By Roland Watson

I began the series by saying that chaos theory arose from attempts to understand physical systems in the universe, and how they changed from one form or state to another. I also said that I believed the theory could be extended - generalized - to cover non-physical systems as well, meaning the behavior of organic life - including people.

I will now expand on this idea. I hope to show that chaos underlies behavioral changes as well as physical. I further want to demonstrate that chaos is not always a negative thing. Indeed, some of the goals that we are trying to achieve will require it, and the phase transition to which it leads.

This is what I mean with the title of the article, that real change requires chaos. For us to achieve many of our most important goals, small steps, what is often called reform, will not be enough. We will require much greater energy, and action, and, in a broader sense than the word is normally used, revolution.

Global systems

In the first talk, I also mentioned that chaos involves something called global systems. So, in a human context, what's a global system?

A human global system is any situation where an individual or a group has control over other people.

I'm certain that you can think of many examples of this, both of situations where you are being controlled, and also of cases where it is you who has the power.

These types of situations probably include in your personal relationships, at your job, and in your dealings with other social institutions, including the government and organized religion. For instance, for the government, if it says that you owe taxes, you have to pay them, or suffer the consequences.


What this suggests is that many human global systems take the form of dictatorships. Again, dictatorship as a term has much broader applicability that the political connotation it is usually given.

Of course, a democracy is also a human global system, and one in which people, for the most part, willingly participate. But, most of the human global systems that are out there are dictatorial. Someone is telling someone else what they have to do.

These types of systems also share a number of other characteristics. Telling you to do something is not the same as asking. First, you have to do it, and secondly, there is typically a punishment if you don't.

Also, people who have dictatorial power don't want to give it up. This in turn means that if you want to end their influence, you either have to overthrow them, hence the need for revolution, or escape. And, for escape, they will generally do everything they can to keep you under their control.

These are global systems because the dictators dominate everything inside the system - you are not able to exercise your free will - and, because you are trapped.

I want to start talking about change. The change of a human global system from a dictatorship to a democracy can never be accomplished continuously. The reason for this is that dictatorship is too strong. 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 constitutes a phase transition, and, as we have seen, it is characterized by chaos.


I'm going to discuss an example from human society where chaos will be required to achieve positive change, in this case an actual political dictatorship - China. Everyone is aware that China is a dictatorship, ruled by the Communist Party. However, many people also believe that it is changing politically. The country has developed, and such people believe that this will inevitably lead to democracy. They believe that democracy will be achieved through reform.

The idea of reform is that the system is self-correcting. It implies that we should seek to solve our problems one by one, and using conventional means, in other words, by working within the system.

There is plenty of evidence, though, that the system is not self-correcting. Reform also includes the idea that social institutions can police themselves. Not even the police can police themselves.

There is therefore a real question if reform can ever achieve anything, at least anything substantial, since it requires the system to change itself. Reformers are also regularly co-opted, such that they become complicit with institutional repression, or, they are diverted from their goals.

And, even when real reform does appear to take hold, and this invariably takes a very long period of time, the risk is always present that it will revert, such as when the leaders of the system change.


The alternative to reform is to seek to accomplish change via revolution, to use various means to create enough pressure to actually bring down the entire current system, and to replace it with something new. With revolution, the goal is to accomplish real change. No small, half steps are acceptable. Revolutionaries push and push until the global system of control breaks.

A classic example of this, of course, is the United States Revolution, where the creation of the requisite amount of pressure required winning an actual war. A similar example was the defeat of Germany and Japan in World War II.

Returning to China, there is no revolution on the horizon for the country, as there is no internal revolutionary movement. But, even if there were, many people would be against it, and would instead argue that change should be accomplished more gently - through reform.

They don't understand that reform in China will never be sufficient to get the Communist Party to yield. Right now, the Party leaders and their families and cronies have everything going their way. They have the power, they are becoming fabulously wealthy, and there is no chance that they will ever be tried for the massive crimes that they have committed. This is their status quo, and they will do everything they can to see that it does not change.

Further, since China is now a major power, with a large army and a nuclear arsenal, there is little reason to believe that they can be forced out. This means that China is unlikely to undergo global system change anytime soon.

So, the reformers either do not grasp this. They have a false understanding of how change really takes place. Or, they are cowards. They know that reform will never be enough, but they do not want to take the risks that revolution requires. Or finally, they are corrupt. They have found a way to benefit personally from the dictatorship and its perpetuation.


Of course, a revolution isn't something to be undertaken lightly. As I just implied, it involves all manner of risks, including - for a political revolution - to your life.

Revolutions also provide real world examples of my earlier point that with chaos you need to be alert and ready. The chaos may be unpredictable, but the negative consequences - such as the number of people who will die in a civil conflict - can be limited, if you are prepared.

Further, as the energy subsides and the turbulence dies down, you need to be ready to direct and shape the formation of the next global system, to be sure that it is democratic. For example, and again for a political revolution, when a dictatorship falls the revolutionaries need to be prepared to begin implementing democratic institutions at the first opportunity. This often starts with the installation of an independent security apparatus, such as a peace-keeping force, to halt the continuation of atrocities in the residual disorder.

Finally, there is the risk that even if the old system of control is torn down, the new system may degrade to another form of dictatorship. One dictatorship regularly follows another, and the second could be even worse than the first.

This brings us one final time back to China. When Mao Zedong's communists took control, supposedly as a democratic revolutionary movement against the Chinese aristocracy, they went on to perpetrate the most widespread atrocities the world has ever known.

I want to end this article by emphasizing that for many of the goals that we are trying to accomplish in our society, and that you might also have for your own life, reform will not work. It will not be sufficient to bring about the desired change.

In the next article, I am going to address a number of other examples of the social changes that we would like to bring about. Then, in the one after that, I will look at how all of this relates to the changes that you might want to make in your own life.

© Roland Watson 2013