Saturday, November 26, 2016

Scaling Down

Every politician, no matter the ideology, promises jobs and economic growth to the disaffected voter. This is the very essence of what the pundits are calling "populism" but it's basically just tried and trued,vote-buying pandering, as old as capitalist "politics" itself. The disavowed reality, that is, at some level most people FEEL this to be true, is that those jobs are never coming back. For a variety of reasons. But this account from the blog of Paul Abair is compelling:

"As there are growing signs that we might be in a crisis of complexity caused by rising biophysical constraints and characterised by diminishing returns of investments in societal complexity, we are entering an era when circumstances will trump personalities and institutions. What we now need, hence, is not so much to find new political ‘leaders’ capable of designing and enacting grand plans to lead us further up the complexity pathway, but to ensure that we can make collective choices that are fit and appropriate for an age of scaling-down expectations. There is no sign that this could happen anytime soon, or even that it might be possible. It is therefore entirely reasonable to expect that our economic, technical, political and social systems might continue to become increasingly dysfunctional and drift towards breakup point. The journey to that point will probably continue to leave most of us puzzled, and will most likely be filled with the disturbing clamour of populist caudillos."

Jurgen Habermas also speaks to this 'crisis of complexity" in an interview with Eurozine:"Our societies (the West) must come to terms with this global decline together with the technology-induced explosive growth in the complexity of everyday life...' I have argued that complexity, as a feature of modernity,doesn't just leave us "puzzled". It is a major cause of deep existential anxiety, that an alienated "helplessness" is manifested as xenophobic nationalism combined with a malevolent shaedenfrued ( "I may be fucked, but at least I don't live in Yemen!") over-expressed as exceptionalism. But the current crisis of capitalist "democracy" calls even that into question; a strange lingering feeling that it is all kubuki theatre ( elaborately costumed performers use stylized movements to enact tragedies and comedies), that our reality is mediated as popular entertainment, that we all are acting in a Truman show within a Truman show. The Big Other is that bored.

This is something Thomas Mann wrote as he bore witness to Hitler's rise:(hat tip to Lichanos)
(We )"realize that despite all the psychoanalysis, all the progress we have made in learning how the human being’s mind works, there is still absolutely no limit to the extent the unconscious can go in effective projection of itself upon reality.

We see this truth illustrated by the state of Europe today; the reduction to the primitive to which she has consciously and deliberately submitted herself. Indeed, the conscious and willing surrender, the treachery to the spirit and to the upper levels at which it had arrived, are themselves the severest possible indictment of the prevailing primitivism. For this primitivism is shameless. It is a wanton self-glorification, in the face of the developed civilization of our age. It is shameless as a philosophy, however much condoned as a reaction against arid intellectualism. It is, in the Old Testament phrase, a folly and an abomination. Even the artist, despite his position as ironic partisan of life, must turn away in disgust from the spectacle of such an utter collapse and betrayal."

The paradox is that in order to defeat the forces of civilizational collapse and primitivism, humanity will need to think and act to scale, to a global scale in fact. And yet to survive beyond the crisis, we will have to understand entropy and limits and learn to live lower on the "complexity pathway".

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