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On revolution and evolution



No man thing is an island.


We cannot just abstract a thing, take it out of context and analyse it in isolation. So we can understand it, we must pay attention to where it lives in the broader system: look at the network of interrelations and interactions between elements as well as with the wider structure as a whole.


Whether it’s an organisation, economy or society, the structure determines how we engage and relate to each other: it creates inertias that force us to “behave” while either punishing those who don't into submission or pushing them into irrelevance outside the sphere of influence.


A system implies an understanding of reality, a theory of knowledge and even ethics.


Only by accident or despite itself can a faulty system bring about a positive outcome: even though a broken clock is right twice a day, a sinking ship cannot be fixed by covering its holes with a finger.


A revolution is a game changer: a sudden, fundamental change or replacement of the system. The problem with revolutions is that they’re hardly ever peaceful or bloodless. As they encounter push-back from those satisfied with the status quo, they often turn violent.


As it implies an understanding of reality and one’s self in relation to the broader order, people feel their identities shaken, and struggle to maintain their positions of balance, privilege or power. A new swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction.


A revolution is often followed by a counter-revolution.


Is there a more humble, peaceful way?


Mythical king, founder and hero of Athens, Theseus was a traveller and adventurer. As his ship was repaired at every new port, and broken plank after broken plank was replaced, none of the original elements of the ship remained - yet it was still known as Theseus’ ship.


How can we say the ship was the same? At what point did it become a completely different ship altogether?


Thinkers since Heraclitus have discussed this paradox long and deep in different contexts, from metaphysics to philosophy of the mind.


There’s no single element that makes it Theseus’ ship; it’s a collection of things. But if these are replaced one by one, a fundamentally different ship emerges.


Similarly, when we focus on small incremental changes, on tweaking, fixing or replacing, we witness the slow but steady emergence of a new structure: gradually at first and then suddenly.


Evolution as a gradual but ongoing transformation rather than a one-off, earth-shatteringly sudden systemic change.


Step by step, little by little, is how we change the world for the better.


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