10. INTRODUCTION TO CHAOS
(Note: The mathematical field known as chaos theory studies, among other things,
global system change. The theory is now being applied to the physical sciences
and also to human behavior, both individual and social.)
There are two different types of change. The first is continuous, and this
is change within a system, to a part or parts of a system. Such change is equivalent
to development. The second type of change is discontinuous, and
this involves the transformation of a system as a whole. Such global system change
is distinct from development. It constitutes evolution.
The change of a social system from dictatorship to democracy can never be accomplished
continuously. The reason for this is that dictatorship is too strong. Through
the inheritance of political and economic power it perpetuates itself. It is a
system in equilibrium. For change of such a system to occur, a break is required.
The equilibrium must be disrupted. Such a break is termed a phase transition,
and it is characterized by chaos.
One example of discontinuous social change was East Timor. The shift there to
democracy required chaos in the form of armed rebellion. However, even this was
not enough. Change in East Timor only occurred through the disruption that developed
in Indonesia as a whole. In effect, East Timor was a part of a larger system,
and its freedom, its break from this larger system, was dependent on events in
A system is in equilibrium if it has established a measure of stability. The system
either is at rest, or it is following a periodic cycle. However, if energy is
applied to it, it is forced to adapt. If possible, it absorbs the additional energy
without altering its fundamental structure. Or, if it is unable to do this, it
creates a more complex form of order to accommodate it. In the science of chaos,
it has been shown that such developments in order often occur via bifurcations.
If the energy addition is sufficiently great, the system can no longer absorb
it in an orderly fashion. A threshold is passed, and turbulence chaos
ensues. But it has also been shown that such chaos itself is not truly chaotic,
not truly random. Patterns are embedded in the turbulence, and these may eventually
surface, giving rise to a completely new type of organization, a new evolutionary
form. (Order leads to disorder, and then back to order. Also, these patterns are
referred to as strange attractors, and they are so-named because it is
considered odd that there would be any underlying order in a state of chaos.)
System stability is a continuum. Some system equilibriums are stronger than others.
For a weak equilibrium, a small amount of energy a slight trigger
can lead to turbulence and disruption. For a strong one, great energy, in the
form of one major trigger, or many distinct minor ones, is required to initiate
a change. (Smaller disturbances may push such a system out of alignment, but not
all the way into chaos. Without additional disruption one would expect it to return
to its equilibrium.)
Developments in system complexity occur sporadically and unpredictably. For an
increase in energy sufficient to lead to a complete system change, one action
must follow another, action after action, faster and faster, until a threshold
is reached, turbulence ensues, and the phase transition is accomplished.
There are many unknowns associated with chaos, the first of which is the amount
of energy required to initiate the phase transition, the beginning of turbulence.
Secondly, chaos itself is of course unpredictable. Once turbulence
starts you cannot know where it will go next, or how long it will last. Because
of this, it cannot be controlled. (It can only be experienced.) Indeed, chaos
is the opposite of control, hence it involves risk. You cannot predict what the
consequences of it will be. Further, while the theory has shown that new forms
of order are embedded in the turbulence (such non-randomness would seem to imply
a measure of control), there are many possible outcomes once the energy addition
is dissipated (the underlying order serves only as a guide). As with water which
ceases to boil when you stop heating it, the outcome could be a reversion to the
prior state of affairs. The onset of chaos does not ensure evolution. Or, the
chaos could be so great that the system which is subject to it fails to adapt,
and dies, so again there is no evolution; instead, there is extermination and
extinction. (This is evident with the many different species which are now going
extinct in response to the environmental chaos created by humans.) And lastly,
a real new order, a new form, might evolve.
Chaos and violence
Chaos in a social context is considered to be synonymous with violence, but this
does not have to be the case. Widespread non-violent civil disobedience, the voluntary
rejection and opting-out of a social system, is a form of chaos.
In this scenario the chaos occurs in individual brains, as they undergo a phase
transition and rewire themselves to think in a new way. It is possible; it only
requires education, that violence is not the solution, that peace is preferable
to war, and cooperation to competition.
Having said that, though, the likelihood that such education can become widespread,
rapidly, even in a generation or two, is slim. The general state of human development
that prevails around the world precludes this. In culture after culture, violence
is viewed as the solution, and competition is the norm.
The phase transition to defeat each specific form of dictatorship will require
its own specific form of chaos. And, unfortunately, but we cannot avoid this fact,
in the struggle against certain types of dictatorship, the chaos will involve
violence. Global social systems of which violence is truly an integral part will
require violent chaos to overthrow them.
Consider the system of extreme Islam, which is based on the call of Islamic Jihad.
The Prophet Mohammed himself declared the first Islamic Holy War, against all
those who persecuted him in his birthplace, the city of Mecca. This call survived
the defeat of the Meccans, by Mohammed and the people of what came to be known
as Medina, and it has been taken up by todays extreme wing of Islam, which
infers the act of persecution to all non-Muslims. Extreme Islam incorporates a
call to violence, which cannot be renounced by its followers, since the call came
directly from God from Allah via the Prophet.
The chaos necessary to defeat extreme Islam will involve violence, but, and this
chance is minute, perhaps only the violence on the part of the extremists themselves.
For this to happen, the rest of the Muslims of the world will have to renounce
the extremists, and cut their funding, and pressure them out of the faith, at
the same time redefining the faith, by ending the call for Jihad.
As another example, consider the chaos required to defeat a military dictatorship,
one which uses violence but which does not have such a religious underpinning.
In this case it is theoretically possible that all, or a critical mass, of the
dictators soldiers could be convinced to lay down their arms.
This is not very probable, though, as the specific example of Burma demonstrates.
It is extremely doubtful, for a variety of reasons, that the army of Burma would
lay down its weapons and end its repression of the Burmese people. Far more likely
is the possibility that some soldiers would turn their guns on the dictators
the generals to lead the way to democracy. Barring that, the generals and
the army will have to be defeated in combat.
However, to give one example where the chaos of the transition away from dictatorship
will be non-violent, there is the prospective defeat of media and advertising
brainwashing. There is no need to attack program executives and advertising copywriters,
just to turn off the TV.
In summary, chaos is not equivalent to violence, but there is a substantial overlap,
particularly involving the change of global systems which are based on violence.
Such a system will not yield unless confronted by a greater force, and the current
situation, given our state of development as a species, is that such a force must
itself be violent.
Chaos analysis questionnaire
(Note: The following analysis can be applied to any form and specific example
- What are the boundaries and general characteristics of the system that is subject
to the dictatorship? What system requires global system change?
- Is there a larger system of which the dictatorial system forms a part, for which
the defeat of the dictatorship is dependent on change in it?
- Are there any other global systems that influence the dictatorship, which through
their actions increase or reduce its stability?
- How strong is the dictatorship; what is the stability of its system equilibrium?
- What specific forces power structures maintain the equilibrium
and give it its strength, both within the dictatorial system itself and within
such other global systems? What attributes, policies, practices and conditions
contribute to its stability?
- If change requires a period of chaos and a phase transition, what are the different
types of energy additions through which such chaos can be generated, and how much
energy (how much chaos) is needed?
- What are the sources of such energy: the different groups, both internal and
external, which are in opposition to the systems own power structures?
- What specific steps or triggers could exert pressure on the systems supporting
power structures such that they break, and the overall system fails and chaos
- If chaos is created, what is required to ensure that a phase transition to democracy
occurs, rather that a reversion to another form of dictatorship?
- What is the likelihood that such steps will be taken?
- What is the likelihood that the dictatorship will be defeated?
- What are the other possible outcomes, including a probability assessment for
© Roland O. Watson 2005