A (Belated) Response to Gray Enlightenment on the Concept of a Crisis and the Nature of Political Judgment.

We missed the following post by Gray Enlightenment – a blogger whom we often enjoy reading – though usually only in major binge sessions. Since our two blogs are not connected via a common interface, we missed his review on an earlier part of our manifesto here.

His review helpfully allows us to address some issues that we have wanted an opportunity to address. We will start by saying what we have learned and we agree with before pointing out the areas where there is some disagreement.

The value we took from his post is that our original claims require further elaboration and the use of further distinctions. In addition, his criticism offers us an opportunity to clarify the practice of political judgement (something Gray Enlightenment has corresponded before with us about, if only briefly).

GE agrees with three out of four “anomalies” that the earlier parts of our manifesto focused on:

1: The First Anomaly is the contradiction between political form (democracy) and political reality (oligarchy or technocracy); a democracy cannot be a technocracy. Thus, the government is de facto illegitimate. (Here.)

2: The Second Anomaly is the contradiction between the paradigm of peace and progress on the one hand, and the reality of growing political instability, rising crime, personal insecurity and the fact of permanent warfare on the other. (Here.)

3: The Third Anomaly is the contradiction between the promise of effective technocratic management of the economy – steady growth, full employment and prosperity – with the reality of repeated crashes, recessions, unemployment, rising debt and falling living standards. (Here.)

GE disagrees, however, with the following:

4: The Fourth Anomaly was not only Trump’s defeat of the Cathedral but the exposure of the mainstream media as an unofficial branch of the government and the subsequent, ongoing, declining power and influence of the press and their propaganda.

GE argues:

To quote Scott Adams, we’re seeing a different movie. The evidence however suggests Trump is merely a speed bump for the Cathedral and not a defeat by any stretch…In winning in 2016, he defeated the cathedral, but the cathedral itself is stronger than ever. I don’t see Trump as being a catalyst for change, but rather he is the human embodiment of the contradiction between the anger and or frustration against the status quo, juxtaposed with the imperviousness of the status quo.

Reply:

We would distinguish between “defeat” as in winning a battle or campaign and “defeat” as in winning a war. GE even admits that Trump did defeat the Cathedral in the election and this is what we intended. In short, one of the most important (central really) of Modern Structure’s security system failed to prevent Trump wining.

As to GE’s claim, that the Cathedral is stronger than ever, this is, however, debatable. It is still immensely powerful, of course; however, it took a major beating in 2016 and has also suffered considerable damage since the election (Consider the various exposures and Trump’s continual hammering of them on Twitter). Furthermore, the long-term trends for the Cathedral (the media part anyway) are not optimistic, as our original post covers. In short, the traditional monopoly on information that the Cathedral had is coming undone.

Nevertheless, the insurgency against the Cathedral is far from over.

As to GE’s claims about Trump, we will pass on this for now; our view of Trump tends to go from optimism to pessimism, depending on current events.

GE:

Obama got Obamacare through (which Trump so far has been unable to replace). He got DOMA repealed. Obviously, he was not totally ineffectual.

Reply:

True and we never claimed he was ineffectual, what we said was:

Obama failed according to the first principle of politics: gain and maintain power. He failed to secure his legacy (with Clinton) and under his watch, the Republicans took more seats in the House and Senate, along with securing more Governorships. For progressives and Democrats this is a big fail.

To distinguish, he ultimately failed as the leader of the Democrats and as the leader of the Left.

Now, we come to more substantial matters that require something more than clarification and distinguishing. The following is where GE has provided us with an opportunity for addressing something we have wanted to for a while. We want to thank GE here for this criticism, for it will allow us to address some issues that are fundamental to our analysis and method of making political judgements that no one else has yet brought up.

GE writes:

Imperial Energy says we’re in a crisis, but disaffection with the status quo does not a crisis make. But that leads to the Second Anomaly: if the political climate is so negative, why is society otherwise so stable. There is also a subjective element to this in that if one’s ideology is predicated on eschatology, one is more inclined to look for signs of ‘end times’, which leads to confirmation bias. As I showed in in an earlier post, sentiment regarding free trade hasn’t changed much in decades, so the disaffection of the far-right is not always representative of the entire nation.

Regarding crisis, this also also goes back to the ‘shared narrative’ of society in crisis. As mentioned in the post The Culture War Is Inescapable, Seth Abramson, a left-wing writer, also says we’re in a ‘fundamental crisis’. Being that these narrative are shared, they cross political lines.

Reply:

To start with, we what to signal our agreement with what GE has said here; specifically, we agree with his following three premises:

1: That judgment has an unescapable element of subjectivity, one rooted in basic assumptions that are part of an overall paradigm.

2: The role that “sentiment” plays in judgement.

3: The role that “shared narrative” plays in analysis, interpretation and judgment.

In short, political judgment and the judgment that there is a political crisis (the crisis of the state in general and the Modern Structure in particular), is based on the following factors that blend into a synthesis:

1: Subjective (or personal) philosophical and political assumptions and inter-subjective/objective basic assumptions of a particular paradigm.

2: Theories.

3: Methods.

4: Facts.

5: Logic.

6: Sentiment or emotion.

7: Values.

Next, what is of value in GE’s criticism is that it allows us to distinguish between two uses of the term “crisis”.

Crisis Sense 1:

The term “crisis” as used by pundits, columnists, analysts and public intellectuals. The term is often applied to specific events (“Trump’s latest Twitter crisis”) that have minor to zero long-term importance or to genuinely serious events (“North Korean nuclear crisis”).

Sense 1 is, probably, but only distantly related to Sense 2:

Crisis Sense 2:

Crisis Sense 2 is based on Thomas Kuhn’s sense of the term “crisis” in general and our adaption of his terminology for a political context specifically.

In fact, we have made use of Kuhn’s entire framework in a much more systematic way which was made clear in the post that Grey Enlightenment refers to. After all, it is called the “Structure of the Imperial Information Revolution”, which is a nod to Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Kuhn:

Why should a change of paradigm be called a revolution? In the face of the vast and essential differences between political and scientific development, what parallelism can justify the metaphor that finds revolutions in both?One aspect of the parallelism must already be apparent. Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created. In much the same way, scientific revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, again often restricted to a narrow subdivision of the scientific community, that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself had previously led the way. In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to crisis is prerequisite to revolution. (Bold and italics ours.)

Kuhn:

This genetic aspect of the parallel between political and scientific development should no longer be open to doubt. The parallel has, however, a second and more profound aspect upon which the significance of the first depends. Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit. Their success therefore necessitates the partial relinquishment of one set of institutions in favor of another, and in the interim, society is not fully governed by institutions at all. Initially it is crisis alone that attenuates the role of political institutions as we have already seen it attenuate the role of paradigms. In increasing numbers individuals become increasingly estranged from political life and behave more and more eccentrically within it. Then, as the crisis deepens, many of these individuals commit themselves to some concrete proposal for the reconstruction of society in a new institutional framework. At that point the society is divided into competing camps or partiesone seeking to defend the old institutional constellation, the others seeking to institute some new one. And, once that polarization has occurred, political recourse fails. Because they differ about the institutional matrix within which political change is to be achieved and evaluated, because they acknowledge no supra-institutional framework for the adjudication of revolutionary difference, the parties to a revolutionary conflict must finally resort to the techniques of mass persuasion, often including force.

Here is how we adapted Kuhn:

A political crisis occurs when the governing assumptions (which are often implicit and unstated) can no longer account for – in intellectual terms – a series of anomalies, and – in practical terms – predict and control actors and events.

The Age of Crisis and the Predator’s Diorama.

Here is a crucial claim by Kuhn that is of import here:

Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created. 

Thus, we are using the term “crisis” in a special, systematic sense; one that is closely adapted from Kuhn’s work.

Now, our second main point we wish to make in reply to GE here is the following, critical distinction – one that we have probably not stated clearly enough:

The paradigm that is in crisis is the liberal paradigm.

(i.e. the “Modern Structure” – 1: the Cathedral; 2: the Polygon; 3: Universalism; 4: the Brahmins.)

We have judged the paradigm in terms of, not only its formal goals (peace, equality, social justice and social engineering) to be a failure but that its real goals (both as a system and the real, personal goals, of the political actors such as Obama and Clinton) to also have failed.

That is, the paradigm – the Modern Structure, as a self-propagating system – is in fundamental crisis and the political actors (or the Elites) within this system have failed to gain and maintain power (at least with respect to the Trump election).

More broadly, the liberal international world order is also in crisis in terms of self-propagation and power (Brexit, the EU, Russia, China, Turkey, Egypt etc).

Is this claim or judgement a perfectly objective, scientific judgment, however?

No – for some of the reasons that GE states because there is an unescapable element of sentiment and subjectivity to judgement. Furthermore, as Kuhn points out, when paradigms  are in crisis, the theorists do not spend their time solving puzzles but addressing fundamental assumptions which exhibits wide disagreement over facts, assumptions, values and even the framework for addressing such disagreement. See this RAND report for example.

Furthermore, see the following for some more examples of this phenomenon:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

7.

8.

 

All in all, we hope this helps. We thank Grey Enlightenment for his criticism and chance to makes things clearer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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