What I am about to say is obvious: all attempts at bringing order to our universe are designed to respond to the reality of randomness. In simplified form: we gather our socks, new and old, put them in a drawer and name it our sock drawer. We have taken physical action in time and space, located and named something in practice and place. (cute, a little rhyme, I couldn’t help myself). Clearly, we seem designed to discover and or to create order. But how do we know the difference. There are so many more dots of random information than we can connect and so many more patterns of information stitched together than we can possibly count, how do we know which patterns are there waiting for discovery, and how many we have created out of our need and ability to create orderly patterns. And why should the answer to that particular question make any difference?
One of the areas where it makes a difference is in the religious stories we tell ourselves. That simple statement can be heard by a fundamentalist of any religion as an attack on that religion. The use of the word “stories” unavoidably brings the universality of the truth of the story into question. Notice, though, that more often than not, that word, when applied to a competing “religious story” will not generate the same degree of passion as when it is applied to my core belief. When in the fundamentalist position on any question of core belief: religious, political, academic, philosophic or social I see myself as an instrument of the truth and my personal identity, the way I understand myself in the world is at stake.
Currently, in this country at this time, the political left wing is as fundamentalist in its stridency as anyone clamoring on the political right. Eric Hoffer in The True Believer makes the point (if my memory does not deceive me) that in pre-WWII Germany the conversion of Communists to Fascists and vice versa was easier than any other kind of political conversion. Why? Because the need to be an instrument of the truth is personality driven; it is a role of central significance for some people, and for those who are so constructed a life without some absolute, inviolable truths cannot be imagined.
Which brings me back to the beginnings of this piece. For those of us who suspect that it is our need and ability to create stories out of the dots of information that surround and inhabit us that gives us our sense of meaning and direction the need to embrace our story lines with murderous passion does not exist. Whether or not anyone else has interest in my particular story line is of little significance to me. To the degree that they are interested in understanding me, they would find it helpful. But there is nothing necessary to believe. Animals and plants may be able to live without concern in what I call the randomness of the universe but human beings cannot. We need a sock drawer to turn to, especially when we find that solitary renegade on the closet floor.