Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chaos and Freedom




This past week as I have watched the people in one country after another in the Middle East rise up in protest against their governments, I've wondered if we are witnessing a moment of bifurcation, when the internal governing force of a society (not the same as the government) goes through a dramatic upheaval and changes form. The result of such a transition can be chaos or it can be some other organized state, but whatever the eventual outcome, the trip from the past into the future is always tumultuous when a bifurcation is encountered.

It's really too early to tell if the situation we are witnessing is an example of what some people call a "tipping point," but complex system scientists call a bifurcation. Nevertheless, I was compelled to write something about this situation after hearing one line in the speech given last night by President Mubarak of Egypt: "There is a thin line between freedom and chaos," he said.

Yes, indeed, there is a thin line and although I'm sure what Mubarak wants is freedom without the chaos, it isn't possible, at least in my view. Chaos breeds creativity and is necessary for the emergence of new forms of existence. Chaos seems bad when we're in the midst of it, but without it, we become stagnant and unchanging, a situation not that much different from being dead.

Scholars who specialize in the Middle East say that they have no idea why revolt is bubbling over now. It certainly sounds like a tipping point has been reached, where a very tiny change leads to a dramatic upheaval, such as might happen if a bit more extra weight is shifted to the opposite end of a seesaw.

But, as I said, it is too early to analyze and interpret the current situation that is changing by the minute--and even if it weren't, I'm not sure I would want to try. Is it even possible to quantify what is in the hearts of a people who have been suppressed for decades? Do we need science to tell us anymore about what is painfully obvious to anybody who is watching: things in the world are about to change dramatically and, whatever the outcome, it is most certainly going to affect all of us.

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