Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday at the Edge of Chaos

It's another ridiculously beautiful Maryland morning, sunny, warm. I slept till noon today. We were up late with the kids, talking till three or four in the morning. There were lots of hugs, lots of questions, I find I really like these young adults who live in our house.

This has been a tough fight, these two and a half years, and it looks like it could be winding down. The CRC's last appeal was nonsense, I'm not sure why they even bothered. America is changing, and Montgomery County ... has changed.

The big change is worldwide. It's not just gay rights, it's everything. It's like reading about the liberal and conservative moralities a couple of posts down from this one. The conservative morality makes sense in a small town. You have your ways, you have your reputation; whatever you do, everybody's going to know and you're going to have to live with it. Everybody's just like you, their people came from the same place, they're the same color as you, they talk like you. It's familiar and cozy and suffocating all at the same time.

But people have moved to the city. The whole economy has changed, it's like a mass migration, at least in America. Now you're dealing with all kinds of people. You can't assume anything, their people are from another continent, they look different and talk different from you.

And so you have to think about it all differently. You don't have to appreciate the differences, exactly, though that turns out to be a pretty cool way to handle it. But you do have to put up with people being different from yourself. You can't live like you're in a little town any more. In a small town, you can give somebody a dirty look when they step out of line, and it shames them, and they stop doing whatever they're doing. At least where you can see. In the city, that doesn't work. Some person on the street doesn't know you, and if you give them a dirty look they just assume you've got a twitch or something.

So we come to tolerate differences; there are so many different kinds of people, you just can't bother with it. The flipside of that is that "different" people have the freedom to express themselves. There's a kind of vivacious near-chaos in the city, with people from different ethnic groups bumping into each other on the street, different languages ringing out, different costumes. There's less pressure in the city for people to blend in.

Here in MoCo we've been talking about sexual orientation. Gay people. In a small town, if you're gay you pretty much have to keep it to yourself. It's just one dimension of differentness that you keep undercover, but it's an important one, because it determines who you're attracted to, who you'll date, who you'll fall in love with. In a small town, coming out can subject you to violence. Certainly there will be rumors, which can be just as bad. In the city, or in the new citified world, there's a different way to look at it. It's just another color in the swirl, another sound. There's no sense in giving gay people a dirty look, they'll just assume you have a twitch. In the city, in the new cosmopolitan world, it's just another way to be, something the person on the street can't control and wouldn't want to.

The world has changed, it's just taking a little time for some people to catch up with it. Some of those people want to take it back to the way it used to be when we all lived in little towns, and some of us want to move it forward to the next phase. And so we fight over it.

In chaos theory they talk about "phase transitions" as a place where you see something called "the edge of chaos." The classic phase transition is when water goes from a liquid to a solid; you know how little fingers of frost form on the window. It doesn't happen all at once, one molecule freezes and then another, and the result is a pattern that is both random and orderly -- those little branching fingers of frost. This is a most interesting state of things, somewhere between order and randomness, it's the state where living things exist -- your heartbeat is not a perfect cycle, every beat is different, you can't predict exactly when the next beat will come, but at the same time it's regular and robust and it keeps you alive. So a society lives at the edge of chaos, there are always new things and surprises but at the same time we have the familiarity of our traditions. Sometimes things break off and new processes start; at the edge of chaos you can't predict what will happen.

Speaking of which, we have been surprised to have a beautiful goldfinch on our birdfeeder the past couple of days. He is very wary, and flies away if he sees you sitting at the kitchen table -- the sparrows and flickers and nuthatches don't mind, but this bright-yellow guy is jumpy. I've seen them in the trees across the street, along Rock Creek, their yellow catching the rays, I think they are a little shy for coming this close to the house. But we've got one now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful post. Thank you for it :-). It helps put things a bit more into perspective.

June 24, 2007 6:19 PM  
Blogger A Teacher's Perspective said...

I was just watching CNN and they had a good program on. Go to

June 24, 2007 7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for another thought provoking post Jim.

And thanks for the tip about the CNN program Derrick.

Make sure you leave off the period when you cut and paste to your browser. Better yet, here's a link to CNN's Uncovering America.

June 25, 2007 8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

andrea- not anon

Anyone else seeing a large increase in the rabbit population since last year? I am seeing parent and baby rabbits much more than ever before.

June 25, 2007 1:36 PM  
Blogger Tish said...

Jim, I have a bed of rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan) at the top of my driveway. Talk about the edge of chaos. The flowers will begin blooming in about a week, and from then until early fall the goldfinches will visit in flocks to pick the seeds out of the flowerheads. The soft early seeds of the just-opened velvety flowers go to the babies, and later in the season when the flowerheads feel like pincushions, the young birds will be back with their parents to strip away the protein-rich mature seeds. The goldfinches don't seem to mind when I pull my car into the drive, but as soon as I open the car door away they go, as though I had in my garden a fountain of crayola-bright yellow.

June 25, 2007 1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that ordinary taxpayers cannot challenge a White House initiative that helps religious charities get a share of federal money.

The 5-4 decision blocks a lawsuit by a group of atheists and agnostics against eight Bush administration officials including the head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

The taxpayers' group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc., objected to government conferences in which administration officials encourage religious charities to apply for federal grants.

Taxpayers in the case "set out a parade of horribles that they claim could occur" unless the court stopped the Bush administration initiative, wrote Justice Samuel Alito. "Of course, none of these things has happened."

With the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, President Bush says he wants to level the playing field. Religious charities and secular charities should compete for government money on an equal footing.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore called the ruling "a substantial victory for efforts by Americans to more effectively aid our neighbors in need of help."

She said the faith-based and community initiative can remain focused on "strengthening America's armies of compassion."

The White House program appears to have had a substantial impact.

In fiscal 2005, seven federal agencies awarded $2.1 billion to religious charities, according to a White House report. That was up 7 percent from the year before and represented 10.9 percent of the grants from the seven federal agencies providing money to faith-based groups.

Among the programs: Substance abuse treatment, housing for AIDS patients, community re-entry for inmates, housing for homeless veterans and emergency food assistance.

June 25, 2007 3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Anon-- What's wrong, you could not summarize that in your own words? Typical right-winged Republican who can't speak for his/herself. Go figure. FYI- if you don't cite the source, that is plagiarism.

June 25, 2007 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...wrote Justice Samuel Alito. "Of course, none of these things has happened." YET

June 25, 2007 9:29 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Taxpayers in the case "set out a parade of horribles that they claim could occur" unless the court stopped the Bush administration initiative, wrote Justice Samuel Alito. "Of course, none of these things has happened."

The taxpayers should have mentioned one of the horribles that did happen, which led to the Bush Administration's decision to withhold a $75,000.00 grant to The Silver Ring Thing program in 2005. A lawsuit by the ACLU that year ended in a settlement agreement that specified several restrictions on SRT's required religious activities in order to qualify for federal funding.

60 Minutes reported in 2005 that 20,000 SRT participants had been interviewed and the researchers found that 88 percent of them broke their pledge and had sex before marriage. Further, while SRT was found to delay sex by up to 18 months, it also was found that when they have sex, pledgers are one-third less likely to use condoms at first sex...So all of the benefit of the delay in terms of pregnancy-risk and in terms of STD acquisition -- poof -- it just disappears because they’re so much less likely to use a condom at first sex...They’ve been taught that condoms don’t work; they’re fearful of them. They don’t know how to use them...Their peers don’t use them. They have no experience with them.

In 2006, a few months after the settlement agreement was reached, SRT decided not to apply for federal funding any more. How many more high failure programs like that are still being funded with our tax dollars?

Thank goodness MCPS's new health education program provides a very accurate demonstration of condom usage. MCPS students will benefit from this demonstration.

June 26, 2007 3:16 PM  

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