Like Max Plank reasons in Susskind’s imaginary narrative, I began to reason how the three domains of human action — geo-socio spatial, technological, and economic– could be conceptualized as “perfectly related natural units” of human action that could be dynamic operations in a complex system. I also realized that when natural units that are perfectly related are mapped as coordinates, they produce discrete shapes that morph dynamically, as variables are entered into their equation, as in cybernetic modeling. So, for example, the three sides of a right triangle are perfectly related, and therefore, as you vary one or two of the lengths of the sides, the other side(s) vary in a way that preserves the perfect equation: a(squared) times b(squared) = c(squared). I began to sample drawings that represented the shape of human action by scaling the three natural units in 3-dimensional coordinate space as in the following illustration:
Questions flowed from envisioning the Shape of Human Action in this way.
- What were the appropriate scales along the indivudal axes?
- What is the meaning of increasing distance in the g direction?
- What does increasing technological scale in the t direction represent?
- What is happening in the “real” economy, with respect to the whole of human action, as it plots further along the e dimension?
Answering this question, meant assigning both values to the units, as well as meaning to a system whose purpose was to model real-world conditions and actual lived experience. I reaalized that the model had to map the kinds of distinctions and transformational dynamics that authors like Neil Brenner, Saskia Sassen and James Rosenau had written about the emerging epoch, as well as being able to contextualize the partial truths represented by other kinds of models like Spiral Dynamics. In other words, the natural units had to be multi-scalar, their values had to scale for fragmenting dynamics or discontinuities, as well as integrating dynamics or interconnectivities; these natural units had to provide for emerging identities, both upward and downward causalities, and the many worlds described by Rosenau, as well as the cultural levels– re-envisioned as speheres of influence– and their historical emergence as described by Spiral Dynamics. The solution was easy to see in their words; and so I define the natural units of the shape of human action as follows:
g-units scale “up” toward increasing discontinuity (less inter-connectivity)
e-units scale “up” toward increasing aggregation (greater inter-dependency)
t-units scale “up” toward incresing variability (more types, kinds, forms as well as greater reach)
In meaningful terms, increasing the value of g accounts for the opening of geosocial space, the emergence of new identities, the undoing of old connections and ties, the lossening of culturally embedded roles and expectations, the movement of peoples across previously impervious boundaries (both physical, social, and cultural), the shifting of power from the aggregated elites to the discontinuous and uncoordinated populous. From the standpoint of complexity theory, this is the condition for chaos and the emergence of novely. From a normative standing, increasing g-values represents the times when people feel uncertain and at risk of the unknown when more and more individuals “bump into” each other at the level of “raw” encounter, given that the old, familiar ways of characterizing and categorizing people are shattering. Society is perceived to be (and therefore reflexively, is) in a state of epochal flux and flow. In order for individuals to purposefully actualize or even reluctantly accomodate such shifting patterns of identity, the domain of g requires a capacity for forgetfulness and forgiveness, and the ability to begin anew.
On the other hand, increasing the value of e entails the aggregation of various human resources and capitals associated with labor and economies. The aggregation of human resources beginning, as Arendt claimed) with the division of labor inthe family, and the extension of hierachical laboring to communal laboring and finally collective labor, through the creating of inter-dependencies of all types along with powerful abstract mediators (currency, commoditites) that allow capital growth and accumulation at increasing hierarchical scales, from a share economy, to a barter system, to mafia-style commitments, and all levels of exchange economies– commodities, currency, securities. Along with increasing aggregation and interdependence, this domain of e requires a robust network of interconnections to function, so that proper amounts, value and order of exchanges can be adequately traced with sufficient guarantees for reciprocities and reliable “accounting” of events. The domain of e, in other words, requires sufficient capacity for memory and retribution.
In the domain of technology, increasing the value of t-units represents proliferation of technologies, with respect to both diversity of kind, and extent of reach– just as in the metaphor we assigned to technology previously, as the river both widening and branching at the same time. And just as the main channel of the river, current technologies tend to cut deep grooves of habit and stasis in the realm of human action; but also, like the ever-branching arms, technology continually breaks down old routes and breaks into new routes. Eventually arms can become major channels, drawing more and more “water” resulting in old channels drying up and becoming fossil evidence of bygone eras, or silt up until they are completely invisible.Unlike the other two domains, t can increase dynamics in both directions, through openings and the creation of new opportunities, as well as through the proliferation of old form to such extents as to create (temporary) closings. Because of its exploratory, inventive and uncertain nature, the domain of t requires sufficient capacity fo inquiry and exculpation. We can now begin to speak of the dynamics involved in the internal relations of these three domains. Whereas t relates to both g and e through feedback and feed-forward loops, with the ability to increase and/or diminish momentum in the other domains, g and e themselves alone might seem to be related as complimentaries , i.e. the more you have of one, the less you have of another– in which case it would make sense just to reduce them to one scale, with rising g-values representing movement in one direction, and rising e-values representing movement in the opposite direction. However, this would be too simplistic a model, since it may be the case (as I will argue in subsequent posts) that in the realm of human action, under certain conditions, increasing g-values results in a geo-social “fabric” that can accomodate increasing e-values, and alternately, increasing e-values can result in conditions that allow for rapid increase in g-values. In other words, under certain condition, g-dynamics and e-dynamics may be nutually interferring, while under a different set of conditions they might in fact be mutually supporting. The difference in conditions might well turn out to be how technology is engaged as the third dynamic. We can represent these dynamics as a simple flow chart:
It is important to recognize that the unit-values are performative, not ostensive units — in other words, the terms and their values represent not some thing but something going on: they are descriptive of activies such as adding or subtracting social ties, investing or liquidating money, connecting to a public utility grid or cutting the power line once and for all and high-tailing it to the backcountry. This willl become even more evident in the later posts on actor-network theory.
With this in mind, we can create logical formulations that represent the internal relations between the natural units as follows:
g=t/e e=t/g t=eg
The following are scenarios that give the reader a sense of the internal dynamics of this Sphere of Human Action:
- As new openings in geo-social space emerge, and individual as sel as collectivies realize more degrees of freedom, technological innovation also increases with new kinds and forms of technologies being developed, and, as a result, economies become more distributed (e-units decrease). According to our formulations above, the conditions for this scenario would be where growth in technological scale lags behind growth in geo-social spatial scale, since for e to decrease where e=t/g, g-units would have to scale faster than t-units. In this case, there are counter-acting dynamics between g and e units.
- A prolonged period of accumulation of capital in a global economy, along with a proliferation of technologies to support the globalization of finance, results in a “shrinking” worldspace, the hegemony of western economic values and techne, and the marginalization of indigenous peoples and subcultures. If g = t/e, then conditions for this scenario are when technological scale lags behind economic scale. Increasing the reach of technologies to individuals and subgroups, to an extent where t-units succeed in out-scaling e-units, allows for the proligerations of new geo-socio spaces, and the excelleration of new identities arriving onto and the propulsion of subcultures onto the global stage.
- If t=eg, then the simultaneous growth and redistribution of capital resources (in its widest sense) creates a fertile condition for the exploration and invention of new ways (technes) of being. Alternately, envisioning new ways of being should create the condition in which both geo-social spaces and economic distribution can mutually support each other.
I believe the reader will find each of the above scenarios, accurate depictions of dynamics occuring in the world today.