How Do You Get a Revolution Rolling? Chaos Theory and Catalysing Revolutions with Intent
I’ve had about 40 years of pondering on this. Not pointless random pondering, mind you. It was reasonably purposeful pondering; which is kind of expected of academics, at least before academics completely turned into degree bots.
I guess the best clue to my purposeful pondering were the pleasures and traumas of supervising over 20 PhD students, and, of course, navigating my own PhD as a preliminary. All 20 PhD’s, every so called ‘learned paper’ every conference presentation (many of which were of the invited keynote kind), every funded project and every dutiful committee group think/seminar head bashing session were all connected parts of a journey that might, hopefully, yield some insights, or, at the very least, provide the entertainments of schadenfreude. My career was, after all, wrecked by a cohort of odious academic managerialist trolls.
What’s the theme of that journey? Well, the general theme was to figure out how to implement real, genuine, transformative change in regard to how humans interact with our planet so that it’s not just us hanging in there at the very bitter end. Or, putting it another way, the theme was focused around avoiding the inevitable ecological blackhole towards which the human race is driving just about everything, including ourselves, via the unmitigated pursuit of pathological self-interest and the psychotic pursuit of delusional self-validation. That’s not exactly a tractable theme for mission statement writing! Or very helpful for figuring out a one line descriptor for our Research Centre’s door.
You see, I once called myself an ‘Ecological Economist’. Which was once a ‘movement’ through which to get scientists, economists, policy boffins, politicians and resource managers all reinventing and evolving their individual perspectives through the power of purposeful collaborative learning. The idea is to seek out catalysts for change that might actually break down all those prejudices and mis-perceptions that we all hold through the power of seriously charged learning. (I refrain from using the word ‘synergy-driven learning’ to avoid descent into the realms of Public Service platitude. ‘Synergy’ meant something, once. Before Key Performance Indicator Seeking, Tickbox Checking pro-bots stole the notion while ignoring it’s meaning…)
Anyway, the deal, for me, was always to seek out clever, serious ways to actually make change happen. Rather than just talk about it or worse, develop meaningless policy rhetoric to make ourselves sound important. My journey was about the search for leavers. Leavers, or catalysts for change. If you place this search for leavers within the wondrous context of Chaos and Complexity Theory, this search might uncover some pretty sneaky doors into the change game.
By way of an illustration, why are so many people so incredibly frustrated right now with politicians all around the world over lack of progress towards mitigating climate change? These frustrations keep us marching in the street, shouting at TV’s and dreaming of revolutions. But no one is convinced or impressed with our collective progress here except a bunch of delusional politicians, and even they probably know they’re just spinning a line.
It’s a great example of where this collaborative, transformative change, purposefully organised, across-disciplinary learning thing might have some potential. If only we could define all that as a singular Thing that can be unleashed, like some kind of transformative change guided missile. Or such.
There is so much to unpack from my travels over and through this space over the past thirty years. There are entire disciplines devoted to every aspect of the challenge; some of which have been going on for over 100 years (Institutional Economics is one example, but then again, so are a wonderful portfolio of philosophical dimensions that have been going on since the days of the ‘Ancient Greeks’).
You might say that much of my academic journey has been about putting the ‘Philosophy’ back into the PhD game (PhD stands, after all, for Doctor of Philosophy) in any discipline you might like to nominate (even PhD’s in Music or Literary Theory are fair game for this aim).
My theory was that working on PhD’s was a pretty stealthy way of infiltrating the bastions of decision making that surround the complex confusions of Environmental Policy making. My plan was to inject furiously holistically thinking change agents charged with the Right Kind of PhD into the empowered decision making environment. This might be one powerful catalyst through which to stir Chaos into action and reaction. That’s been my personal strategy for charging up the Necessary Revolution. It was something I could do, and did. It was and is real. The impacts are usually subtle. But subtle, by definition, can push chaos just as purposefully as determined $multi-billion campaigns from global panels or programmes. Swimming in chaos via purposeful intent is a fascinating enterprise!
I don’t have a definitive recipe or set of insights to sell off to the highest bidder. I don’t plan on setting up a $Billion institute or Think Tank trough which to unpack all this stuff. No, institutionalised strategies or ‘weaponising tactics’ just tend to produce yet more organisations that end up spending most of their time and effort in self-validation and the placation of funders. I don’t have THE answers. No, there is no ‘Product’ to sell here. It’s all too complex for that.
It was too complex for the university I was at. They threw me out. My programme of stupendously eclectic, eccentric PhD-level research did not fit into the grand plans of academic disciplinary silo thinkers. The boffins found it too hard to tick their Academic Research Key Performance Indicator check boxes because what it is that we did seemed to evade the boxes at hand. But we did produce over 20 PdD completions and lots of concurrent project infiltrations into the generic world of policy making along the way. It’s just that there is no place for a transdisciplinary Research Centre within a psychopathically disciplinary research establishment that characterises just about any university you might care to name.
So, I have decided to unpack the learning via story telling and anecdote. I am writing a book or two. And I have persisted with a few blogs since formally leaving my academic post (now ten years past). I am a farmer now (my wife’s game). I guess I have the space.