Friday, February 4, 2011
Self-Organizing The Revolution
There is a revolution underway in Egypt unlike any the world has ever seen before. Leaderless, organized from within using technological tools and inspired not by any particular ideology but by a desire for self-determination and freedom, this revolution is different in many ways, but it is the lack of a single charismatic leader that seems to have bewildered many in the media and in the opinion sphere.
Recent articles have been written about using complex systems science to understand what is happening in Egypt. While it is true that we can look at the entire complex system, including its economic, environmental and political aspects, and try to explain how we got to where we are today, I am much more interested in applying the ideas of complex systems science to what is unfolding in front of our eyes right now. Complex systems science can give us insights into the possible future that awaits the people of Egypt and, in fact, the entire world.
When this uprising started last week, I wrote about the thin line between chaos and emergence of order, but it was way too early at that time to really know whether we were witnessing an example of a bifurcation. I think I've seen enough now to confirm that this is, indeed, what has happened: the world has changed and it will never, ever be the same again.
I have been watching the events unfold for a week now, and am now convinced that what we are seeing is a dramatic and moving instance of the power of self-organization. In the natural world, we see examples of self-organization in such things as the flocking of birds and the behavior of micro-organisms. These are dramatic enough, but when human beings, homo sapiens, begin to self-organize the result is nothing short of inspiring and awesome.
The crowd in the center of Cairo that has been gathering for a week now seems unimpressed by the individuals that have been brought in and presented to them as potential leaders. When Mohamed El Baradei, who is the closest to a spokesperson the group has, entered the square the other night to speak, the crowd shrugged and paid little attention. Their reaction seemed to say, "He has not risen up from our ranks, so how can he represent us?"
On the other hand, we have heard remarkable reports of people in the square dividing up tasks--guarding entrances to the area, preparing food, distributing water, providing medical help--in short, governing themselves. We know people can do this, since we've been doing it for millenia. Civilization would not exist were it not for our own inherent abilities to organize ourselves into vibrant, functioning societies.
It will be interesting to see whether this self-organization can continue once the current regime leaves power--and I believe Mubarak will leave, perhaps very soon. Will the people of Egypt be allowed to continue to self-organize into a new nation, one that will be of their own choosing? I certainly hope so, but only time will tell.