interregnum Committee listed several of them in our introductory email yesterday.
King’s teaches us to engage with the tension between tradition and innovation, to appreciate spontaneous order even as we look carefully for structure and consistency in human nature. Our curriculum breeds familiarity with Hayek, Publius, and Aristotle’s thoughts on these topics.
Consider the theme for a minute more, however, and the questions these men raise hit closer to home. We are justifiably dismayed by the Twitter-induced incivility that characterizes political and social discourse, and are left concerned for our communities by policies that perpetuate dehumanizing conditions and reward self-aggrandizement.
Certainly, the tumult could be described as chaotic.
The same could be said of the once-familiar institutions that the #MeToo movement has exposed as being operated by cruel and morally bankrupt leaders. How can the natural order depicted in Genesis be consistent with a context in which Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and an ever-growing list of spiritual leaders delude audiences just long enough to violate those who trust them?
This is the world in which we find ourselves here in New York City. It is a world that often leaves us exhausted, isolated, and confused, looking for radical solutions.
It is also a world that has consequences for our own campus. Life at King’s has felt awfully chaotic at points.
For large parts of my time here, I have kept a regular sleep schedule of 3:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., dealt with anxiety that keeps me awake at night, and poured so much time into attempting to be “the best” that classes and relationships have become second (or third or fourth) priority. If I told you that I almost lost one of the people closest to me because I cared more about student leadership than my other commitments, you might not believe me, but pride has a way of disordering our priorities.
And yet, what Augustine called the “tranquility of order” is available.
As the Interregnum Committee, we selected order and chaos as our theme not merely because turmoil is apparent, but because proper ordering is an end that supersedes it. If Plato is correct (and I have been known to believe that he is), the just city is preceded by the just soul; there is a right arrangement to our loves and passions and beliefs that approximates the character of Christ.
This arrangement shapes us just as it transforms the spaces we inhabit. When undertaken properly, it renders our homes, offices, and churches – and maybe even our Houses, orgs, and classes – as communities that look more like the city of God. When understood this way, our interaction with ourselves is better described as self-examination than self-care, and is always pointed towards the transformational shaping of those around us.
But such internal order requires that we practice the right habits. If Dr. Johnson is correct (and we have all been known to believe that he is), what we know and love is in large part determined by what we do. Disciplines like reading and writing aid us in understanding course material just as disciplines like debate, acting, and speaking aid us in the process of interpretation.
The idea is that our rhythms orient us towards lives of humility even when our desires tend towards self-aggrandizement.
Despite its competitive context, Interregnum offers our community a forum for discussing and embodying formative practices and ideas. Mia Chiba’s performance of Malala’s Nobel acceptance speech and Drew Hepler’s final debate are not merely calls to excellence, but modes of learning something about who we are and who we could become.
When we engage in this way, we upset the orders and power structures around us, pointing instead towards an order of empathy and serious-minded inquiry.
This is the idea that drives our academic and extracurricular structures.
It is in the assignments I completed for professors who saw and continue to see me for who I could become, events I planned with best friends I never expected to meet, and the meals I continue to share with all of them that I have begun to see proper order, both in myself and in the fact that our lives intersected at just the right time.
King’s will celebrate its nineteenth year in Manhattan later this fall, and it is no mistake that Interregnum has been a part of our story for three quarters of that time.
At its best, Interregnum, like King’s, asks us to confront defining questions and chaotic realities with one another in ways that leave us and the institutions around us changed. It demands that we become interlocutors in a great conversation that brings us in accord with tranquility and prepares us for the city to come.
In a world of Harvey Weinsteins, to be an interlocutor is perhaps most radical of all.