SOCIAL EVOLUTION AND CHAOS
We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all life is created equal and is endowed with the same inalienable rights. Further, all human social institutions derive their power from the consent of the people, and whenever any institution becomes destructive of the rights of life it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.
In the universe nothing is constant (with a very few exceptions, such as the speed of light). Everything changes (this condition itself is a constant), and evolution is one such type of change, specifically, one of the types of changes which living organisms may experience. In this sense evolution itself is a system, a system of change that other systems - living entities - undergo.
Evolution in general, as a system, has many characteristics. First, like all forms of organization it presumably occurs for some reason, purpose or goal. And the apparent end of evolution is that the system which is subject to it may survive as a species. Evolution is the competitive arena in which different species fight it out.
However, a question arises: does life achieve its evolutionary goals collectively through species, or through the efforts of individuals? And the answer is: both! If enough individuals develop a physical or behavioral advantage, and this enhances the survival of their lifelines, then the species itself may survive.
Also, it is not the case that all aspects of a species have to change for evolution to take place. This only requires change sufficient to establish a distinct, new form. In addition, the actual rate of change for different characteristics varies, reflecting their relative importance to the underlying evolutionary process, really, to the specific nature of the competition to which the life form is exposed.
Human evolution will also occur through changes to various aspects of the human form, both physical and behavioral. Furthermore, some of our characteristics will evolve more quickly that others. In addition, our society is one manifestation of our behavior. Therefore, as we evolve it should evolve. Because of this, one can say that society evolves.
How would we like our society to evolve? While there are many objectives which are worth pursuing, some of the more obvious ones include to change dictatorship into democracy, and inequality into equality. In addition, we want to change our attitudes and behavior towards other forms of life.
Evolutionary processes can be understood more deeply using what is known chaos theory. This is a new approach to science which is used to evaluate, among other things, systems which are non-linear or dynamic. Such systems cycle from an ordered state, to one of disorder, and then back to order.
What the theory shows is that 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. (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 the latter, a small amount of energy - a slight trigger - can lead to turbulence and disruption. For the former, 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 is 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. And lastly, a real new order, a new form, might evolve.
Chaos theory can be applied to the question of human social evolution, including to the relationship that we have established with other forms of life. For example, 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 which will be required to disrupt this system will themselves have to be extremely powerful.
In the analysis of human social evolution, in the first instance one must consider the interactions which take place between individuals and their environment (both social and natural). 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, as our mind affects 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 type of linkage is known as a feedback mechanism, and the core attribute which has resulted from it is our ability to reason. We have gradually evolved greater cognitive abilities, which better enable us to understand and adapt to the world. And through such reason we have changed in a number of ways which 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.
However, via another feedback mechanism our reason itself is 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. And through this we now have distinct societies which are not in equilibrium at all, which are chaotic and have yet to establish a new order, and other societies which have established new forms of order, but which forms are for the most part dictatorial and repressive.
Indeed, it is arguable that through the effects of technology we have been diverted from a more gradual process of evolution, 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? Is there any way chaos can be instigated such that evolution, rather than dictatorship or extinction, is the result?
Social change seemingly can occur in a number of ways, the first of which is via reform. The idea of reform is that we seek to solve our problems one by one, and using conventional means. Such means are by definition ethical, as they entail working within the system. There is a real question, though, if reform can ever achieve anything, since it requires the system to change itself. Reformers are regularly co-opted by the system, such that they become complicit with it, or they are diverted from their goals. And even when real reform does appear to take hold, and this inevitably takes a very long period of time, the risk is always present that it will revert, as when the leaders of the system change. (With reform it is also regularly the case that a battle is won, at the cost of losing its associated war. Also, I do not mean to infer that all people who strive for reform are co-opted, or diverted. For instance, many government employees are public servants, and use their best efforts to fight off the untoward pressure of political interests.)
Secondly, we can seek to accomplish change via revolution, to use force to overthrow the entire current system and replace it with something new. With revolution the goal is to accomplish change now, i.e., 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 such 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.
The third option 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 and direct action, including property destruction. 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.
A few examples should suffice to clarify these distinctions. Opponents of poverty frequently attempt to work within the system, but their efforts regularly are subverted. The leaders of the system have their own agendas, and design responses which appease the poor without confronting their underlying problems, and as a result nothing changes. If anything, inequalities increase.
For revolution, two examples where positive change clearly was not accomplished occurred with the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Maoists in China. The goals of both were ethical: the end of feudalism and imperialism. But their means were not; they used such things as purges, torture and mass murder. (In many such situations the goal is not even social change. The revolutionaries are really false rebels. Their only goal is to obtain power themselves, and they marshall support for this by misleading their followers: by presenting their fight as one for social justice.)
An alternative example, though, exists with the American revolution, as it did lead 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. (In an ethical war prisoners are treated humanely, and the lives of non-combatants are not put at risk, as through the use of landmines and terrorism.) 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.
What these examples infer is that the ethical basis of the means which are used to trigger chaos are incorporated into it. (Such basis is a type of strange attractor.) Anger and violence may be more effective at creating social turbulence, but they retain a primary role in any subsequent order which arises from it. The practical reason for this is that if chaos is fueled by violence, this normally leads to massive social disruption, and hence great barriers to establishing a new democratic order. But if chaos is fueled by reason and activism, to force a change in government structures and practices, and social values and conventions, with such changes and values thought out in advance, to the extent that they can be, a new and better order likely can be formed.
A further barrier, though, remains: what if one side in a chaotic situation is violent and another is not, as, for instance, with police who react violently to non-violent demonstrators? The latter retain the right to defend themselves, but to the extent that they lower themselves and use the tactics of the state, they degrade their ethical position and reduce the probability that a better social order can be formed.
The main consequence of all of this is that with chaos one must be alert and ready. It may be uncontrollable and unpredictable, but its negative consequences, such as the number of people who will die in a civil war, can be limited if one is prepared to confront such consequences the instant they arise (and where possible proactively seek to prevent them). Further, as the energy subsides and the turbulence dies down, one must be ready to direct and shape the formation of the next social order. For example, for a military dictatorship which falls through chaos, activists and rebels must be prepared to begin implementing democratic institutions at the first opportunity (beginning with the installation of an independent security apparatus, such as a peace-keeping force, to halt the perpetration of atrocities in the residual disorder).
Regarding the energy needed to instigate chaos, one can only keep pushing until the requirement, whatever it might be, is met. But, as steps can be planned, and orchestrated into overall campaigns, it may be possible to accelerate the onset of turbulence, perhaps greatly.
Returning to the goal of changing our behavior towards nature, we must begin with the fact that we are self-centered (as are all other species). Because of this numerous 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 equals, and insofar as reason guides our actions we will evolve in this way as well. In theory, then, one could envision successive periods of chaos, the first to bring about real equality among 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); instead, it is Earth's ecological disaster. It is our behavior towards nature which 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.
In conclusion, one might inquire: what does all of the foregoing imply for activism and activists?
1. Reform will not work: it will not be sufficient to bring about the change we desire.
2. Neither will the extreme measures of revolution. Revolutionary developments always revert, and also regularly take a form which is worse than that which they replace.
3. Chaos must be instigated for social evolution to occur. However, it is essential here that a subtle distinction be addressed. In arguing for the onset of chaos it would appear that I am recommending the use of volatility, the type of volatility which regularly is used as a tool of social form. (When I refer to social form, I mean all of the ways in which you are shaped, conditioned, persuaded, socialized, manipulated, indoctrinated, programmed, controlled and brainwashed, all of the techniques by which you are influenced to think and behave in a particular manner.) For example, consider all the politicians, religious leaders and media, etc., who promote conflict in order to profit from it.
The difference with radical activism is that our tactics do not constitute social form. There is no manipulation to achieve a hidden agenda. And while the activist consensus against modern corporate behavior could 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 also is 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; rather, we are education, the education necessary to defeat it.
4. A distinction should be drawn between partial and complete chaos. For instance, the chaos which is now evident throughout human society, in the form of such things as localized outbreaks 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 which has now become common, worldwide, is effectively forcing us into a smaller and smaller box. However, 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, 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 also 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.
Our goal as direct action environmental activists is to cause the first, to forestall the possibility of the second.
5. Chaos requires strong steps, so such steps will have to be taken. We need more than widespread grassroots organization. We need acts, if only to serve as symbols for such organization. Further, we should not be complicit with the dictatorial forces in modern, and traditional, society.
6. Such steps, though, must be ethical. Violence against individuals should never be used except in defense of oneself or ones family. In rare cases, though, property destruction is justifiable, and the foremost of these cases is when it is necessary to prevent the torture or murder of life. Destruction of property is also justifiable if it is property that has been stolen from you (you are entitled to destroy your own property), or if it is property that is used in unethical and criminal actions.
7. When we have the social order reeling, and close to chaos, we must not relent. Rather, we should hit it until it is down, and then kick it to keep it down. Action must follow action to ensure that enough energy is added and the current system is swept away. For example, dictatorships must be destroyed, with the dictators imprisoned or expelled and their personal and family assets seized and redistributed. (One can argue that the chaos which developed recently in Indonesia was insufficient to accomplish real change. The dictator Suharto, and his family members and cronies, appear unlikely to face justice. They will never be punished for the murders for which they were responsible, and they likely will retain most of their wealth. The changes there therefore cannot be considered to be evolutionary, and the country may well revert to another dictatorship, just as the Suharto dictatorship followed the Sukarno dictatorship, which in turn followed the colonial dictatorship of the Dutch.)
8. In the steps leading up to chaos, and in the turbulence which follows its onset, activists will face violence and repression, and some individuals will be injured and even killed.
To confront modern corporate behavior with effect, the number of radical activists is going to have to increase dramatically. Large demonstrations at every institutional meeting, and hundreds of direct action affinity groups, are required. And, of course, the police will overreact to this. They will respond to protests, civil disobedience and property destruction with violence and extreme prejudice. This is what they are paid, and ordered, to do. They are a security mechanism for the state and corporate interests, and their primary means are repression. Even more, they want to do it. They love their power, and believe the only way to prove that they have it is to use it.
How violent will the social chaos generated by radical activism become? One hopes that the violence will be less severe than the level commonly seen in war, but there is no way to know for sure. Given the standard response of dictators to dissent, we should expect the worst. However, just because the consequences of nonviolent activism may include violence, this does not invalidate it as an approach. Great violence is also regularly the consequence of complacency, and denial, and inaction.
Some people will say that activists should not court such a response, and that only reform should be attempted. This is absurd. It will accomplish nothing. Activists must act. And, as the police react with violence, and we are imprisoned, injured and killed, we must not let up or lose courage. We must redouble our efforts, and recruit new activists, even as the police violence against us escalates. Evolution, the actual process of evolving, of surviving chaos, is regularly very unpleasant, but there is no alternative. We will have to see it through.
One hopes that the general public, the non-activist masses, those who believe the police and large institutions serve their interests, not realizing that they really are prisoners of them, will awaken. This is not an impossibility. Members of the public, particularly children and young adults, are not so degraded that they cannot understand that activists would not make such sacrifices without need: if critical problems did not exist. They could awaken and understand who is right, and that mass-media portrayals of us are lies.
We are not eco-terrorists. This label is just another example of the use of volatility. Being terrorized means living in fear. Who, precisely, are we causing to live in a state of fear, such as when we protest the logging of old growth forests? Is it the timber company executives? Such executives may have a fear, that their bank accounts will not swell to match their greed, but this is not the fear of terror, which is the fear for ones life.
It is even conceivable that the general public will join our effort, if only by using their residual influence to protest the level of police and institutional abuse which is directed at us.
9. And lastly, or rather, to begin, we must educate this same 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.
© Roland O. Watson 2001-3