By Roland Watson
I concluded the last article by saying that social institutions appear to be mature, if not in actual decline, but that at the same time a basic social condition, the widespread prevalence of conflict, is as strong as ever. In this article, I want to examine social evolution more closely, including the question of what it will take to escape from conflict and establish peace. I can add, I will be expanding on some of the ideas that I presented in the Part 1 series on How Things Change.
To begin, we need to consider the interactions that individuals have with their environment. The history of human development can be viewed as a series of linked physical and behavioral changes. As we react to the world our mind - our brain - changes. It is physically rewired to reflect our experience. Further, since our mind determines our behavior, the latter also changes. But then, as we modify our behavior, this in turn shapes our subsequent mental development. And this cyclical process continues over and over again.
This linkage is another example of feedback, and the core attribute that has resulted from it is our ability to reason. We have developed greater cognitive abilities, which better enable us to understand and adapt to the world. And through this reason we have changed in a number of ways that can be considered to be evolutionary, including our creation of written language and of complex culture. Also, it is likely that the evolution of our reason was non-linear; that it developed in leaps and bounds in response to environmental chaos - to climatic and other events such as ice ages.
Technology as an energy addition
However, via another feedback mechanism our reason is itself instigating chaos. Through reason we have developed science, and through science, technology. But technology has functioned as an energy addition to our society, and disturbed its underlying order. The developments of technology have so changed our traditional terms of existence that great social confusion has resulted. Through this we now have distinct societies that are not in equilibrium at all, which are chaotic and have yet to establish a new order, and other societies that have established new forms of order, but which for the most part are dictatorial and repressive.
Indeed, it is arguable that through the effects of technology we have been diverted from a more gradual process of evolution - but one which would still involve fits and starts, and that only a resolution of our current chaotic condition can return us to it. It may even be the case that we need more chaos to accomplish the leap to a new evolutionary form, and a new equilibrium with our environment.
How much chaos do we require, and how should we seek to cause it to occur? Also, is there any way chaos can be instigated such that evolution, rather than dictatorship or extinction, is the result?
Our three options
I have described how social change, seemingly, can occur in a number of ways, the first of which is via reform. In Part 1, though, I pointed out that there is a real question whether reform can ever achieve anything, since it requires the system to change itself. The focus on reform by both activists and political leaders has in fact ensured that our problems repeat, again and again.
Secondly, we can seek to accomplish change via revolution, to use force to overthrow the entire current system and to replace it with something new. With revolution the goal is to accomplish change now, meaning fast, and in this effort any means, no matter how extreme, are considered justifiable. Revolutionaries are impatient, and they regularly are motivated by anger and engage in great violence. Therefore, it is no surprise that the revolutions never succeed. Even if the old order is torn down, the new form quickly reverts to it, as with one dictatorship following another, and perhaps entailing even greater repression.
There is, fortunately, a third option, which also seeks global change, but this time with a foundation in reason, not anger, and also with an understanding of the role that chaos plays in evolutionary processes. Further, it is recognized that some time will be required, and that violent means are unethical. Therefore, the advocates of such a strategy, including many different types of social and environmental activists, pursue not only conventional means but also "radical" ones, such as non-violent civil disobedience. Violence against people and other forms of life is considered to be justifiable only in instances of self-defense, as for the victims of aggression in a war, and also only when it does not involve non-combatants or the use of torture.
And when they work
The first option - reform - is only suitable when there is no underlying global system that is affected if not dominated by dictatorship. For example, in a personal relationship, one that has a positive balance, either partner may encourage the other to undergo some type of change. And, because of the friendship or love that underlies the relationship, these appeals will often work. The partner being appealed to will apply their willpower and do what they are being asked to do. They will change their behavior, including in some cases when it requires a major shift, such as by ending an addiction. What this shows is that reform, even though it only works in a limited set of situations, nevertheless can accomplish significant change.
For revolution, the type of revolution that relies on violence, and accepts the idea that the end justifies any means - this never works. It never yields enduring, positive change. The communists in Russia were an example of this. Their Bolshevik revolution led to the even worse dictatorship of Stalin and the Soviet Union. However, this does not mean that there is never a role for violence. It only means that it must be exercised with ethical control. Violence is sometimes necessary - World War 2 is just one example - in self-defense against aggressors and also to help their victims. Moreover, the second rationale should not be used only by the victims' allies. For humanity to advance, everyone must oppose naked, violent aggression.
As an example of what justifiable and properly controlled violence can accomplish, the American Revolution led to a new form of order, democracy. The means of the American Revolution were ethical, to the extent that any war can be, particularly regarding such things as the treatment of prisoners and the general public. Of course, the evolutionary process in the U.S., even now, is not yet complete. Such events as the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, and today's protests of the incestuous relationship between government and corporations, were - and are - later stages in our quest for real equality, the equality that democracy is meant to achieve.
Finally, there is the applicability of the third option, the creation of great pressure but without resorting to violence. Radical activists do everything they can to push the underlying dictatorial system to the breaking point. They fully understand the need for turbulence, that in many cases real change requires chaos.
For instance, there must be chaos, in the form of civil disobedience and also inside the human brain, to achieve our social goals to change dictatorship into democracy, and inequality into equality. However, we also want to change our attitudes and behavior toward other forms of life. This raises the question: will two periods of chaos be required to accomplish this?
Humans are self-centered, as are all other species. Because of this, many social developments have occurred as a means to stop humans from being killed, which likely will prove evolutionary. But, there has been no change, no real change as yet, in our behavior towards other life. This characteristic of our form is not yet evolving. Reason tells us that it should, that all life has rights and should be treated as equal, and insofar as reason guides our actions, we should evolve in this way as well.
In theory, then, one could envision successive periods of chaos, the first to bring about real equality between people, and the second to create equality with all other life. However, such an eventuality is actually rather farfetched. The trigger behind our need to evolve is not escalating conflict between people. We do not need to evolve greater means of aggression, including more deadly weapons. Instead, it is Earth's ecological disaster.
It is our behavior towards nature that is both decimating other life and creating an untenable social structure. Therefore, the resolution of the chaos to come will require not only equality and peace between people; it actually begins with the achievement of equality and peace between people and all other forms of life.
The implications of how change can be achieved
There are many consequences of what I have just described. First, reform will not work. It will not be sufficient to bring about the change that we desire. However, neither will the extreme measures of violent revolution. Such revolutions always revert, and they also regularly lead to situations that are worse than what they replace.
Secondly, chaos must be instigated for social evolution to occur. But, I want to make it clear that I am not advocating for the use of behavioral form, particularly the creation of a common enemy. The tactics of radical activism do not constitute form. There is no manipulation to achieve a hidden agenda. And, while the activist consensus against modern corporate behavior might be construed as the creation of a common enemy, this is not form, if it really is the enemy. Unifying against the Nazis did not serve as a negative means by which the Allies' identity could be defined. Rather, it was a necessary response to an extremely dangerous threat. Modern corporate behavior is also an extremely dangerous threat, and the issues, goals and tactics of activists reflect this. We do not obfuscate. We are up-front and clear. And, we are willing to consider dissenting opinions. We are not form. Instead, we are education, the education necessary to defeat it.
The next issue is that a distinction should be drawn between partial and complete chaos. For example, the chaos that is now evident throughout human society, in the form of such things as localized conflicts and even civil wars, is only partial. However, if only as a result of environmental degradation, it is inevitable that it will spread. Also, a second critical factor is that the social manipulation and dictatorship that has now become common, worldwide, is effectively forcing us into a smaller and smaller box. But life breaks free in these circumstances. It finds a way. Hence, one would expect some sort of mass escape: from modern social form. This will probably begin in only one or a few locations, but then quickly spread everywhere else.
For nature, though, many ecosystems and species are under assault, and the chaos they are experiencing is already total. They are being wiped off the face of the earth. Still, such destruction is itself often localized. But, this too will change. The earth is an ecology. Disrupt one part of it and, if only slightly, you disrupt all of it. But if enough parts are disrupted, and destroyed, the entire life-sustaining structure will break down. The goal of radical environmental activists, in country after country, is to trigger social chaos, meaning a real examination of what we are doing, to forestall the possibility of the second, environmental extermination.
Chaos requires strong steps, so such steps will have to be taken. The system of domination, by humanity of all other species, is exceedingly strong. We do not see such life as having any rights. Instead, nature is viewed with indifference, or disdain, and also regularly as something which must be conquered, with force. Therefore, one expects that the trigger or triggers that will be required to disrupt this system will themselves have to be extremely powerful. Moreover, when we have the social order reeling and close to chaos, we must not relent. Action must follow action, to ensure that enough energy is added and the current system is swept away.
Finally, or rather, to begin, we must educate the general public to care about other people as much as themselves, and to care for other life as much as human. Only when people do this, when they understand that it is the only "reasonable" response to the conditions of our existence, will we truly evolve.
In the next article, I will consider the prospects for human evolution.
© Roland Watson 2015