Mar 13, 2021

Order the Chaos

Order the Chaos

Order the Chaos

Nathan King

With a comforting mug of coffee at your side, your morning at the office starts quietly with a plan to work towards clear deliverables. And then your boss walks in unexpectedly. An interruption would be bad enough, but she quickly explains something needed from you. It’s a project bigger than the entire day. Your plan is eviscerated instantly. 

Your confidence sinks. Your priorities, the ones you chose and hoped to accomplish, now feel out of reach. Life feels out of control.

The Risk of Chaos

The mental experience is chaotic, and that’s not overstating the case. Disruption brings you to an encounter with chaos, one of the two most fundamental elements of life. It strikes everywhere:

  • Your valuable customer fires you, turning the cash flow projection upside down and initiating a crisis.

  • Your child gets sick the day of the important interview, shelving a new opportunity because you must stay home. 

Encounters with chaos can lead to a mindset that you aren't capable, that there is no point. Instead of living an active life of development, if you succumb to it, you live a passive one tainted with futility.

It Goes Waaay Back

We see chaos and order confront each other in every religious tradition and every society. In the Bible, God brings form (order) out of the formless (chaos) in Genesis 1. We read it in Greek myths. Odysseus, wholly committed to order, ties himself to the mast to keep himself from doing something wrong.[1]

On an individual level in modern life, order shows up as routines, habits, goals. But we inevitably encounter chaos: the unexpected events, the interruptions, the demands of others who hold sway over our lives. Will we give up and hide from it by not putting ourselves out there, by not daring to make an effort? 

If so, we accept the order someone else imposes on us. We experience less meaning. Our free time goes towards consumption: movies, shows, doom scrolling Twitter. 

The tricky part is that chaos has an upside. “Chaos is the domain of unlimited possibility,” Jordan Peterson says.

Because outside of what you know, is everything you don’t know. And there’s untold riches to be gathered from the domain of everything you don’t know.

It takes you out of yourself and leads to growth. 

Chaos and Order in Modern Life

These two categories of existence are so massive that they have public policy implications. In that circle, they are better known as “rules vs discretion.” An activity becomes regulated to protect the imposition of too many rules on a class of people, or the opposite: an activity becomes regulated to impose order on how an activity is carried out. 

The problem is that humans pathologize our approach to order and chaos, or rules vs discretion, according to Peterson. He argues[2] that we see an inevitable reaction to the human tendency to pathologize chaos and order. Conservatives embrace order, and are suspicious of liberal policies focused on discretion. Liberals are dubious of conservatives’ approach to setting too many rules. Conservatives fear the pathology of chaos. Liberals recoil from the pathology of order. 

It must be a daily battle for us to join the chaos and seek order. Indeed, a healthy approach to order inevitably leads us into chaos to contend with it. 

The right question for us is: how much of each will add up to an optimally meaningful life?

On an individual level, setting a goal becomes a rule that your internal governor binds you to follow. Inherently, adhering to a goal will require more of you than options allow. As a result, you must say no to some things because of the one thing you are pursuing. 

The Imperative for Order

A fundamental level of order is necessary, however. It is essential to the human condition. We are flawed creatures. Aristotle asserted that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We examine ourselves in order to understand. We can't understand unless we apply categories or structure to our lives: our personal narrative. Without self-examination, you unravel. With it, you impose order over your life.

It must be clear in what direction we are going, or else we will drift according to the winds and forces in the environment. A limited set of outcomes must always be in sight for us, which leads us to self-examination. This is what makes goals so powerful, and routines and habit cultivation so vital to a well-lived life. 

Chaos intrudes on us all. It brings destruction and possibility. It is normal that you face it and struggle with it. Do as the Genesis story outlines when God instructs his newly minted people on how to manage the earth: “Subdue it, and have dominion over” every thing.


[1] Michael Munger on Desires, Morality, and Self-Interest. Econtalk Podcast. Russ Roberts interviews Michael Munger. March 1, 2021. Roberts offered to Odysseus example during the conversation. The comments on “rules vs discretion” come from Munger’s comments during the podcast In the discussion they bring up Aristotle and discuss the quote I mention above.

[2] Jordan Peterson on Rules for Life, Psychedelics, The Bible, and Much More. The Tim Ferriss Show Podcast. March 1, 2021.




I help leaders and teams achieve clarity and alignment so they can reach their potential


Sign up for my newsletter and I will send you a Life Review and Planning Guide to help you create a better future.

© King Strategic Consulting, LLC 2023