Why Chaos Could Be Just What We Need Right Now

Created: 02 April, 2018
Updated: 21 November, 2022
5 min read

I seek and thrive on hope. But currently, I see chaos throughout our society, at every level. This leaves me feeling anxious and fearful. Have you felt this as well? Or are you more optimistic?

Recently, I’ve started to ask myself -- what if there is a larger pattern or story that we have yet to see?

My belief that we are in a time of chaos is based on these assumptions:

  • Authoritarianism is on the rise globally, partially in response to perceived chaos due to rising economic inequality, mass migration, and more.
  • We have elected an authoritarian leader in the United States.
  • Social norms of how government works are being challenged or ignored because they do not suit the president or other power brokers.
  • Micro-targeting has been used to instill fear, depress voters, and increase divisions within our country and around the world.
  • Everyone in the US has been impacted by disinformation campaigns.
  • Our pride at being “too smart” to be impacted by disinformation and propaganda allows it to continue.
  • The antidote for division is strong human-to-human bonds with each other.

So I started asking, what if all this chaos is by design? And could I be less scared? The president has admitted that he likes chaos -- as if chaos is his friend. OK… let’s start there.

"Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future."

So… chaos is when current actions determine our future, but we don’t know how or what that future might look like. That sounds about right.

We become anxious when we assess the future as unpredictable or unsafe.

Why would we, as a country, vote for an unpredictable future -- i.e. the current president? Perhaps because the future that we were on track for -- a more democratic socialist society, under Obama’s leadership -- left some people with a sense that personal responsibility was no longer valued -- that sharing our hard-earned bounty would be forcefully taken to support others who are lazy or unworthy.

This fed fear and anger by many people who felt left behind, overlooked, condescended to, and basically not valued as citizens in this country.

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We become fearful when we assess the future as painful.

We become angry when we assess that something has been or continues to be unfair.

With this understanding, I can see why some people would vote for a non-predictable future. Because the predicted future looked painful, harmful, and/or unfair.

More about chaos theory, as applied to social science:

"Chaotic systems are not random systems. Chaotic systems have some kind of order, with an equation that determines overall behavior."

If this is true (and in mathematics, it is), then what is the underlying equation that will help us define the order and restore predictability? Good question, right? So I looked deeper into chaos theory.

"When systems become dislodged from a stable state, they go through a period of oscillation, swinging back and forth between order and chaos."

And it’s a mind-bender and brings up all sorts of possibilities. But what I take from this mostly, is that there is both order (predictability) and chaos (unpredictability) and in natural systems, this is normal.

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Order becomes stagnation and chaotic behavior emerges as a way to get unstuck. And it’s turbulent. Yep, we got that in society today.

Here’s more:

"Part of the difficulty in studying chaos theory arises because complex systems are difficult to study in pieces. Scientist’s efforts to separate pieces of dynamical systems often fall apart."

So… it’s complex in a way that our human minds have trouble holding in whole -- so we attempt to break it down to study the parts. And the complex system we are observing stops working, because each part is somehow holding the whole thing together. And removing it, observing it independently, means that it’s wholeness is broken.

"In the same breath, it is important to establish the importance of the autonomy the smallest parts of a system possess. Each component of a complex system has the ability to fluctuate, randomly and unpredictably, within the context of the system itself."

And it continues --

"Even lacking direction, parts of a system can combine so that the system generates multiple configurations of itself, displaying 'order without predictability.' These systems never land in the same place twice, but they also never exceed certain boundaries."

And then, we can observe that some small part of the system acting on its own, transforms the whole system.

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This is called the “Butterfly Effect.” And it reminds me of historical social transformation stories. Like the story of Christ, acting as a radical in the Roman Empire and the re-ordering of society that we still echo today. (Same for Buddha, Mohammed, Abraham, and others).

The boundaries that were established in the case of the faith traditions were society itself. All of them have offered transformation of our society.

Enter Cambridge Analytica -- And now we learn that data collection companies have moved from meta-data (an anonymous, whole systems view) to micro-targeting (the parts of the whole) as a way to transform our culture to fit their vision of what society should be -- to literally re-create the social boundaries and then energize parts of the system, using fear and anger.

This has been effective in establishing new norms of behavior, targeting the governance structures in our country. While the idea of puppet masters enacting a social change movement terrifies me, I’m also curious and hopeful. Could chaos be a part of my life’s work to facilitate the next iteration of a new social contract?

Hope is an assessment that the future holds joy.

If we can identify the whole system and engage as parts (participants), energized for transformation, perhaps we can collectively make conscious choices and co-create our future. This thought informs my hope:

"One recent development in the theory of social systems has been the move away from aggregate, large-scale models. New models inspired by complex systems build social systems from the bottom-up; behavior is simulated for individual agents, then taken to the aggregate level either through analytic methods or through explicit computer simulations."

Rather than fear chaos, I now see chaos as part of natural order. Our old system was stagnating and actively breaking down. Our social contract is up for renewal. We need to accept our individual responsibility with awareness of the whole system in which we live.

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Let’s commit our sacred honor to each other in pursuit of a more perfect union.

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