A Call for Unification

There is a paradigm shift taking place in the sciences. It is taking place, though, under a variety of names and in a variety of fields. It is known as complexity or complex adaptive systems or emergence or self-organization or spontaneous orders. You can find scholars working in the traditions of philosopher of time, J.T. Fraser, in the Austrian school of economics, in psychology in the forms of evolutionary psychology, Piagetian psychology, or Gravesean pyschology (the last of which has been developed by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in their work on Spiral Dynamics, and should be considered an emergentist evolutionary social psychology), and in complex systems. The latter of course are studied in places like the Santa Fe Institute and the Center for the Study of Complex Systems. The Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders, which is now associated with The Philanthropic Enterprise, and which has been an important institution for my own work, has worked for the past ten years to make these connections. Can we think of others?

But if this paradigm is to finally emerge as the dominant scientific paradigm, we need to get these groups speaking to one another. I find it amazing the degree to which the ideas I laid out in an earlier blog post have been rediscovered by a variety of groups in a variety of disciplines (and sometimes by different groups in the same disciplines), and developed along parallel lines while in complete ignorance of each other.


Five Models for Thinking

In the Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates say that he likes dividing things up into categories because it aides in thinking. He also tells us that, like a good butcher, we need to make sure we are making the cuts at the natural joints; otherwise, we just make a mess of things. Nietzsche came along 2300 years later to remind us that conceptual categories are, ultimately, artificial, and that we need to challenge them periodically, and remember that the divisions among things are not really so clear-cut.

That having been said, let me lay out several models I am using that determine my thinking.

1) Information Theory. I support an ontology of information. If something is inform, it has no form. If something informs, it gives form. Thus, information is that which is without form, yet gives form. All things in the universe are information, and the universe itself began as information and continues to exist as information.

2) Chaos Theory, Bios Theory, Constructal Theory and Fractal Geometry. All things in the universe are self-similar regardless of scale, in several different fractal geometries. They exhibit order and disorder simultaneously around strange attractors. Bios theory is similar to chaos theory, but explains creativity in the universe as a product of bipolar feedback (simultaneous negative and positive feedback)–that is, it explains how systems find new strange attractors.

3) Self-Organization and Spontaneous Order. When objects can interact, they will, and when they do, they will give rise to order spontaneously. That order can range from the simple order of a salt crystal to the complex liquid crystal order of a living cell. Complex order requires an understanding of network theory as well.

4) Emergence. All laws of the universe evolved from separate entities interacting to give rise to those laws. These laws act as strange attractors. The result is a new entity the properties of which cannot be predicts from the underlying interactions.

5) Nested Hierarchies. Everything in the universe evolved into its level of complexity from lower levels of complexity. Biology evolved from chemistry which evolved from quantum physics (atoms), and atoms evolved from quantum strings. New levels of complexity arise naturally from lower levels of complexity as the entities of that lower level interact as a complex, dynamic system.

The idea of nested hierarchies comes in several flavors:

1) The physical model exemplified by J.T. Fraser‘s umwelt theory of time. With his model, the timeless level of pure chaos evolved into the probablistic time of quantum physics, whihc evolved into the deterministic time of chemistry (Newtonian physics), which evolved into the weakly forward direction of biotemporality (biological time), which evolved into the strongly forward direction of nootemporality (human time). Each level contains more and more time. And, I would argue, each new level becomes increasingly fractal in nature.

2) The human cognitive and social model developed by Clare Graves. With his model, the pure survialism of animal life evolved into the weak communitarian structures of tribalism, which evolved into the weak individualism of Achilles-type heroism/belief in power gods, which evolved into the stronger communitarianism of authoritarian-religious systems (like Medieval Christianity of modern-day Islam), which evolved into the stronger individualism of the capitalist/scientific social system (the Modern Era in Europe and America), which evolved into the stronger communitarianism of secular egalitarianism (Marxism/Communism, environmentalism, postmodernism), which evolved into integralism, which recognizes the value of each of the lower levels (lower in the sense of being less complex, as each level is more complex than the lower levels), which evolved into holism, which attempts to more smoothly unify all the lower levels. The last two levels recognize the value of complex, fluid, nested hierarchies, as opposed to the egalitarian level, which rejects all hierarchies, and the authoritarian level, which tries to impose rigid hierarchies on everyone.

To have an even more integrationist way of thinking, we cannot forget these four things: I-we-it-its : individualism-communitarianism-traditional science-systems science. And these must be fully integrated into the two forms of nested hierarchy mentioned above (as those two ideas must themselves be integrated).

These are a few of the models with which I am thinking. Actually, these are really just a single model with which I’m thinking. The model itself exhibits all the qualities listed above. You will also find useful elements of my thinking in catastrophe theory (due to its relation to emergence), and the ideas of both negative and positive feedback (and the bipolar feedback of Bios theory, of course). Negative feedback is equilibrium thinking, but positive feedback results in waves such as boom-bust cycle and the cycles described by cliodynamics. And be sure to read up on complexity as well. Knowing what models I’m using should help to make sense of much of what I have said and will say from now on in the blog.

Bureaucracy, Tyranny, and Violence

The greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence. In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on whom the pressures of power could be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant.

Hannah Arendt

If you’ve ever been to the Department of Motor Vehicles, you know just how beaten down you feel by the time you leave–often several hours after you arrived. Everyone has learned a long time ago that there is no point in arguing with anyone at the DMV, because complaining or arguing will affect nothing, and may in fact just slow things down for you. No matter, what, whoever you’re talking to is not in charge and they cannot help you. Everyone is simply following the rules and nobody is responsible for anything. It literally is “rule of the desk.”

There are almost 22 million people employed by federal, state, and local governments. The manufacturing sector employs about half that many people. About a quarter of government employees could be considered bureaucrats. That means that there’s about one government bureaucrat for every two factory workers. With about 160 million people employed in the U.S., that’s about 1 bureaucrat for every 25 non-government worker.

But those are just government bureaucrats. Businesses also have bureaucrats (as anyone who has tried to get anything done by calling a problem in to a company knows). And since education isn’t considered “government” employment, though public education is in fact government education, none of the education bureaucrats are counted. If the ratio of bureaucrats in education and the private sector is even half that of government, we’re talking about something like 13 million bureaucrats in those two sectors. Altogether, that’s almost 20 million bureaucrats in the U.S.

The point is, there are a whole lot of people out there whose primary jobs are to prevent much from getting done, because that’s what protect their jobs. Their job is designed to frustrate anyone who comes their way.

What happens when so many people are actively working to frustrate the rest of the population?  Why is anyone surprised that people are acting on that frustration?

We are living in a tyranny. A tyranny of no one. As the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath learned, there’s simply nobody to shoot. And if there’s nobody to shoot, anybody will do.