You say you want a revolution?

One thing systems theory shows is that a comprehensive social revolution is now extremely improbable. A revolution such as that envisioned by Marx and Engels is improbable because of functional differentiation. A limited revolution might be triggered in one system, but this might leave the other systems untouched or only slightly irritated. Those slightly irritated systems will then most likely adjust and carry on their operations.  A political revolution might not significantly disturb the economic system, or vice versa. A scientific revolution or educational revolution might leave the legal system untouched. There isn’t a single lever we can move or a button we can push that will change all of society at once. Thanks to decentralization, contemporary society, much like the Internet, is resistant to attack. Break a link somewhere, and communication just bypasses the broken node.

This seems pessimistic, but there is no reason for pessimism or optimism. For instance, past technological innovations (e.g., the printing press, railroads, telegraphy) did seriously disrupt various social systems. But we don’t know if the irritated system will respond by becoming more or less oppressive. We can have revolutions and counter-revolutions. Or we can maintain the status quo. For instance, the Internet has been widely available since the 1990s, but the format of many university lectures hasn’t changed much over the last few hundred years. “Star” professors and elite universities tend to be slowest to change because they don’t have to change.


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