Thursday, August 23, 2012

Senior Fellow, The EDGE Center

Over the past several months, I have been working with several people at UT-Dallas to help set up a social science research center there, the EDGE Center. EDGE stands for "Entrepreneurship, Diversity, and Global Empowerment," and is associated with the Office of Diversity at UTD. It was set up by Elena Labastida, though the directorship has been taken over by Euel Elliott since she left for a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Economics and Business position at the AnĂ¡huac University. I will be a Senior Fellow and Editor of the EDGE's interdisciplinary social science journal, "Developments in Spontaneous Orders: A Journal of Diversity, Globalization, and Entrepreneurship." I am very excited about this opportunity. In addition to my editing duties, I will be doing research projects on spontaneous order theory and publishing papers as a Senior Fellow of the EDGE Center. We are presently working on getting the peer-reviewed journal together. It will be officially launched, online, January 2013. Papers on our research areas are welcome. Feel free to email me any and all submissions. We will also be showcasing research being done at the EDGE Center in a special "working papers" section of the journal. We are also hoping to make the journal highly interactive, and to include things like video of interviews and other aspects of research. If anyone wants to help us out at the EDGE Center, we welcome any and all donations. You will be supporting the work being done there, as well as the journal.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Political Conflict and Cultural Creativity

I've only read one thing by John Gray, his book "Straw Dogs." I find his overall world view dark and repugnant. I only later found out he had once been a Hayekian, but had for some reason taken a turn toward the dark side. In this piece he has at BBC, that darkness shows -- but he's not entirely wrong. He's right that conflict, competition, and freedom are important for culture. This is merely a repetition of Nietzsche's insights. There is little wrong with this statement, to be sure:
Culture may not need democracy or peace, but it can't develop without some measure of freedom - and that requires a diversity of centres of influence, working openly and at times in opposition to one another. Rightly, we've learnt to mistrust any directing cultural role for the state. When artists and writers rely solely on government, the result is at best nepotism and mediocrity.
In this, he fails to note what was really working in Medieval and Renaissance Italy -- the division of Italy into conflicting, competing polities. Nietzsche notes that ancient Greece, Medieval Italy, and 19th century Germany were all cultural powerhouses, and they were all simultaneously united by culture, language, etc. and divided politically. There was a delicate balance between unity and division that resulted in cultural creativity. I see the same story as well in Randall Collins' The Sociology of Philosophies. To get creativity in philosophy, there has to be freedom to allow conflict and competition. However, Gray is wrong about one thing -- but wrong in a subtle way -- and that is the role of politics in cultural creativity. Collins shows that when politics is involved in philosophy, creativity slows or even ends. But -- and here's the difference -- when there is government support without politics involved, or if there is conflicting political forces each supporting the arts, one can get cultural creativity. It is probably impossible for there to be truly apolitical government support for anything, which means if there is going to be government support combined with cultural creativity, there will have to be conflicting polities. The good -- and bad -- news, then is that we can expect a period of incredible cultural creativity very soon. Around 2020, if Turchin is correct. There was certainly considerable cultural creativity in the U.S. the last time there was a spike in violence in this country, c. 1970. In reality, it was more in the lead-in to 1970, just as the lead-in to the Civil War, the American Renaissance, was highly creative culturally. I see the conflicts arising. We should see the cultural creativity in the U.S. emerging soon if Turchin is correct.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Revolution Bubbles in History

The journal Nature has a fascinating piece on cliodynamics -- computer analyses of patterns in history. What I find fascinating is that they end up with exactly the same analysis as I had on the revolution in Egypt. Each each case, we were looking at bubbles and the causes of bubbles. There is a bubble that resulted in the violence/unrest bubble. The bubble of my analysis seems to lead to the bubble of Turchin's analysis. One gets boom-bust cycles in complex processes when there is positive feedback. Cheap money is a kind of positive feedback. There was an education bubble in the 1960's that led to the violence of the 1970's. I have been saying there is an education bubble now -- and Turchin predicts revolutionary violence in the U.S. of the same kind around 2020. Given that there is also a health care bubble, whose problems have been and will be exacerbated by Obamacare, though created by decades of third party payers, and given the fact that we are still trying to recover economically from the housing bubble, I suspect that 2020 will look far, far worse than did 1970.
Update: more on cliodynamics. HT: Peter Turchin

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Judging Orders from Different Orders

I want to discuss further the science-technology-market symbiosis I discussed in my previous post. This symbiosis has created an unprecidented level of material wealth and well-being fo rthose participating in civil societieis in which those orders are healthiest, most developed, and most interactive.

But that is all this triple order can do. It cannot make us more moral except insofar as it can (and will) encourage whatever behaviors -- hard work, innovation, creativity, efficiency -- that result in success within those orders. These are virtues within this triple order, virtues which may be shared by other orders, or may be viewed as vices in other orders. To a bureaucrat, there is no greater evil on earth than efficiency. Aesthetic qualities -- a central concern of the artistic order -- that cannot be made profitable are unimportant, or even harmful, in the market order.

Complaints that the market order can only improve our material conditions and not our souls are both correct in their assessment and utterly beside the point. The result of the science-technology-market order symbiosis is not to make us more moral, but to increase knoweldge and improve our material conditions. Morality is the realm of the moral order -- or, to be more expansive, the artistic-moral-philosophical symbiotic order. Yet, even here, boundaries blur -- the artistic-moral-philosophical triple order comments upon the science-technology-market triple order, which in turn has recently been directed, through the scientific order, to understanding the biological underpinnings of the moral and artistic orders.

At the same time, nobody would think it at all sensible to think the moral order should demonstrate "efficiency," as that has nothing to do with morality per se. And what would an "efficient" painting or poem be? Using values from one order to judge another can lead to nonsense. Also, would we expect the artistic order to make us better off materially? Hardly. That's not what it does. So we should not complain that the market order does not do things it is not even capable of doing. There are values which are higher in one order over the other. And there are people who feel comfortable in one order -- or set of orders -- over another. Why should we insist that everyone must prefer the order we prefer? It is the height of arrogance to insist that our values are the values all others should hold -- and that everyone should rank them as we rank them. "Judge not lest ye be judged" applies to those who show a preference for participating in one order over another.

Symbiotic Spontaneous Orders

Randall Collins' discussion of modern natural science in The Sociology of Philosophies is very interesting, and I think both accurate and enlightening.

He argues that modern science is "a distinctive form of social organization which I shall call rapid-discovery science," which emerged as a new network alongside that of philosophy.

Rapid-discovery science is actually two networks, "one of scientific and mathematical researchers, and in symbiosis with it a second network comprising genealogies of machines and techniques which generated an ongoing stream of new phenomena for scientific research" (382). Indeed, the laws of thermodynamics were discovered because of the invention of the steam engine, not the other way around.

What Collins is identifying is the emergence of "a kind of cyborg network" in this symbiosis. There had always been technology and, as such, a technological spontaneous order. And there had always been natural science and, thus, a scientific order. But the two interacting together really drove scientific discovery. More, this technological innovation also resulted in the rapid expansion of the catallaxy -- economic growth boomed. In a real sense, the market economy is also a kind of cyborg network. Each co-creates the other, and drives further growth.

We can thus see that science, technology, and the market economy are intimately tied together -- but perhaps not as many think. They are coevolutionary, co-creating spontaneous orders.

Why is it that these are able to become symbiotic with such explosive growth? Could others? Artists would love to think their orders could become symbiotic with the catallaxy and create a better order, but I suspect not. The artistic orders are more tied in with the moral order -- they are symbiotic. And all of these are thus "a new problem in philosophical space" which spurs "reconceptualization on a higher level of reflexivity" (382).

But now we are facing an interesting connundrum. What connects science, technology, and the market? What connects the arts, the moral order, and philosophy (I would place it in a similar triple-stranded symbiotic order with art and morals)? Is this not a somewhat modified version of C.P. Snow's separation of the sciences and the humanities, and never the twain shall meet? If we were not witnessing a further synthesis of science with the artistic and the moral orders insofar as science is now being used to understand the underlying structures of these orders, we are seeing bridges built. It will be interesting to see where this new symbiosis takes us.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Structural Architecture of Idea Networks

A summary of Randall Collin's structural architecture of philosophical social networks (the philosophical order):

First: Intellectual creativity is concentrated in chains of personal contacts, passing emotional energy and cultural capital from generation to generation. (379)

Second: Creativity moves by oppositions. [...] Chains of oppositions creat the inner content of philosophies; new ideas unfold by negating the major points of rival positions on a shared topic of argumetn and a common level of abstraction. [...] Not zeitgeist, but structured rivalries constitute the successive moments of intellectual history. (379)

Third: The emotional energy of creativity is concentrated at the center of networks, in circles of persons encountering one another face to face. (379)

Fourth: The law of small numbers sets upper and lower limits to these oppositions [3-6 schools; more and you get skeptics or synthesizers]. (380)

Fifth: The law of small numbers structures dynamics over time, connecting the outer conditions of social conflict with the inner shifts in the networks which produce ideas. (380)

Sixth: Because intellectual life is structured by oppositions, leading innovators are often conservatives. [...] Conservative opposition under new conditions of heightened abstraction and reflexivity results in innovations under a veneer of pseudoconservatism. (381).
This seems to be the structure of social networks in the gift and divine economies. I would argue that philosophy qua philosophy properly belongs in the divine economy -- a statement that is certainly far more controversial now than it would have been a few hundred years ago (in the West -- it would be uncontroversial in most of the world even now).

Further, since the gift economy is also structured around ideas, we would expect it to be similarly structured. There are different theories (schools of thought) in physics, for example -- loop quantum gravity, string theory, M-theory. There are different schools in economics -- neoclassical, Austrian, post-Keynesian, etc. There are different literary movements -- postmodernism, new formalism, magical realism, etc. A close analysis would find that at any given time, there are typically 3-6 such movments in play and in opposition.

If we take literature, we can see that new formalism arose in opposition to postmodernism. New formalism is typically understood to be a "conservative" movement because of the emphasis on rhyme and meter. However, it is a conservatism in light of postmodernism and all of the movements that took place in the 20th century. Thus, it is in fact something new.

Given the fact that we now have online social networks, one has to wonder what effect it will have on these sorts of creative networks. Can it replace face-to-face? Or will that necessarily be part of it? Perhaps it can help strengthen what in the past would have been small movements made up of distantly scattered people by letting them connect and stay in contact until they can have face-to-face contacts. I have little doubt that both have been in play in my life. Those I have met face-to-face have helped me get to know people online, who I was then able to meet face-to-face. And I am able to connect with people across the world, whereas in the past movements were localized -- most of Moderism took place in Paris, and probably all the networks led back there.

The internet is thus going to alter these networks Collin talks about somewhat, but perhaps not all that radically. If we can get past childish ad hominem attacks on everyone who disagrees with us online, we may be able to realize it more than we currently do.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Call for Papers

January 1, 2013 will see the release of the inaugural issue of "Developments in Spontaneous Orders: A Journal of Diversity, Globalization, and Entrepreneurship," a peer-reviewed journal of the EDGE Center, a social science research center at UT-Dallas.

We are seeking papers for our inaugural issue on our journal's theme(s):
  • Spontaneous Orders
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Diversity
  • Globalization
  • Science and Technology
We encourage all scholars interested in exploring how the above themes can help us better understand our social world to consider submitting original academic papers. Acceptable papers can range from case studies to theoretical explorations.
Since this is an online journal, we are accepting papers year-round. Papers will be published two at a time throughout the year, with each issue consisting of a year's worth of papers. To have a paper considered for publication on the release date, please submit by Oct. 1, 2012
Manuscripts should be sent as Microsoft Word attachments via email to Manuscripts submitted to this journal should not have been published elsewhere and should not simultaneously be submitted to another journal.
Please be sure that the first page of your manuscript contains the title of the article, the names and affiliations of all authors, any notes or acknowledgments, as well as, the complete mailing addresses of all authors. The second page should contain no author information as well as an abstract of no more than 150 words and 5 to 7 keywords.
Manuscripts should be Times New Roman 12 font. We are an interdisciplinary journal, and the writing must be intelligible to the professional reader who is not a specialist in any particular field. Manuscripts that do not conform to these requirements and the following manuscript format may be returned to the author prior to review for correction.

Papers should be between 8,000 and 11,000 words in length. The entire manuscript should be double spaced.
I encouarge everyone to spread the word and to freely repost this call for papers.
Troy Camplin, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, EDGE Center
Editor, Developments in Spontaneous Orders: A Journal of Diversity, Globalization, and Entrepreneurship