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.

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

North Korea: Clashing Orders, Clashing Reasons

A New York Times column asks in this morning’s paper “Is North Korea irrational? Or does it just pretend to be?” Its answer is that, far from crazy, it is all too rational  (“North Korea Crazy? Worse. It’s Calculating” by Max Fisher, September 11, 2016, page A6).

The problem with this approach is that it assumes a single rationality shared by North Koreans and everyone else.  In my presentation at the 2014 International Political Science Association conference in Montreal, I called North Korea “exhibit A of currently persisting political closure.”  More to the present point, I argued that political conflicts within authoritarian regimes (like the one I got to know while living in Brazil at the height of its military dictatorship) reflect a clash of orders – or a clash of distinctly different types of rationality.  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.  Is it possible that cracks in the absolutism of the regime can develop and that it might pursue more reasonable policies (notably, backing off of capacities for nuclear warfare)?  I know too little to even speculate.  But, for starters, I think we need to acknowledge that a mechanistic vision of order guides the North Korean regime and this also shapes its view of what is and is not rational.