In the 19th century Hegel developed a theory to explain historical development as a dynamic process. This not only enforces the concept that conflicts are not bad, but good for generating understanding. According to Hegel it goes a step further, everything in the universe is dialectical. There is constant unfolding of narratives-counter narratives and action-reaction between agents. Thus Hegel claims contradictions are the only way any given individual or society will move forward and progress. To give a brief outline, this model begins with an existing element, or thesis, with contradictions inherent to its structure. These contradictions unwittingly create the thesis’ direct opposite, or antithesis, bringing about a period of conflict between the two. The new element, or synthesis, that emerges from this conflict then discovers its own internal contradictions, and starts the process anew.
The reason the Hegelian dialectic is termed “progressive” is because each new thesis represents an advance over the previous thesis, continually until an endpoint (or final goal) is reached. Marx and Darwin both used this theory in their work. This, in turn, leads to positivism. Positivism is a belief that society, like the physical world, operates according to general laws, or knowledge derives from experience. Thus the social world can be studied the same way as the natural world. Positivism accepts social reorganization.
Kierkegaard describes Hegel’s philosophy as representing a speculative mode of thinking. Hegel describes truth as a continuous world-historical process, and as the becoming of an absolute reality. Kierkegaard describes truth as a leap of faith, and as the becoming of the individual’s subjectivity. While speculative thinking reflects on concrete things abstractly, subjective thinking reflects on abstract things concretely.
Just as Isaac Newton explained the laws of motion and gravitation, Adam Smith analyzed the laws of motion of the economic categories of civil society as if they were the laws of nature. Smith’s work was popular because it provided an ‘ethical’ rationale for the capitalist system that explained how, when one acted in their own interest, it actually helped someone he did not even know. The early positivists like Comte attempted to equate the study of society with the study of nature and tried to discover laws of societal development on a par with the structural principles of human anatomy in biology. This leads to positivism, the term used to describe an approach to the study of society that relies specifically on scientific evidence, such as experiments and statistics, to reveal a true nature of how society operates.
Although the positivists set out to explain and control the social world, they actually take a back seat to the people who control the social wealth and the social relations of production–the Rockefellers, Morgans, DuPonts and the rest of the monopoly capitalist class in league with the Military Industrial complex and the elected officials beholding to the oligarchs – a structure which composes The Power Elite. The people whose interests the positivists serve are the oligarchs and the managers of the multinational corporations.
Positivism as an ideology justifies the two largest economies in the world: China and the US. The fact positivism reflects capitalist values, legitimizes capitalist society, and was favoured by capitalist corporations and governmental agencies for social political reasons demonstrates its claim to being a value-free politically neutral methodology is specious. Positivism is granted legitimacy because it legitimates certain sociopolitical principals, not because it is legitimate scientific practice. In China the Communist party must justify its existence as communism (a positivism ideology) is considered the end stage of capitalism. With the recent turmoil in the Chinese markets, US pundits have suggested that China allow the market to manage itself, conveniently forgetting during the turmoil of the 2008 financial debacle the taxpayers provided half a trillion dollars of public money to CitiBank.1
Thomas Kuhn (1962) in “the Structure of Scientific Revolution” spoke of cognitive relativism: truth is relative to a set of extra-rational conventions of conceptual schemes and interpretation of data. The development of science can be understood in the terms of paradigm. Paradigms historically emerge from a crisis in communication. Upon establishment a paradigm begins to organize a science both in terms of relevant communication and cognition, and in terms of underlying communities. Eventually it gives way to the further development of the paradigm.
Paradigms are not subject to testing or justification, in fact, empirical procedures are embedded within paradigms. Paradigms structure our perceptions of the world. There are no crucial experiments. Instead anomalies accumulate and eventually advocates of an old paradigm die out and leave the field to practitioners of a new paradigm shift. Early on the voice of the inexpert must be heard. For example, it was non-experts against the prevailing assumptions in the scientific community who first identified many environmental perils.
In this system eventually a paradigm falls back into crisis and disintegrates when it loses the competition with other paradigms at the supra-individual level. Supra-individual factors include environmental and cultural factors that partially determine your actions, such as where you live, inequality, culture, and religion. Paradigms can be considered examples of systems that are highly codified and therefore able to determine at the supra-individual level what can be considered a competent contribution and what is not. Markets make up a subsystem with a different code – price. For markets, self-organization is relegated to the ‘invisible hand’. However, as the 2008 crisis demonstrated, it is possible for an individual to make use of asymmetric data to manipulate the system.
Luhmann’s theory of communication – a system is defined by a boundary between itself and its environment, dividing it from an infinitely complex, chaotic exterior. The interior of the system is thus a zone of reduced complexity. Communication within a system operates by selecting only a limited amount of information available outside. This process is called reduction of complexity. Each system has a distinctive identity that is constantly reproduced and depends on what is considered meaningful and what is not. If a system fails to maintain that identity it ceases to exist as a system and dissolves back into the environment it emerged from.
Social systems consist of communications. All social systems constitute themselves through communications – there exists no other mode of operation. Only social systems communicate not humans. Human consciousness is a precondition for communication but not part of a social system. Communications are attributed to persons, which are colloquially identified as “participants of communication.” Communications connect to earlier communications; thereby a social system reproduces itself. What is only possible is the reproduction of communication from the results of communication.
Social systems form a unity by exchanging information (memes) within themselves and establish a boundary with the environment by communicating or interacting with an element or system of the environment. When social systems communicate there is a boundary between itself and the environment, a zone of reduced complexity. Differentiated communication is found in politics, economy, and religion. It has a binary code: profit / no profit; for / against; creating dogmatic verdicts.
It is now well documented that the present economic system is responsible for increasing economic inequality between a few at the top and the rest of society. The upcoming elections in Canada and the US theoretically should create opportunities for the introduction of new paradigms. However, Donald Trump, an early leader of the Republican hopefuls did not garner attention by discussing the change needed to address inequality. Rather he out maneuvered his fellow contenders applying the politics of fear. In particular, he captured the concern of the Republican base on the fear of illegal immigrants in the US. Mike Huckabee, another Republican contender for 2016, took a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook. He also invoked the politics of fear (the Holocaust) to garner attention. President Barack Obama is marching Israelis to “the door of the oven” by agreeing to the Iran nuclear deal, Mike Huckabee said.
In the past decade the Canadian economy has performed the poorest since World War II. Prime Minister Harper claims if his government hadn’t been in charge things would be even worse than they are today. Rather than consider a paradigm shift, Harper claims, with all the economic turmoil in the world the last thing you need in Canada is change. In place of a paradigm shift, the Harper government relies on the politics of fear to distract the voters. Foreign Affairs bureaucrats were told this spring to produce three terrorism-related statements for minister Rob Nicholson to release to the media each week, ahead of a fall election in which security and Canada’s response to terrorism were important election planks. For the fall election Stephen Harper emphasizes, again and again, now is not the time for change. The two main themes for the conservatives, the economy and security, are both supported by the politics of fear.
In the US, Republican Gov. Scott Walker approved legislation that bars unions from collecting mandatory representation fees. The right to work legislation is designed to suppress wages. Conservative politicians make decisions supported by the economic system driven by the profit paradigm. The reduction of complexity (created by the system) allows such factors as reduced government and regulation to be promoted, even when there are signs of increasing inequality. This creates the situation in which conservatives are oblivious to the consequences of their policies. In Canada the temporary foreign worker program brought in large numbers of workers for service industries, which displaced existing Canadian workers with lower paid staff, and kept the wages suppressed overall. After ten years in power, the Harper government is more focused on their legacy than introducing change to help address the growing economic inequality among Canadians.
Social Systems consist of communications between people, not the people themselves. Communication makes use of a kind of cultural processes of functional events that caught on and subsequently imitated, called memes. Systems are closed and can only come into contact via interactional use of memes. Capitalism is built around the meme of individual consumption, the meme the invisible hand controlling the market, and upward mobility –individuals are rewarded by work hard and following the rules. Corporations control key memes: happiness is associated with consumption of more consumer goods and the belief that minimal government and regulations drives the system.
The rational tradition seeks to remove the individual from the equation entirely. Objectively means that which is independent of any particular point of view. On the modern rational scheme, both science and morality requires a strictly impartial perspective. Knowing that no individual is fully capable of such impartiality or objectivity, we construct political decision making systems designed to compensate for the inevitable bias. The pivot point of modern politics, science and ethics is responsible for nullifying the individual point of view. Today, through the influence of money the oligarchs have re-introduced bias into the system.
It will take a paradigm shift or change in the accepted way of doing things – minimal government and regulations – to address the increasing economic inequality. When Thomas Kuhn introduced the concept in 1962 he wanted people to think of a paradigm shift as change in one way of thinking to another. It doesn’t just happen, its driven by agents of change. Kuhn states that “awareness is prerequisite to all acceptable changes of theory”.2 We realize the increasing economic inequality that we perceive around us is supported by a system to which we had been previously socially conditioned. We are aware of the need to change this system which we know to be unjust. This requires a paradigm change from a system that supports the growth of profits to a system that supports opportunities for the individual to reach their full potential.
1Kirkpatrick, R. George, Katsiaficas, George N, Mary Lou Emery Critical Theory and the Limits of Sociological Positivism http://www.mega.nu:8080/ampp/176krkpt.htm
2 What is a Paradigm Shift? http://www.taketheleap.com/define.html