Understanding Chaos

Understanding Chaos
In this first 100 days of  2017, here in America and in some other countries, there has been a great deal of what we like to call chaos. Chaos is “complete disorder or disruption.” However, I’m going to challenge us all, especially Freemasons, to look at Chaos differently. We put “Order out of Chaos” but what does this mean? The challenge I have is to look at Chaos as something different and necessary to life and growth, or at least our ability to tell the difference.

Let me first start by saying this is not, emphasis on NOT, a political discussion. This is using an event in politics to illustrate a point. However you feel about the politics/events, right or wrong, is irrelevant to the content of this blog. What I want to do is illustrate how science and nature have a real place in our processes to affect change. Think differently. That said, here we go.

A recent event happened in politics in America – the Immigration Executive Order that Trump signed on January 27th. The executive order was, by mostly-credible accounts thus far, written by Steve Bannon, a self-designated fear monger. He stated, in a 2010 interview, “Fear is a good thing. Fear is going to lead you to take action.” He also stated that “I’m a Leninist,” [quoted as saying by a writer for The Daily Beast] He later said he did not recall the conversation. “Lenin wanted to destroy the stA30B258A-524B-4688-9D2F-EE9E6F4D5652ate, and that’s my goal, too,” the site quoted him as saying. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  Mr. Bannon told The Washington Post this year, “We call ourselves ‘the Fight Club.’ You don’t come to us for warm and fuzzy. We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti-’ the permanent political class. We say Paul Ryan was grown in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”

I do not think that Mr. Bannon is alone in
his thinking this way, especially across the current appointees and heads of various government agencies. I think Trump has a specific goal in mind: introduce chaos into the system to turn it on its head and change it. The difficulty that most people have is that it is chaos mixed with fear, hatred, and injustice – not Masonic values at all.

In a recent Facebook posting, historian Heather Cox Richardson explained this “shock event” in very succinct and clear terms – what it is, what the outcomes may be, and what we can do to overcome it. The full text can be found in this blog. I think that one of the best sentences in this piece, and one we should all take hold of is this: “But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.” Her point, in other words, is that we don’t have to react in ways we’ve always reacted – we can take our emotions and work differently. It takes consciousness, focus, and effort. It takes energy. Energy.

Here’s where I want to turn chaos on its head. In the world of science, specifically physics and thermodynamics, chaos equates to entropy. Entropy is not sitting on your couch, drinking a Coors, and watching the game. No. In physics, entropy is the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder. Simply stated, entropy is the spreading of energy until it is evenly spread. A great, in-depth, and head-expanding article on the second law of thermodynamics and entropy is here. I warn you, it’s long and even though it says “simple,” it takes focus to really follow the whole article. Bottom line: let’s just say, energy disperses.

If you look at our country, or any “related system” I will call it, we were founded by many humans with a great deal of energy for change. Events which upset the equilibrium – taxation, religious persecution, and the like – created energy, which in turn led people to expend their energy differently – fighting for and creating a new country and a new form of government. This energy, related to the creating of the United States of America, has over time, received influxes of upsets to its equilibrium; these are the events more remembered as shapers of the country. It is how we got to where we are today.

How does this relate to thermodynamics and physics? Hang with me, I’m getting there. There is new discussion about entropy and how physics can be applied to the biology of life. Another long article but with a very clear video about the thoughts and theories is found here. In essence, the article explains that in the end, thought (that is, intention, logic, and problem-solving) are the keys to fighting entropy and disorder. Another way of looking at this is that the destruction of forms happens because of entropy; the introduction of an upset to the equilibrium staves off entropy (chaos) and causes the current energy to reorganize and become a viable source for change. We can look at teleology as having a connection to thermodynamics rather than biology. Simply said, thought is energy.

Did I lose you? I might have lost myself. But, stay with me. Where I’m getting to is this: Freemasonry values nature and science – we need to look at both for the answers of how did we get here and where do we go next. Let’s take a step and connect biology, physics, and politics, weird as that may be, into a line and we can see how we got here. And, to Heather Cox Richardson’s point, how we get out. We need to take whatever energies we receive from the upset of the equilibrium and turn it into a thoughtful way to change our world.

Like the small discs of atoms the researchers used in their experiments in the above article, we too can use tools and socially organize into effective change advocates. We can create something new from the impetus we’ve been given. To me, Freemasonry has given me the balance to look at something like Chaos as see it as a blessing. I’m not talking about how that chaos is delivered, which may involve incredible emotional and physical upheaval. Pain, Fear, Hate, Ignorance – all of these continue. It is in our responses where we can affect the change. Until we think about our next moves, use the energy that we’ve been given to that plan of thought, and execute well, the shock event will actually create nothing new at all. I might even venture to say that what we might view as negative change can actually be what positive change needs to get going. All of these lessons are clear in nearly all degrees of Freemasonry. Sometimes, it takes chaos for us to see the value in what we’re learning. If we can take a breath and use our thought processes to absorb the disruption, we might be able to see the value in all sides of an event.

A System of Morality: Masonry and Psychology’s Stanford Prison Experiment

A System of Morality: Masonry and Psychology’s Stanford Prison Experiment

Freemasonry has been described as a “system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.” Is morality an important aspect of a properly functioning society? The social science of Psychology has delved into this issue extensively, including the research conducted in the Stanford Prison Experiment. The experiment was intended to study the psychological effects of a simulated prison environment on individuals, which devolved to a point where participants were subjected to cruel and dehumanizing abuse.  The primary conclusion of the experiment was that in such a high stress scenario the resulting behavior of the participants supported a situationist rather than a dispositionalist explanation of conformity. Does an internal moral compass, such as one is taught to develop in Freemasonry, allow individuals to avoid conforming to negative situational pressures placed upon them?

The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford prison experiment conducted a study of the psychological effects of arbitrarily becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted in 1971 at Stanford University from August 14th to 20th.The study began with an ad in the classifieds: “Male college students needed for psychological study of prison life. $15 per day for 1-2 weeks beginning Aug. 14.” More than seventy men volunteered to take part in the study which was conducted in a fake prison housed inside 0115prisonJordan Hall on Stanford’s Main Quadrangle. Leading the study was 38-year-old psychology professor Philip Zimbardo who, along with his research team, selected 24 male applicants and randomly assigned 12 to be prisoners and 12 to be guards.

With funding and support from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, Professor Zimbardo created a scenario to investigate the psychological impacts of a simulated prison environment on all participants including those playing prisoners as well as guards. Specifically, he sought to determine whether participants in the study would adapt to situational attribution or dispositional attribution behaviors under certain variables. Having been approved by Stanford’s Human Subjects Research Committee, Zimbardo abruptly ended the study after only six days, stating that “neither they nor we could have imagined” that the guards would treat the prisoners so inhumanely.

Inside the Prison

The prison-like environment was set up in the basement of the University’s Psychology Building: Jordan Hall. The 24 participants were selected based on a lack of criminal background, psychological issues, and medical conditions. The prisoners were arrested at their homes by actual police officers, booked in a police station, and brostanford-prison-experimentught to the simulated prison where they were placed into six by nine-foot prison cells with three prisoners in each cell.

Professor Zimbardo encouraged the guards to think of themselves as actual guards in a real prison. He clearly and repeatedly instructed the guards that the prisoners could not be physically harmed. Instead, Zimbardo told the guards to create an atmosphere in which the prisoners felt “powerless.” Guards and the warden utilized rooms across from the cells. A closet was used for solitary confinement, and another room served as the prison yard. Prisoners had to remain in the mock prison night and day for the duration of the experiment while guards were allowed to leave after each eight hour shift. Researchers used hidden cameras and microphones to observe the behavior of the participants.

The guards became abusive as early as the second day of the experiment, and some prisoners began showing signs of extreme stress and anxiety. The guards began to act in ways that were aggressive and even dehumanizing toward the prisoners while the prisoners became passive and depressed and some were even despondent, began crying, and showed other signs of severe negative emotions. T2015-07-27-1438029404-8000872-2ePrisonExp3_smallerhe researchers, themselves, became so engrossed in the situation that they began to lose sight of the reality of what was happening.

For six days, half the study’s participants, the 12 “prisoners,” endured cruel and dehumanizing abuse at the hands of their peers. At various times, they were verbally taunted, stripped naked, deprived of sleep, and forced to use plastic buckets within the cells for a toilet. The prisoners reacted in a variety of ways: some refused to comply; some rebelled violently; some became hysterical or withdrew into despair.

As the situation descended into chaos, the team of researchers merely stood by and watched. Zimbardo had planned for the experiment to last for 14 days but ended the experiment after just six days on account of a female Ph.D. student raising questions about the morality of what was happening in the mock prison environment.

Ending the Experiment

Professor Zimbardo arranged for all members of the experiment, the prisoners, guards, and staff, to be interviewed by uninvolved faculty members and graduate students. Ph.D. Candidate Christina Maslach observed the guards line up the prisoners at the 10 p.m. appointed bathroom break. When the prisoners came out of their cells, the guards put bags over their heads, chained their feet together, and forced them to move in unison like a chain gang. The guards then began cursing and yelling at the prisoners. Visibly shaken, Christina responded, “I can’t look at this,” and left the basement.Konnikova-The-Stanford-Prison-Experiment-1200

When Zimbardo followed Maslach outside of the building, she questioned the morality of what his experiment was doing to the students. She said, “It’s terrible what you’re doing to these boys. How can you see what I saw and not care about the suffering?” At this point, Professor Zimbardo realized that his view of reality had been altered by the experiment, and he immediately terminated the study.

Freemasonry’s Morality Instruction

Freemasonry teaches the importance of morality and provides instruction to members as to how to treat others as themselves. Masonry upholds the virtues of cha11425174_1131348653548603_3374741560606323912_n (1)rity, temperance, fortitude, and justice: all which were absent from the Stanford Prison Experiment.

A strong moral compass is necessary when an individual faces peer pressure or authoritative demands to act in an inhumane fashion towards his fellow man. By subduing the animalistic tendencies of violence and hatred, individuals can be elevated above responding to situational pressures. Adherence to an internal moral code is necessary to inherently know what is right and what is wrong, regardless of the situation.