Integral Manifesto Pt V(1) The Shape of Human Action/Tales of Chaos and the Norm

Books Discussed in this Section

James Rosenau (2003) Distant Proximities: Dynamics Beyond Globalization, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Some observers,” Rosenau notes, “appear to share the recognition that the intellectual tools presently available to probe the pervasive uncertainty underlying our emergent epoch may not be sufficient to the task.”

Where earlier epochs were conceived more in terms of central tendencies and orderly patterns, the present epoch appears to derive its order from contrary trends and episodic patterns. Where the lives of individual and societes once tendend to move along linear and steady trjectories, now the movement seems nonlinear and eradic, with equilibria being momentarily and continuously punctuated by sudden acceleration or directional shifts.

Rosenau’s depiction of this challenge

Never mind that societies are increasingly less cohesive, and boundaries increasingly more porous; never mind that vast numbers of new actors are crowding the world stage; never mind that money moves instantaneously in cyberspace; never mind that the ripple effect of horrific, terrorist actions seem endless; and never mind that the feedback loops generated by societal breakdowns, proliferating actors , and boundary-spanning information are greatly intensifying the complexity of life at the outset of a new century– all such transformative dynamics may complicate the tasks of the analysis, but complexity theory tells us that they are not beyond comprehension, that they can be grasped.

drives his point that for understanding the nature of human action– that it will be necessary to incorporate new intellectual tools and undertake an approach within the framework of complexity theory. However Rosenay himself also cautions that the task of complexity theory is not prediction and control– we should recognize by now that those halycon days are bygone– but offers a heuristic framework which might “provide a basis for grasping and anticipating the general patterns within which specific events occur.”

Complexity theory might enable us to create figure-ground, internal-external, whole-part, and space-temporal references with respect to the various relations inherent in the dynamics of the system of human action, so we might anticipate variable trajectories on a metasystematic level. This is turn might allow us ample degree of freedom and choice in the realm of human affairs.

The story of human action, however, will never me merely a story of chaotic systems and their dynamic criticalities. It is also a consistent dynamic and purposeful effort toward the stable and normative, for the ability to live a coherent and meaningful life. This at first may seem at odds with the analytic approach of complexity theory– yet any adequate theory of human action must be able to bridge the chaotic attractors with our normative needs, keep the meaning-filled ends in sight of the dynamic means, while managing to  incorporate the operation of adaptive creativity and novelty born in chaos, that make such systems resilient to surprise and collapse (even at the expense of coherence an robustness), and simutaneously managing to incorporate the operations of interconnectedness and relatedness in normative systems that maintain their coherence and robustness (and by opposite measure, more vulnerable to surprise and the risk of collapse).

If we are to design such a framework of understanding and meaning, with multiple degrees of freedom– freedom of choice in the realm of human affairs, freedom among adaptive variables, freedom to connect and to unconnect interdependencies, freedom to tune in or to drop out, freedom to design one’s own individual identities, and freedom to adopt collective ones, freedom to participate in creative construction of stabilizing elements and, alternately, their creative destrucction– then we must be prepared not only to adopt novel paradigms of human action, but also be able to work through a cross-paradigmative approach– a challenge taken up in this series.

In such a paradigm, of human action– a paradigm that has the capacity to model the internal and external dynamics that account for the kinds of real world conditions and real life situations that we have been discussing– several crucial factors must be taken into account. At minimum, such a paradigm must be

  • Consistent with a natrualized evolution
  • Consistent with complexity theory
  • Adaptable to rapidly changing circumstances
  • Transfromable to completely new forms
  • Maintain coherence and robustness through change
  • Resilient to collapse inthe face of uncertainty and surprise
  • Incorporate multi-scalar operations
  • Provide for both globalizing and localizing dynamics
  • Guarantee the multiple freedoms mentioned above
  • Provide a way to interpret the past and anticipate future developments
  • Provide a useful conceptual tool for mitigating unfavorbale effects and facilitating favorable events in collective human action.
  • Provide a guide to re-envision normative judgments about collective human action

This is a challenging list. Still, most significantly for our purposes here, this paradigm of human action must act as a litmus test both for the originating inquiry of this series — What is the pivot point around which the local scales to the global? — as well as resonate with the fundamental hypothesis at the center of this series–The subject-to-subject encounter is the limiting quantum of Human Action. It may very well be the case that the second statement correctly answers the first question.


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