Until we know the shape of something, we cannot begin to understand what it might be or what it might mean. It is in the boundaries, the borders, and the identity of something that we find meaning, purpose, and structure. When the mind has no such boundaries the result is madness. The same applies to societies.
We know that children, particularly teenagers – despite huge resistance – require boundaries in order to feel safe enough to explore the process of their becoming. Societies, systems, and nations are the same because without the basis of order nothing is certain and in the madness of all things being possible, things become impossible.
This is not to say that boundaries (which are our beliefs, traditions, practices) should not change or be redrawn, but that removing them quickly is disorienting and dangerous. Where do we fall when there is nothing to fall against? What stops us from tumbling into some abyss when there is no defined border?
The famous poem by Yeats touches upon the need for the centre to hold. Yeats reminds us why it is important that some things hold fast in order to retain a semblance of order, without which there is chaos. The poem reflects our age where we are tearing down the structures of the past at a sickening pace, leaving individuals and society vulnerable, like some crab that has discarded its shell and now creeps, soft, weak, piteously defenceless until a new carapace can be grown; until a defined, protective border is in place.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Second Coming – William Butler Yeats
We may not value many things which we have inherited from the past, but we should recognise that the fact they have been handed down means they are important in ways we do not understand.
In every act of destruction of the past, whether statues, gender roles, political systems, traditions, we are removing the borders which have helped keep our world in place. Defined beliefs like armour which preserve and protect, and which can be removed slowly, in small steps. But, where if too much is discarded too quickly, we risk everything.
And when we tinker with things we do not understand we unleash demons beyond imagining and believe that anything can and should be possible, or acceptable then we open ourselves and our world to much we may not have imagined. As the maxim has it – be careful what you wish for.
‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’ are the words from ancient Hindu scripture, which Robert Oppenheimer quoted when he realised what had been created. There are more ways to create an atomic bomb than the literal.
The pace of change in the Western world, in particular over the past century, has been faster than ever before. We humans have evolved over many thousands of years with certain beliefs that have underpinned our societies. While there can and should be variations on those themes, there are basics that form the glue holding society together. One of which is that there are males and females and they come together in committed unions and create life so humanity may endure. Another is that there is more to this world than the merely material and that we have spiritual needs which demand attention. The Ten Commandments, not surprisingly, reflect the basic rules which have enabled humans to not just survive but to thrive.
A healthy society respects and preserves at least half of these rules for life – honour your father and mother; do not kill but protect life; honour the sacrament of marriage; do not steal; do not lie and do not envy others and covet what they have.
The first four rules pertain to religion and in the past century, at least in the Western world, religion has declined and been demonised and mocked, by the new Mammon which is Science. We no longer believe in honouring our parents and certainly do not honour the sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman. Even telling lies is not condemned in this age, but at times, applauded. As to coveting what others have- all too often that is deemed to be a requirement and not a failing.
So, out of the ten rules for life, or commandments as they have been called, we really only still hold to two – do not kill and do not steal. Although even here, the bed in which they lie is rotting because we do kill with abortion and euthanasia, and even stealing can be justified it seems. The Greens recently defended an article that argued it was justifiable for people on low incomes to steal from supermarkets like Woolworths and Coles. No more of this transported to the colonies for stealing a sandwich stuff.
This means the protective shell of such traditions which have held for millennia is pretty much in tatters. Which also means that ‘anything goes’ and that means absolutely anything. We already have people talking publicly in support of adults having sexual relationships with children; of men becoming women and vice-versa; of children being chemically and surgically altered; of sperm, egg, and womb being purchased so two men or two women can have a child – anything is possible, everything is accepted, and there are no rules to hold society together.
Not only does the centre not hold but nothing is held in place, in shape, in form and we barely conceive of the monster we have created, so well described by Yeats:
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?