Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mathematical Politics: Part 3

The Rise of Postmodernism: In a scenario that itself could serve as a complex systems case study, the political perturbations of the eighties is beset with a chaotic cascade of ironies. As Thatcher and Reagan made it their business to dismantle the power of central government in favour of a decentralized market of economic decision makers, their anti-interventionist policies were readily portrayed as the path to true freedom. In contrast the traditional left-wingers, as advocates of an economy planned by a strong central government, opened themselves up to being accused of aiming to meddle in people’s affairs and thereby curtailing their freedoms. Moreover, the left, which so often identified itself as the friend of the benign self regulating systems of the natural ecology, never let on that the natural world had an isomorphism with the self regulating mechanisms of the free-market. The left might rail against big business as it polluted and disturbed a natural world that functioned best without intervention and yet the left had no qualms about disturbing the free market with their planned economy. But the radical right also presented us with a paradox. If they were to push through their free-market vision they had to use strong central government in order to do so. Thus, like all radical governments since the French revolution who believe their subjects were not be free to chose their freedom, the radical right faced the logical conundrum encapsulated in the phrase “The tyranny of freedom”. Thus, as is the wont of those who think they should be in power but aren’t, it was easy for the left to cast the radical right as the true despots.

So, who, then, was for freedom and who wasn’t? The left or the right? Both parties had marshaled some of the best intellects the world has seen and yet they seem to have lead us into an intellectual morass. Belief in man’s ability to make sense of his situation was at low ebb and against a backdrop of malaise and disaffection, it is not surprising that there should arise a widespread distrust of anyone who claimed to really know universal truths whether from the left or right. The Postmodernists believed they had the answer to who was for freedom and who wasn’t, or perhaps I should say they didn’t have the answer, because Postmodernism is sceptical of the claims of all ‘grand narratives’ like Marxism or complex systems theory to provide overarching explanations and prescriptions for the human predicament. Postmodernism consciously rejected the ‘grand narratives’ of left and right as not only intellectual hubris but hegemonic traps tempting those believing in these narratives to foist them upon others, by coercion if needs be. The grand-narratives that both parties held and which they promulgated with evangelical zeal lead them to infringe the rights of the individual and engage in a kind of conceptual imperialism. Those of an anti-establishment sentiment, who in times past found natural expression and hope for liberation in Marxism, no longer feel they can identify with any grand philosophy and instead have found their home in the little narratives of postmodernism, where contradiction, incoherence, and fragmentation in one’s logic are not merely accepted but applauded as just rebellion against the intellectual tyranny of the know all grand theorists.

But irony is piled on irony; Postmodernism, as the last bastion of the anti-establishment is in one sense the ultimate decentralisation, the ultimate laissez faire, the ultimate breakdown into individualism. One is not only free to do what one fancies but is also free to believe what one fancies. The shared values, vision and goals of civic life are replaced with conceptual anarchy. With the failure of Marx’s grand narrative to make sense of social reality, those of an anti-establish sentiment no longer have a philosophy to pin their hopes on, but instead the anti-establishment have unintentionally thrown their lot in with the radical right; They are carrying out the ultimate live experiment with a system of distributed living decision makers. According to complex system theory either some kind of organised equilibrium or chaotic fluctuation will ensue, whether the postmodernists believe it or not. You can’t escape the grand-narratives of mathematics, although you might like to think you can.

To be continued....

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