So far, I’ve talked about how ma’at is like a regenerative system, which is a living series of processes that will renew and regenerate themselves provided their unique balance is maintained. Some examples of regenerative systems in daily life are ecosystems or your body. In opposition to this is isfet, which is what happens when disorder overtakes a regenerative system and makes it degenerative. Degenerative systems are not sustainable and tend to destroy the balance of other nearby systems. In this post, I’d like to discuss how we can use this model to determine if something we’re doing is more in alignment with isfet or ma’at.
Using this Model
So now we’re at the most important part of this whole discussion. We’ve laid the framework for understanding:
- how systems work
- how ma’at aligns with regenerative systems
- how disorder tests the resiliency of a system
- how too much disorder will put your regenerative balance is at risk
- how isfet is an embodiment of degradation of natural systems.
Now comes the time for bringing it all together so that we can better reflect on our own actions and whether they relate to isfet, ma’at, or somewhere in between.
The reason that viewing ma’at as a system was so revolutionary for me was because it made it so much easier to understand if something was actually aligning with ma’at or not — because we’re using very concrete terms. Many times, I’ve found that people want to distort ma’at into being something that is relatively passive, or ultimately doesn’t require the person to really change or grow. To summarize this model for ma’at, it would be: if it bothers me, it’s isfet. If it doesn’t bother me, it’s ma’at.
However, by establishing that ma’at is like a particular thing that has a particular set of needs that must be met in order to be maintained, it really allows us to examine whether the things we do in our lives actually lives up to those needs, regardless of our own biases or feeling. By using a structure that can be clearly defined, it removes at least a portion of our bias, and allows us to be more objective in our assessment of ma’at. It also allows us to be very succinct when describing it.
Put succinctly: if something is pushing multiple systems towards degeneration, it’s likely aligned with isfet. If something pushes multiple systems towards regeneration, it’s likely aligned with ma’at.
For example, humans need several things to really survive and be healthy. Things such as:
- Access to nutritious food, shelter, clean clothing (you’ll note, all of these are markers of having lived in ma’at in antiquity)
- Access to healthy and supportive relationships. Humans are social creatures, and we need some amount of social interaction to be healthy.
- Ability to self-express in a fashion that doesn’t hurt others (directly or otherwise)
- Ability to be autonomous over our own choices and decisions, the feeling of having some control over your life and future.
So, if these things are all necessary for human systems to be healthy, then we know that anything that directly opposes these things is isfetian in nature.
Caveats: Frequency, Context, Scope, and Scale
Now, of course, there is some grey area in here. There are a few other considerations that must be applied when determining whether something is truly isfetian or ma’atian; things such as frequency, context, scope.
Frequency is about as straightforward as it sounds. That whole bit about disorder being the beginning of the sliding towards ultimately unraveling (isfet) means that a singular action isn’t necessarily going to lead you straight into isfet-town. For example, I know that fast food is really bad for my health. It is ultimately a degenerative force in my life. However, if I choose to eat it occasionally, it’s not likely going to qualify 100% as isfet in my specific system. Why? Because I’ve enacted moderation.
There are always places where we can have little exceptions to the moderation that marks our daily life. In antiquity, this is largely the role that festivals and holidays performed. They allowed people to let loose and let go for a short period of time before they fell back into the regularity of daily life. In our modern era, this isn’t always the case, and I’ve found that many of us are constantly living on the edge of making decisions that ultimately undo our efforts to thrive.
In short, frequency is the difference between engaging in a damaging behaviour in moderation vs. engaging in it all the time. Its the difference between eating something that’s bad for you once a month vs. every day. The frequency is vital to keep in mind when considering whether something is damaging or not. The less often you engage in damaging activities, the less likely they are to evoke an isfetian reaction in your specific system (aka your body and/or life.)
The context and scale of an action should also be considered, because it turns out that changing the scope or context of an action often will change whether its damaging or not — and that’s mostly because we live in a degenerative system. For example, let’s take the fast food thing mentioned above. On a small scale, when I’m really only thinking about how it effects me and me alone, it’s relatively harmless when in moderation. However, on a large scale, one might consider the act of giving your money to a fast food establishment isfetian. Why? Because many of these establishments treat their employees horribly. They engage in practices that degrade people’s lives by purposefully underpaying them and denying them access to necessary resources. Many of these companies engage in practices that wreck the environment, they lobby for legislation that allows them to get away with bad practices, and most of these companies aren’t putting much beneficial energy back into the world.
There is a phrase, “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism,” and that’s truly visible when using this model. When it comes to most larger systems, such as supply chains, economies, and governments — nothing is currently sustainable, and as such, is degenerative in nature (as I mentioned in previous posts.) The context of every action is important, because I think it’s vital that we remember that so much of our day to day lives are built on practices that are not sustainable (aka degenerative), and often hurt marginalized countries and peoples the hardest. While a singular act on a small scale is relatively harmless, when considering the full scope of the process of that act even being available to you — the true harm often comes into focus.
This, of course, muddies the water because it can be ethically confusing to determine how on earth to do anything without putting energy into an inherently isfetian system, but that’s also why engaging in activism, being politically active, and holding those in positions of power accountable is all the more important. I would argue that not doing so leans you towards isfet, because it means you’re choosing to ignore the degenerative systems that are eating away at the regenerative system that is you.
And please bear in mind: sometimes the ma’atian choice, the course of action that honors the regenerative nature in you and others, will be painful or difficult. Many people want to equate ma’at to the path of least resistance, and I am here to tell you that this is often not the case. That’s why its very important to really examine all of the aspects of a given course of action to ensure you’re not copping out due to fear of the new and unknown.
Useful Questions to Consider
Here are some examples of questions that can be asked when trying to determine whether a large-scale system is regenerative or not:
- Will this legislation/action/structure degrade human lives?
- Will it cause people to lose their autonomy?
- Will it degrade the community and connections that people have?
- Will it restrict access to healthy food, clean water, adequate housing and healthcare?
- Will it oppress or hold back a particular group of people (please keep in mind that leveling the playing field between classes or races is not oppression)?
- Does it rely on a biased system/structure to reinforce it?
- Does it needlessly destroy nature?
- Does it endanger natural resources and living things?
- Does it destroy or threaten other regenerative systems?
- Does it lead us closer to things like climate change or fascism?
And in case its not clear yet, if the answer to these is yes, it’s isfetian in nature.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when trying to determine whether a small-scale interaction is regenerative or not:
- Does this harm my health?
- Does this hurt my relationships or those around me needlessly?
- Does this incite self-hatred or acts of violence or abuse against the self?
- Will this cause you regret or shame later on?
- Does this hinder my or others growth, however painful?
- Would those who care about you condone this choice?
Of course, sometimes these things are not clear cut, and that’s why its important to always consider the wider context of a situation as discussed above.
If you’ve managed to make it through all three posts, I congratulate you. If you have any questions or would like to suggest any other means of refining this model, I welcome them!