Before you read this post, you absolutely have to read part one first. Otherwise, nothing will really make sense.
In the last post in this series, I left off with discussing why ma’at should be considered a regenerative system, but in order to explain why we should view ma’at in this fashion, we really need to discuss isfet, and then place both concepts side by side in order to see how they function together. In many ways, in order to understand one, I feel you really need to look at both at the same time.
So to get this started, let’s talk about the harbinger of degeneration: disorder.
The role of disorder
Ironically, we have a definition for disorder within natural systems: any resource that can not be used productively by an organism. That is to say, if you get too much of a Thing, even if its a Really Good Thing, you are being thrown into disorder. In terms of keeping natural systems healthy, any natural system really needs to have moderation in all of its parameters, which often times will be summed up as “a healthy level of stress.” Key word here being: healthy. In the same way that our muscles atrophy without use, other parts of systems begin to fall apart if they are never remotely pushed, challenged, or introduced to change (in nature, this usually is changing of seasons, fauna, etc.)
You can see what disorder in natural systems looks like by looking at the weather patterns of 2019. The midwest got too much rain and too much snow. The southwest hasn’t gotten enough heat or rain. Texas has gotten too much rain too early, and is not getting enough now. All of these are examples of ecosystems getting too much or too little of a resource; they are all examples of regenerative systems rubbing against disorder (which is a nice way of saying climate change.)
Too much of something will always result in disorder. Disorder and dysfunction are the gateways to a regenerative system becoming degenerative (isfet.)
We see this time and time again within our own mythological stories, where excess often results in harm or bad things happening, even if what you’re excessing on is not inherently bad. For example, Re’s excessive fear and pride led to his releasing his Eye out onto the world. Her excessive blood lust caused a lot of destruction that Re then had to go and remedy (with more excess — drinking, in this case.) Osiris got a big ol welt on his head from his Atef crown because he was being so vane and arrogant.
When viewed from this lens, it stands to reason why Set often gets classified as necessary chaos or necessary change (he is also a god of excess, showing that the NTRW can also waver in terms of their own balance and moderation.) As I mentioned above, systems need to be pushed sometimes in order to stay healthy. Nothing lives in a vacuum, and so all systems must continually grow and adapt to the ever-changing world around them. When properly handled and balanced, the chaos that Set brings is supposed to be this sort of stress that allows things to grow into something more than they currently are. When the deceased talks about Set “serving [me] above and beyond his own powers,” they are talking about the fact that Set’s service to all of us is supposed to be that useful, healthy stress that pushes us to level up.
The problem is, we don’t live in a healthy regenerative system, and so this disorder often hits harder than it should, and if left unchecked, it becomes very easy for a regenerative system to recoil from any contact with any disorder, ultimately pushing it closer and closer towards becoming degenerative.
Isfet: degeneration in action
If you are continually given more of a Thing than you can handle, it results in disorder within a system or systems. Disorder is what happens when we stray from the moderation and predictable cycling of nature that is necessary to maintain all regenerative and natural systems. In this respect, frequent or constant disorder is a symptom, a warning sign that you’re beginning to slide into isfetian territory. That something within your system is not jiving with some other aspect of another system, and as a result, the quality and health of that system is slowly shifting towards becoming degenerative.
For better or worse, it’s pretty easy to map out what a system starts to do when it begins to slide into degeneration:
- Reduction of predictable cycles and resources, causing general disorder within the system.
- As general disorder increases, lack of proper synchronization between members of the system occurs, exacerbating the resource distribution further.
- Lack of resources leads to excessive stress on all organisms in the systems
- Critical mass is reached, and parts of the ecosystem begin to collapse, biodiversity begins to drop.
- Reduction of keystone species causes widespread collapse. A single member of a keystone species often supports (usually) hundreds-to-thousands of other organisms at any given time.
- Once keystone species begin to disappear, the entire system faces a reduction of resiliency overall. If left unchecked, the system will completely disappear or become “dead” for all intents and purposes.
To see how this sort of situation pans out in real time, all you need to do is look at climate change and desertification. Human activity has caused too much stress to be put onto too many natural systems, and now those systems are slowly (and yet oh-so-quickly) shifting into disorder. As the disorder increases, the cycles that mark stable regenerative systems become more and more out of alignment and out of sync. From there, systems begin to fail. Forests turn into scrub land, scrub land into desert, desert into dunes. The soil supports less and less plant growth, so less and less organisms can be supported by the same amount of land. You get increasingly bad natural disasters and you begin to have winter in May.
For examples on a smaller scale, it’s that moment when you grab a cigarette instead of handling your feelings. It’s when you stay up late on your phone instead of going to bed at a healthy time, or choose to escape into the television instead of handling problems. It’s all of those small little things that detract from our overall well being that we do because we think its harmless.
All of these things are examples of a system being dragged out of regeneration into degeneration. And it’s affecting all of us, because we’re all natural, regenerative systems relying for our survival on a much larger series of natural systems that are being dragged into isfetian territory.
The importance of scale and context
One of the biggest things I wanted to make sure to clarify is that in many situations, isfet is not a singular action, but a series of actions or a trend that occurs over a period of time. Disorder is often like a crescendo: it starts off small and quiet. A few things here, a few things there. But then it slowly builds until it becomes a pattern, a habit, a trend. Something that happens consistently time and time again, which slowly takes a toll on the resilience of the system it is antagonizing.
To pick on climate change again, it wasn’t just one farmer that caused our soil to degrade. It wasn’t just one car that polluted the air. It wasn’t just one billionaire or CEO hiding key information about how we’re destroying the planet. No, it was millions of cars, hundreds of farmers and fields, and many many years of people in positions of power purposefully choosing to ignore the writing on the wall while the planet slowly degraded in the background. It’s not just one action, its lots of little actions that have built on one another to create a wave.
Similarly, the solution to something like climate change won’t be one simple action, either. It takes many many actions to degrade, and it takes many many actions to rebuild.
This is vital to understand because we must always examine situations within their wider context. We must always look at trends, because while exceptions to a rule can exist, it also belies that there is a rule, a trend, that this exception is pushing against.
This is why the balance of ma’at is so necessary. Regenerative beings need specific things in order to survive, and when that balance gets thrown into disarray, everything that system touches is effected on some level. While it’s not just a singular action that will cause a system to degenerate, at the same time, it is still very easy for things to quickly degrade and shift from bad to worse. It’s why the gods would have needed to be persistent and diligent with fighting back isfet.
I mentioned in the first post that in this modern era we have built up this sort of facade that we are somehow separate and untouchable from the natural systems we were born into, but its simply not true. The more degenerative the system we live in becomes, the more necessary and, frankly, involuntary it’ll be for people to participate in fixing the problems at hand.
Maintaining ma’at is the responsibility of all of us. Even if you’re avoiding it now, eventually you may not have that luxury.
In my next post, I’ll discuss how to apply this model to aspects of our lives to see if it is harmful and isfetian in nature, or if its helping to sustain or increase ma’at in the world.