Last week, while Jennifer and I were packing up our worldly goods (which now fill less than a 7×11 storage space, thank you very much), Rod Dreher wrote about chaos and disorder in Baltimore:
I was thinking today why stories of rioting and civil unrest unnerve me like nothing else. It has to do with fear — terror, actually — of anarchy. I have a very deep need for order (not that you’d know it by seeing the interior of my car), and I am always thinking about the sources of order, and disorder. For better or for worse, this drives my thinking; it’s why I seem so alarmist to many. You might say that I worry unduly over things that aren’t that big a deal, or you might say that I see things that are not apparent to others.
Anyway, order for me is not an aesthetic concern, but a moral one. A mob is the enemy of the things I value most. One of the most traumatic events of my life had to do with a mob of bullies who held me down and abused me while the two adults in charge did nothing to stop them — not because they could not, but because they would not. Once violence starts, I find it hard to fault authority for stopping it by any means necessary.
The anarchy I worry about is not the anarchy of poor black people in West Baltimore, or anywhere else. The anarchy I worry about is the anarchy within the hearts and communities of people like me — people who outwardly live lives of prosperity and normality, but who, in their hearts, believe that they and their appetites are the only authority they should follow. This is why I am so perpetually alarmed about our culture: it is fundamentally anarchic, because there is buried within our culture no source of order outside the Self.
To which I responded in an e-mail:
[T]his is where you and I differ the most. I did not see the bullying I suffered through as a lack of good order — I experienced as the order itself. This is why I’m not terrified of chaos, but rather, by order. And I think there’s a similar experience at work in many African American communities, especially poor ones. Because they experience a very violent and capricious order. One they may respond badly to, but it’s hard to respond well to that kind of violence. When the people who keep order see you as something to be dealt with, an object to be handled violently if need be, then it’s hard to respect order, and hard to make the kinds of choices that will lead to something resembling success. Because everything is so contingent, even random, and your property, your safety, your value as a human being, is not figured into any calculus of what matters when order is kept. Character is good, grit and persistence are valuable in and of themselves. I will always preach those things to people who face even horrific odds because it’s easier to change who you are than it is to change the world. But it is not wrong to say that the world is, in fact, ordered against some people. And some whole communities. It doesn’t respect their lives, their liberty, their well-being, or their property. These can all be taken at a whim, and THAT is called good order.
I am deeply sympathetic with conservative appeals to order. I truly believe conservatives have a better understanding of the human condition than do progressives and liberals. I believe an orderly world is one in which people can truly thrive. But I also know that every order has a cost, and every order is enforced with violence, and my concern will always be with who pays the cost for a particular social order. With who is on the wrong side of that violence. And why.