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 Fire and the Fury in the Authoritarian Minds of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un

In the wake of Donald Trump’s reckless “fire and fury” comment yesterday, what I said here in my post “North Korea: Clashing Orders, Clashing Reasons” (September 11, 2016)  is more relevant than ever – but it now needs to account for the alarming Trump factor. Here is part of what I said in the earlier blog:

Authoritarian order is a very real type of order but it is mechanistic.  It tries to mechanize human behavior.  It is based on the absolutist assumption that disorder and uncertainty can be eliminated.  Those who actually acknowledge the existence of uncertainty defy the “reality” of absolute certainty; they must be repressed.  The dissenters also effectively acknowledge a radically different view of reality, one affirmed by 20th century science, namely that disorder and uncertainty can never be eliminated.  They can only be reduced.   Political conflict within North Korea reflects these clashing orders, these diametrically opposed views of rationality.  In its dealings with the world, the North Korean regime is hypersensitive to real or perceived threats and tends to be irrational.  Much of the challenge in dealing with it on the world stage is psychological.

Given Trump’s authoritarian mindset – his embrace of right wing nationalism here and abroad, his coziness with the Putins of the world, his intolerance of criticism, etc. — an implicit assumption in the above is no longer true.  For the United States government to be able to achieve a perspective more rational than that emanating from Pyonyang, it must understand that assumptions of absolute certainty are reality disconnects and deal with them in psychologically- and policy-appropriate ways.  But such understanding or the hope of achieving it fades to the extent that our president is also consumed by know-it-all delusions (“I alone can fix it”, “I know better than the generals”, “etc.).  Today’s talking point of official and unofficial Trump people trying to defend his “fire and fury” comment is that Trump was just speaking the language of  Kim Jong-un, a language he can understand.  That is to say, it’s OK for Trump to speak in intemperate, irrational terms so long as Kim Jong-un does.  The clashing of these two poles of unreason is a recipe for disaster.

This is just one of myriad reasons that our country and the world need Donald Trump to exit government as quickly as possible.   For that outcome to occur our 18th century democracy must pass a test.  It must be able to expel someone whose absolutist tendencies make him inimical even to the minimally democratic features built into the Constitution by its elitist authors.  It is in no way reassuring that the surest solution – his impeachment and conviction – does not appear to be possible any time soon – if at all.  But hopefully Trump’s penchant for shooting himself in the foot will somehow hasten this outcome — – before some tragedy occurs “like the world has never seen”.

Crisis: Thoughts last November on Trump’s election

Some of my thoughts from an email exchange (11/28/2016) I had with my two sisters as we lamented Trump’s election:

The Trump we got to know in his campaigns was a demagogue, clearly appealing to the worst base instincts knowing he might win that way.  Based on that, I’d have to say the country faces an unprecedented crisis.  But now we have to see him in office to know if that same demagogue is the one who exercises power.  On “the jury’s out” side, he’s said some conciliatory things and has not held grudges religiously.  On the demagogic side, he just re-circulated the notion put forth by some conspiracy theorists that millions did not vote legally, the kind of thing Bannon gets wind of and might have urged on him. The power of the presidency being used for this!  The laundry list of other dire possibilities –the fact that he must stop being a businessman and devote full time to the presidency, the gutting of the EPA, climate policy and social policy, the real possibility that he will launch dangerous foreign policies (I hope he selects Romney as Sec of State to lessen this possibility) etc.  We have to see what he actually says and does in power.  But we may well be facing a great crisis.

Trump-Inspired Terrorism?

Alexandre Bissonnette, who massacred six Islamic worshipers in Quebec last Sunday, is, according to people who know him, a white supremacist who loves Donald Trump (see Salon.com article here).  On Facebook, Bisonnette “liked” the Facebook pages of Trump and Marine Le Pen (now removed from Facebook but archived here: https://archive.is/u2Hex).  It would appear that our famously anti-terrorist president has served as a source of inspiration for a terrorist.  And what are we going to find out about the mosque arson in Bellevue, Washington (January 14) and the mosque burnings in Lake Travis, Texas (January 7) and Victoria, Texas (January 29)?  Will we find terrorists similarly enamored of Trump?

Is a Demagogue in Power?

If today we had just inaugurated one of the Republican presidential aspirants other than Donald Trump, we would still be facing the dour prospects of right-wing ossification on the Supreme Court, the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, an EPA about to be dismantled, US withdrawal from efforts to avert climate disruption, further enrichment of the top one percent through drastic tax cuts and a host of other changes guided by the illusion that unregulated markets magically make the world a better place.

Donald Trump adds a disturbingly distinctive quality to these regressive movements, something I found myself blurting out once when listening to him on TV during the Republican primaries. “He’s a demagogue!” I declared to my wife.  I don’t remember exactly what he was saying at that moment but I’m sure it had to have been one of the many instances when he was pulling punches at a time when any civil citizen would be going on the attack.  Maybe it was the time he tried to distance himself from David Duke, claiming he didn’t know who Duke was (something incredible for an even casual observer of American politics and clearly a lie by Trump who had had no problem speaking publicly about Duke before that).  The demagogic element in such behavior lay in Trump’s coldly calculated decision not to upset a racist mob element in his constituency, not to risk losing the votes of good people whose latent bigotry could be stirred to the surface by a power-hungry leader willing to build and exploit such a constituency.  It is the kind of behavior that caused Duke to encourage Trump to say whatever he had to in order to get elected, the kind of behavior that won him the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan.

At that time, early in the primaries, one edition of the New Yorker had a cover with a balloon, Trump’s face imprinted on it, rising into the ether.  The clear implication was that the balloon was about to burst.  That’s what so many of us took as a foregone conclusion.  Surely, we thought, the primary process of debates and media scrutiny would expel such a candidate. With the system’s failure on that count, we moved on to the next, bigger test of our system.  Would the intense presidential election process turn back such a candidate?  Now, today, the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, with our system also having failed on that count, we face the ultimate, three-strikes-and-you’re-out test of whatever strains of democracy remain in our society.  Can our system through checks and balances, through an accountable Congress, through a democratic judiciary, through questioning media coverage, through public pressure assure that the Oval Office does not become a vehicle for demagoguery?  Will the system tame Trump? These are open questions.  It is too early to conclude that a demagogue is in power. But now is a time for vigilance of the highest order.

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.