Chaos Theory - In Practice

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "the world is going to the dogs" - or something similar. This is the usual reaction of those who see long-revered institutions and ways of living going down the drain of history.

Recently I watched a TV programme regarding the decline in traditional church attendance, and some weak attempts to both prove and disprove this - not to mention various explanations as to why.

Evidence of "moral decline", some people would shout. "Proof of the decadence of modern society", others may opine.

And yet this is but one piece of evidence of societal upheaval and change.

The fact is, everything is in flux. Everything is changing so fast that many people are in "future shock" - to use Tofler's famous phrase. And to a large percentage of people, this represents the beginning of a descent into chaos.

If you charted the history of progress and societal change on a graph, then it would start off low and slow - and rise almost imperceptibly until around the Industrial Revolution. Thereafter, the graph would begin to rise ever steeper - to the point where now, we are getting very close to a near-vertical line.

It's not just that society is changing, but that the rate of change is accelerating. A couple of hundred years ago, you could be born, go to school, get a job, grow old and die in the same village - without ever setting foot outside your home ground. Now, we all expect to be doing business anywhere, perhaps living anywhere, and certainly like the idea of travelling anywhere.

The rate of change is quite mind boggling, when you sit down and think about it. Can you imagine life without the internet? Can you imagine life without your iPod, DVD, or plasma TV? Can you imagine life without cheap international phone calls? All of these things are relatively new, and certainly were not part of most people's human landscape in 1996 - just 10 years ago.

This rapid rate of change has brought us to a point in history where a "change-climax" is about to take place - right smack in the middle of a world where 95% of the people are unaware or unwilling for such a change to occur.

The end result is that the world is headed for a "steep divide"- between those who embrace it, and those who reject it, and try to fight it.

Tradition is under attack at every turn. Sure, it didn't start yesterday, but its momentum is gaining ground. The "old ways" of doing things are being questioned. Even our very political system is being challenged - as evidenced by fact that more and more people are choosing not to vote. That's not apathy, it's an awakening!

To a 'conservative' minded person this is all very disturbing. What will replace all this?

It's this fear of "chaos", of losing control, that drives many people to adopt a bunker mentality and become reactionaries to change. And some of the most reactionary people on the planet right now are the leaders and politicians of nation states. Not surprising really, as they are there as a result of being voted in by a fearful populace.

Our very political system is based on the idea that we can "control" everything. Petrol price too high? Well, how about legislating a fixed price? Drug use out of control? Let's make tougher anti-drug laws. Companies making too much profit? Let's tax them to oblivion. Too many poor people? Let soak the rich to get some "equality".

There's a very interesting book, that's been around now for a few years, which explains the free market economy as an "ecosystem" - a self-organising "chaotic" living entity similar to a rain forest. Its title is "Bionomics" by Michael Rothschild.

What fascinated me about this book, when I first read it, was how different this analysis was from the prevailing Marxist one - which views the economy as some sort of "machine".

But no, free market capitalism is not a "machine" that can be tinkered with by politicians and other central planners - but rather a delicately balanced "ecosystem" - where one intrusion can easily lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences.

In "Bionomics", the free market system is viewed just like a rain forest - intricate and interdependent. And just like in nature, if you remove, disrupt or fiddle with even one essential element to such life, you can destablise the whole system.

To a politically-inclined person, such an analysis of how the economy works leaves a lot to be desired - particularly as it suggests that "tinkering" is no longer a valid mode of operation! I mean, if this is true - what do we need politicians for?

If the economy is in fact a self-organising system, one which cannot be controlled externally, then our whole political edifice is based on a false assumption - that we can engineer our way to equal prosperity for all.

It's the same with the internet. It literally has a life of its own. No single entity controls it - and yet, it is growing exponentially, complete with its own internal controls.

The internet is a society without government as we have know it, and yet it is the fastest growing social phenomena in existence. Have you not noticed that no one is running for "President" of the internet? Have you not noticed the lack of political democracy? And yet the internet is indeed a viable and thriving community.

More than that - it is bringing together diverse, but similar changes in other fields, and providing a catalyst for even more rapid change. The internet is providing an essential information clearinghouse - one which accelerates even faster the various changes already under way.

And what are some these changes?

In essence they are science/technology driven - things like the latest developments in medicine and genetics, which hold the promise of eliminating so much disease; advanced commercial space exploration; communications technology; the continuing growth in scientific enquiry and discovery; and of course the multitude of technological developments which are changing our very lives day by day.

The one thing all these have in common is they represent a major challenge to the status quo. And the most common cry of "alarm" is that we "acting like God" by going where no humans have gone before.

Precisely! We ARE acting like God. In fact, humans have always acted like God - as the creative force present on this planet.

Just stop and think for a moment. If you took all the man-made things off this earth, what would be left? Sure, you'd have mountains to look at, forests to walk through and sea to swim in. But what about your life? Can you imagine your life without the myriad of products, services and technologies created by man?

No buildings. No electricity. No cars. No aircraft. No medicines. No TV. No movies. No computers. No music. No art. No plumbing. You get the picture!

We stand on the brink of truly exciting events - such as rapidly expanding life spans (150 years and more), and rapidly declining terminal diseases. But we only do so by challenging all of our short history's moral presuppositions and religious traditions.

We are entering the phase of human evolution where we must stand up and acknowledge our godlike character and potential. We must realise that we are the creative power driving this planet. And just as truly, we must realise we have the potential to destroy everything.

Coming to grips with the essential "chaotic" nature of our universe and our place in it, is a vital forward step on our journey to true human progress. And until we drop our love of "control" and control for control's sake - we will be doomed to repeat all the errors of past socities and civilisations.

For most people on earth, this time must appear as nothing but chaos - as cherished beliefs and ideas come tumbling down (including the idea of the nation state!). But for the minority who can see (even dimly) across to the other side, we are living at the most exciting time in the history of humankind.

Warning: do not discount the possibility of RAPID change. Do not think the existing order can only change "slowly". No, sometimes change is dramatic and profound - and can happen by tomorrow's news headline. Remember the Berlin Wall?

"It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times" - said Charles Dickens in the opening line of "A Tale of Two Cities". That may have been written a long time ago, but such a statement is very apt for our present time. And depending upon your own viewpoint, you will already know which side of the great "divide" YOU are standing on.

Yours in freedom

David MacGregor