I will soon turn this blog in a new direction. What I’ve been doing so far is using current events to try to show how a complexity theory of power can help bridge the two cultures divide between the physical and social sciences. No theory worth its salt can evade such empirical grounding. While I will continue to use current events this way on occasion, I’d like to make a case for how complexity theory needs the progressive left and how the progressive left needs complexity theory. I’m also keeping an eye out for ways that Donald Trump’s far-right, authoritarian impulses could exacerbate “disorganized complexity” nationally and internationally.
But, first, here’s one more “complexity event in the news”. The event that popped out at me from today’s New York Times (“Salon Workers in Illinois to Train on Signs of Abuse”, December 18, 2016, Page A4) is a new first-of-its kind law in Illinois that adds to the licensing requirement for hairdressers training on how to spot domestic abuse symptoms among their customers. The state is also supplying hairdressers with a list of resources that they may at their discretion provide customers. The practical premise underlying the program is that hairdressers have a special vantage point for recognizing symptoms of abuse in their regular customers and that customers, over time, often find hair salons to be “safe spaces” for sharing personal information.
My complexity theory of power uses pre-biotic physical dynamics, of the sort identified by Ilya Prigogine, to assert that power imposed by one party on another (as in the case of spousal abuse) advances disorganized complexity and power exercised in a non-coercive, collaborative manner (as in a non-violent cooperative relationship between spouses) advances self-organized complexity. The use of complexity theory breaks from traditional social and political science because it builds upon concepts from physical dynamics that, in evolutionary terms, precede life. It has only been possible to proceed in this analytical direction in recent decades with identification of a self-organizing dynamic within matter by scientists like Prigogine (1977 winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry). A knee-jerk, misplaced criticism of such an approach is that it is reductionist when, in fact, it is precisely the opposite. The fear is that social science methods rooted in physics or chemistry would necessarily reduce human affairs in mechanistic fashion to some sort of physical and/or chemical assembly. Indeed much social and political science, struck by physics-envy, has stumbled down this cul de sac since the 19th century. But self-organizing systems move in an opposite, irreducible direction toward unpredictably novel, organically interrelated, more complex forms of life, including the “lives” of social and political systems. I use the complexity paradigm here to identify 1) asphyxiating system closure like that typified by an abusive relationship, 2) open, liberating processes as tend to occur in a mutually respectful relationship of spouses and 3) the bifurcation or power restructuring processes that occur in a successful transition from an oppressive to an emancipated relationship between spouses or, one would hope increasingly on an intranational, international and global scales.