Loose ends, #1

–First it was rich families—later, the ruling classes—who governed the country; then the capitalists came into clearer view; and afterwards came the New Class, that better-off techno-managerial elite with the answers. Today, they’re all bunched up into “you lot running the place.” And yet we’re to believe that the only genuine political project must begin with, what, setting tax rates on that lot?

–Ours is the radical work that comes with understanding that betterment requires capitalizing on the messy socio-technical systems (some are called infrastructures) without which most of us would not have chances for betterment.

–What feels like the turbo-speed of societal change seems less a function of the knowledge we have or are obtaining than the existence of the complexity which we do not (yet?) know—in parallel to dark energy “accounting” for why the expansion of the universe is accelerating rather than slowing down.

–Policy narratives have beginnings, middles and ends, and those narratives capitalize on the functionality of having means and ends in view; the function of policy messes is to frustrate that storyline. At times that is a very good mess to be in.

–Reportedly, Beau Brummell, when questioned by a companion which of the lakes he preferred, asked his valet, “Which one of the northern lakes do I prefer?” “I believe it is Windermere, sir,” replied the valet. Whereupon Brummell turned to his questioner, “Apparently it is Windermere.” Quite droll—until you realize his “apparently” is indifferent even to drollness. Indifference—not caring one way or another—is a killer in public policy and management.

–Bertrand Russell is claimed to have said economics is about how people make choices and sociology is about why they don’t have any choice to make. If so, then neuroscience is about why both views are true only as far as they go—and they most certainly do not go far enough.

Soup de jour:           

  • Major premise: All politics are local.
  • Minor premise: A trillion-dollar war, a 100-dollar barrel of oil, $3.50 for a gallon of gas—and still there is no screaming in the streets?!
  • Conclusion: The minor premise is not about politics as we know them; or politics are premises in search of conclusions other than the one you are reading right now.

What would such a conclusion look like? Here soup concedes to stew. You might conclude the political world is much more cluttered than we even imagine, akin to those notoriously messy studios of artists, Edgar Degas and Francis Bacon. Indeed, I suspect there’s more truth than I would like in what sociologist and philosopher, Edgar Morin, wrote:

And now, I understand that politics will never make any progress until it gets away from thinking in alternatives (this is what happens when having examined the ambiguities of a situation, one chooses to treat them as alternatives) and the Manichaean binarism (when in fact there are rarely only two terms in conflict)…

Alternatives aren’t quite the point when confronted with the repeatedly ambiguous. “What has been concluded that we should conclude about it?” William James, the philosopher of American pragmatism, was fond of asking.

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