Bannon and Bolsonaro

In August, Steve Bannon agreed to help Jair Bolsonaro’s election campaign during a meeting in New York with Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo.  After a TV ad appeared during the campaign criticizing the link with Bannon, Bolsonaro denied getting any help from Bannon. (The Guardian, October 11, 2018).

Before the runoff election won by Bolsonaro in late October, Bannon, compared Bolosnaro to Trump and said “Captain Bolsonaro is a Brazilian patriot, and I believe a great leader for his country at this historic moment.” “Steve Bannon endorses far-right Brazilian presidential candidate” Reuters, October 26, 2018.

RELEASE: Rep. Khanna Urges Secretary Pompeo to Uphold Democratic Values in Brazil

The following October 26 letter to Secretary of State Pompeio from Congressman Ro Khanna (Dem-CA) expresses why a victory in Brazil’s presidential election by the right-wing Jair Bolsonaro would, by any democratic standards, be a disastrous outcome. The letter’s hyperlinks document the frightening scope of possibilities a Bolsonaro regime would pose. Now, with his win today, that disaster has occurred.  If Bolsonaro, widely called the Tropical Trump, acts on his demagogic promises, a great political tragedy is in the making.  And Donald Trump, with his authoritarian leanings and a studied aversion to even pronouncing the words “human rights” in foreign policy, is likely to make matters worse.  Now is a time to monitor closely U.S. policy toward Brazil — and to denounce any coddling up to those who seem prepared to dismantle Brazil’s fragile democratic structures.

***

Dear Secretary Pompeo,

 

We are deeply concerned by rising threats to democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Brazil. A far-right extremist named Jair Bolsonaro is the leading contender in the country’s presidential election on October 28 and is benefitting from an electoral campaign marked by political violence and a deluge of false news reports and misinformation.

As you may be aware, Mr. Bolsonaro regularly praises Brazil’s former military dictatorship, has been charged with hate speech toward minority groups and said that he will not recognize the election results if he loses. In response, we ask that you make it clear to the government of Brazil that the United States of America finds these positions unacceptable and that there will be severe consequences if Mr. Bolsonaro follows through on his threats during the presidential campaign.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s actions conflict with free and fair elections: Hecalled for the execution of his opponents and more recently threatened to jail leaders of the Worker’s Party and “banish them from the homeland.” He also called for the members of the internationally respected Landless Workers Movement to be branded as “terrorists.” Along with threatening to dismiss the election results, Mr. Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo – one of the main spokespeople for his father’s campaign –talks of militarily intervening against the country’s supreme court should it fail to confirm his father’s victory.

It is now widely acknowledged in both the Brazilian and international media that Mr. Bolsonaro has benefited from a massive false news campaign on social media, which has reportedly received millions of dollars of illicit funding from private sector actors. Among other inventions, this campaign has “reported” that Bolsonaro’s opponent defends incest and homo-erotic content in primary school curriculums. It is heartening to see that Facebook hasorganized a “war room” in response to this misinformation campaign and closed accounts responsible for producing and distributing false news reports to millions of Brazilians, but these actions may well be too little, too late at this point.

Finally, it is particularly troubling that political violence, primarily directed at supporters of the Worker’s Party, has erupted over the past few weeks. More than one hundred cases of political violence have been reported. Among the victims is a well-known capoeira master from the state of Bahia, who died from twelve stab wounds after publicly defending the Worker’s Party candidate. Mr. Bolsonaro, himself the victim of a recent stabbing that we strongly condemn, has refused to denounce these attacks and continues to express hatred towards Afro-Brazilians, the indigenous whose protected lands could be opened up to logging and mining if Bolsonaro has his way- and members of the LGBT community. It is chilling to imagine what could happen to these communities that have endured growing discrimination and attacks under a potential future Bolsonaro government.

Mr. Secretary, as you are aware, Brazil only emerged from years of brutal dictatorship in the late 1980s. With a leading presidential candidate who is calling for widespread purges, the militarization of the entire country and who promises to stack his cabinet with military officers, it is not inconceivable that Brazil could return to the dark authoritarian days of its recent past. Given the regional repercussions of this sort of a development, this is not a threat that our country can take lightly. It is incumbent upon you and other spokespeople for our government to condemn all political violence in Brazil and take a strong stand in opposition to such backsliding; leaving clear that U.S. assistance and cooperation with Brazil is contingent on the upholding of basic human rights and democratic values by its leaders.

My colleagues and I look forward to your response and working with you to ensure that liberty, equality and transparency remain firm pillars of U.S. foreign policy toward Brazil. It is imperative to ensure that democracy prevails wherever it is threatened.

 

Signers of the letter are: Reps. Alma Adams (NC-12), Keith Ellison (MN-5), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-3), Pramila Jayapal (WA-7), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr (GA-4), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Betty McCollum (MN-4), James P. McGovern (MA-2), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C. At-Large), Frank Pallone Jr. (NJ-6), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jamie Raskin (MD-8), Bobby L. Rush (IL-1), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), José E. Serrano (NY-15), and Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-7).

The letter is endorsed by: The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Just Foreign Policy, AFL-CIO, Washington Office on Latin America, United Steelworkers, and United Auto Workers (UAW).

 

Homo Potens: A Species Most Complex and Powerful (my “poster”)

A few months ago, I learned about the Cambridge, Mass 9th International Conference on Complex Systems literally just a few hours before the deadline to submit presentation proposals.  I quickly found their site and sent in the opening paragraphs of a piece I’ve been preparing to submit to a particular journal.  For whatever reason, it was accepted as a poster and not as a presentation. Regrettably, I was unable to attend. But “my poster” is included in the conference abstracts at http://www.necsi.edu/events/iccs2018/index.html.  Here it is:

Homo Potens: A Species Most Complex and Powerful

We are a species whose astounding powers of creativity and innovation are matched by destructive powers so enormous we could easily subvert — for ourselves and all other species — the very conditions of life on Earth. We are, as Edgar Morin says, Homo Sapiens-Homo Demens, a whirling mix of the wise and the foolish, the rational and the irrational. In a word, we are “potens”, the Latin for powerful. As Homo Potens, we are a species whose extraordinary potential for better or worse is realized through the exercise of power. To avert the perils that lurk in our Demens and to nurture the immense promise of our Sapiens will depend to a large extent on how well we understand ourselves as Potens.

There is yet another essential respect in which humans far surpass other species that we would do well to try to understand: our complexity. As with power, we partake in complexity for better or worse. Failure to deal with complexity tends to transform small problems into larger ones. Complexity can overwhelm. But it also poses challenges that, once mastered, make it possible to explore complex problems in greater depth. Advances in recent decades in understanding the nature of complex dynamical systems raise hopes that, over the long term, novel approaches to science itself can help us navigate the promise and perils of complexity.

As a means to cast light on Homo Potens as a most complex and powerful species, this essay proposes a complexity theory of power, a combination of power theory and complexity theory. The proposed theory correlates the ability of one party to exercise power over another (A.Allen; R. Dahl; S. Lukes) with disorganized complexity (W. Weaver) and the power to collaborate (A. Allen; H. Arendt; T. Parsons) with self-organized complexity (I. Prigogine). In this view, power exercised by one party to dominate another is a disorganizing process and power exercised by different parties to collaborate with one another is a self-organizing process. These processes can occur across scale in human systems. Whether at the level of interpersonal, national or global politics, self-organizing is a democratizing process through which the disorganizing effects of domination and authoritarianism can be countered and overcome. While complexity perspectives teach us that there nothing is inexorable or guaranteed about the future generally and the advance of self-organization more specifically, they also offer the hope we can better diagnose the debilitating effects of power imposed and learn how to exercise power with not over others.

In the Eye of the Hurricane

I have not been giving this blog the attention it deserves.  One basic oversight: I’ve never explained “In the Eye of the Hurricane”, the blog’s subtitle.  This is a term Immanuel Wallerstein uses to describe the precarious situation we are in due to the effective divorce between the physical and social sciences. That physical and social scientists tend to have no intellectual reasons to communicate with one another has produced an epistemological crisis that he likens to a hurricane.  He writes:

“The modern structures of knowledge, the division of knowledge into two competing epistemological spheres of the sciences and the humanities, is in crisis. We can no longer use them as adequate ways in which to gain knowledge of the world…We are living in the eye of the hurricane” (2004:49-50).

In other words, the division of knowledge between the physical and social sciences is compromising the very process of scientific enquiry.  It obscures for researchers fundamental aspects of reality, a point stressed by Edgar Morin when he noted that “The great disconnect between the natural sciences and the human sciences hides at once the physical reality of the latter and the social reality of the former” (1977:11).  The challenge this poses to political scientists is the following: we need to illuminate both the physical reality of politics and the political reality in which the natural sciences are embedded.

Morin, Edgar. 1977.  La Méthode : La Nature de la Nature.  Paris: Éditions de Seuil.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2004. The Uncertainties of Knowledge. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

The Complexity Revolution at the Hairdresser’s

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.   Continue reading

Political Science is Insufficiently Grounded in Physical Reality

I presented my most complete statement to date on a complexity theory of power at the 2014 International Political Science Association meeting in Montreal.  It is entitled “Grounding Political Science in the Physical World.” Following is the final paragraph of the paper.  To view the entire paper, click here.

A British website called Non-Equilibrium Social Science (2014) is a good indicator of what we can expect to hear more of as complexity science makes inroads into social and political science.  But a nonequilibrium approach will do little good if it does not also get to the roots of how power imposed presses individuals, groups and sometimes entire nations toward a stifling and asphyxiating equilibrium.  If in this century we succeed in building a nonequilibrium political science that illuminates these debilitating effects of power, then I think we will look back and see that 20th century political science was insufficiently grounded in physical reality, that it did not help us understand that the virtual mechanization of human relationships is not only an abuse of power but a physical disorder.  A physically-integrated political science that aligns the human passion for freedom with the indeterminism at the heart of matter can hopefully set us on the path to building genuinely self-organizing social, political and economic structures. In learning how to exercise power with not over others, we can integrate ourselves with the self-organizing pulse of nature.

The Devil and the Demagogue

In the presidential debate on Sunday, Donald Trump charged that Bernie Sanders had sold out to “the devil.”  The devil?!  Oh, yes, of course.  Hillary. “She’s the devil.” That’s how the aspiring exorcist-in-chief put it in a Mechanicsburg, PA rally in August.  And he has reportedly repeated this rant once again on the campaign trail this week.

Trump’s Manichean disposition – his tendency to demonize or dehumanize opponents – has been on such stark display over the past year there’s no need to offer further documentation.  That may be found among the 36,600 hits that a “Manichean Donald Trump” search calls up on Google today.

What is of interest from the complexity perspective advanced by this blog is the reality disconnect in which political Manicheanism is rooted.  It is a phenomenon that Norbert Wiener, writing at the height of McCarthyism, devoted attention to in his still timely and exciting work The Human Use of Human Beings (1950, 1954).  Continue reading