Monday, March 25, 2013

Paradox Drives Social Complexity

The long-term tendency of an active intellectual community is to raise the level of abstraction and reflexivity. (Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies, 787)
This is particularly true in philosophy, mathematics, and the social sciences -- with the danger of this tendency coming from the latter more than the other two, since too often people have tried to apply their wild abstractions back into the real world, primarily through the (in my model) adjacent political economy. Yet, at the same time, the more autonomous an order becomes -- meaning, the more abstract and reflexive it becomes -- the more it contributes to society as a whole (to civil society) as I, working off of Russell Berman's ideas, argued in The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts" (see bottom pg. 3, top pg 4), with the conclusion that "The more alienated literature becomes from society, the more it contributes to society" (4). This of course describes the most concrete of the pure wisdom trinity of spontaneous orders. It is equally true of religion and philosophy, though going back to concretes can be seen to happen repeatedly -- particularly in religions -- under threats. Threats would likely push art into more concrete expression as well, given the inherent concreteness of art works' contents.
What causes the abstraction-reflexivity sequence? Durkheim theorized that a trend toward abstractness and universalism takes place in the collective consciousness as the social division of labor increases. As evidence he cites trends in religion and law In isolated tribal societies, religious symbols are concrete and specific; rules are reified and their violations expiated by punitive ritual. As societies grow, more stratified, organizationally and economically differentiated, the spiritual entities of religion become less localized, expanding in their scope, and eventually leaving the concrete worldly level entirely for a transcendental realm. Still further on this continuum, the "modernism" of Durkheim's day regarded God as a symbol of the universal moral order, and explained the anthropomorphic traits of earlier belief as reification, mistaking a symbol for a concrete entity. (Collins, 790)
Collins then observes that the above describes social evolution of belief over long periods of time (I would argue it describes the evolution of belief in such a way that it maps very well onto a Spiral Dynamics explanation), but that intellectual evolution is much more insulated from society as a whole, creating the conditions for more rapid development.

But what drives abstraction and reflexivity?
Once the argumentative community is constituted, causal dynamics within each sequence work much the same way: oppositions splitting the network within each generation, together the the periodic overcoming of those oppositions on a new level of abstraction. (Collins, 801)
Collins is arguing that what drives creativity in an intellectual community is paradoxical oppositions which, when they become overwhelming, result in the emergence of new, more complex (more abstract) ideas. It is this process which J.T. Fraser argues drives the emergence of complexity in the universe, from pure energy to quantum physics to chemistry/macrophysics to biology to psychology, to social processes. It is this process which Clare Graves argues drives the emergence of complexity in human pyschological and social orders, from chimpanzee-like social structures to tribes to heroic/empires to authoritative to enlightenment to postmodern to integrative to holistic. It is this which, I argue in Diaphysics, in which I combine Graves and Fraser, drives all complexity. Collins demonstrates that this complexifying process is at work in our intellectual communities (which are kinds of spontaneous orders) is driven by the same emergent-paradox-driving-new-emergent-complexity cycle.

Overall, Collins demonstrates that when the philosophical order is most isolated from the other orders, it tends to fall into a stable equilibrium -- known in philosophy as "scholasticism." Collins calls this "the "normal science" of philosophy," arguing that "Scholasticism is the baselines of intellectual life" (799) -- the superstars we all remember are few and far between, kept in check by the law of small numbers. More than that, Collins demonstrates repeatedly that the superstars are those who come into contact with another spontaneous order or orders (be it religion, science, mathematics, the social sciences, the arts, etc) -- which is unsurprising given the fact that each spontaneous order on its own will settle down into equilibrium, while far-from-equilibrium states, or creative states, come about from such overlaps. Technology pushes the catallaxy into a state of constant creativity and wealth-creation. The catallaxy in turn drives continued technological innovation (certainly at the speed at which we have seen such creativity in the last century). All of this comes about from the introduction of paradoxes to the order.

If our social systems at their most creative are driven by the emergence of paradoxes, which in turn drive the emergence of more complex levels, and this is a reflection of how more complex processes emerge in the universe as a whole, then it behooves us to do our best to emulate the universe's processes rather than fighting against them. We need to come to understand these processes and the kinds of networks that drive them and emerge from them. The more creative our social processes, the more complex they become, which means we become wealthier and create more knowledge over time. This is hardly without its dangers. Not all complexity is an improvement. There are such things as perverse orders. And the purifying tendencies of these orders can create sociopathic organizations and outcomes (though, as I observed above in relation to literature, the more sociopathic, the more social contribution it may make). But overall, if we go with the natural flows and processes of emergence and complexity in the universe, the better off we will be both socially and psychologically.
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