martes, 8 de diciembre de 2009

Egos in Dispute

"But the question is whether it is necessary to find oneself." Deleuze, Thousand Plateaus p 156
Motivated by the exponential growth of my followers in this blog (from zero to one!) I will retake some words on spooky matters. In the former post entitled: Disciplined Minds, A Book by Jeff Schmidt I tried to expose the relations between two already classical debates: (i) modernism vs. postmodernism and (ii) developmentalism vs. non-developmentalism. In this post I try to further elaborate such relation. From debate (i) I will only discuss the issue of the existence of a canonical ego. While modernists defend its existence, postmodernists don't. This issue will be discussed in relation with debate (ii). Before that, we should notice the importance of this matter to the discourse of rationality. The point is that the choice of an ego precedes any –so claimed– rational choice, therefore the existence of a canonical ego allows the existence of a canonical rationality –I wonder how rational choice theorists deal with this issue–. Lets refresh the idea of an ego [1]; think of patriots, proletarians, citizens, christians, anarchists, homo-economicus, etc. Rationality can be seen as an act of local optimization where the ego corresponds to the function and the local resources is the local interval. Having say all this I suggest to see debate (ii) as a discussion on the evolution of the egos. On the contrary, the terms of debate (i) seems more static, typical of metaphysical debates, a matter of existence rather than survival or emergence. Nevertheless I would say that postmodernism is closer to a dynamical interpretation of the ego. Moreover, it is often seen in its anarchic taste which is closer to non-developmentalism, but I also recognize a developmentalist taste within postmodernism which can only be associated with modernism when the latter sets its canonic ego at infinity, in the aggregation of every being. In the latter vision I think of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and its Omega point.

[1] Here I have used the word "ego" in a philosophical rather than psychoanalytic way. It is closer to Heidegger's notion of the "being" – by the way I don't see Heidegger's Dasein as a canonical ego or being; as Deleuze says: "the whole is also a part" –.

Illustration from the animated short: Moznosti Dialogu by Jans Svankmajer.

martes, 22 de septiembre de 2009

Self-Organization is not Utopia

This brief essay was written a few years ago. It pretends to limit the use of Self-Organization as a model for utopia.

Arturo Escobar as other cyberspace theorist make an emphasis on Self-Organization (SO) as the desired and achievable model-dynamic for social order [1], but they doesn’t stress on the phenomenological facts which, under the framework of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), represents the limitations to SO –the same could be said on his treatment of decentralized dynamics–.
Although hitherto there is no clear way to distinguish the 'inside' from the 'outside' of a CAS, if one is to apply CAS theories to any system including social communities, the consideration of an influential environment is a starting point. This consideration is important because it exerts a limit on the possibilities of SO and decentralization of the CAS. Moreover, the very fact of SO may be argued by an alternative explanation based on evolution of systems where the environment interacts in a regular way with the system. In fact, the latter argument is much more compatible with the laws of physics where SO is related to information loss and therefore to interaction with a "noisy" environment. This is what's been called Out of Equilibrium Phenomena. So CAS theories and physics laws tell us that SO has its limits imposed by the inevitable effects of the environment. As much as SO phenomena may help to articulate a type of humanist discourse in the context of Complex Systems in the form of human aggregate, self-referenced behavior, the former additional conditions impose limits to these kinds of approaches. For example, it reminds us that cyberspace structural behavior can't be isolated from 'out of cyberspace' phenomena, although as we said in the beginning, differentiating cyberspace from 'out of cyberspace' may be increasingly difficult. The challenge for distinguishing these two realms can be sized when compared with the ideological and the material realms as exposed in the philosophical tradition. To understand this progressive dialectic is a challenging academic enterprise initiated by early modern sociologists and pragmatic linguists up to cyberspace anthropologists.

Related posts: Tras los límites de la descentralización I y II.

[1] Escobar, Arturo, 2005, Other Worlds Are (already) Possible: Cyber-Internationalism and Post-Capitalist Cultures, Revista TEXTOS de la CiberSociedad, 5. Temática Variada. Disponible en

jueves, 19 de marzo de 2009

A reading on: democracy and/or constitutionalism

Here I offer a link to an article about the sometimes conflicting relation between democracy and constitutionalism. It is quiet philosophical and it revolves around Habermas' democratic-constitutionalism. You are also invited to look for Habermas' writings on this subject. Nevertheless the former is particularly easy to read, before jumping into the big stone.

"A Bizarre, Even Opaque Practice": Habermas on Constitutionalism and Democracy" by Lasse Thomassen. Website of the American Political Science Association.

It is a good reading for these times of political crisis which is happening in colombia.

domingo, 8 de marzo de 2009

Public Policy: from top or from bottom?

A deeper understanding of top-down and bottom-up paradigms as an analytical and/or synthetic tool in human sciences (History, Public Policy, Development Economics, etc.) could be enriched by the view of such paradigms in nano-science and nanotechnology. Nanotechnology proves, for example, that bottom-up approaches are valid for nano-engineering. This lesson may be extrapolated to public policy where there exists the misbelief that bottom-up paradigms has a purely analytical domain of validity (like historical studies), and therefore leading to a dead-end in Public Policy Theory [1]. In the nanotech industry, it is often found that labs pursuing the development of a functionally specified device are betting simultaneously to both, bottom-up and top-down approaches. Many times one of them offers overwhelming benefits in comparison with the other. It may also be the case that both methods attain the main functional goal, but they differ in collateral properties, which eventually will determine their subsequent industrial development (reliability, price, precision, etc.). Public policy may seem far from this picture, but our comparison proves that there is plenty of room for different public policy strategies. What it has to be further adjusted in the latter field is a way of reliable evaluation of functional goals. Nevertheless the last fifty years has seen considerable progress in this field denominated Evaluation Research [2].

[1] see the criticism of the nobel prize economist Amartya Sen,
The Man Without a Plan in response to William Easterly's book The White's Man Burden.

[2] see a brief survey of methodologies by the Web Center for Social Research Methods.

domingo, 18 de enero de 2009

Disciplined Minds, a book by Jeff Schmidt.

Lately I don't have much time for writing 'humanist' thoughts. No more alternative but to copy-paste about some issues with small personal comments. Here I attached an excerpt from the book 'Disciplined Minds', from Jeff Schmidt. I personally find his position a little 'poisson from an injured animal', but this shouldn't be the end of the story –is not healthy to judge an idea only by presumptions on the motivations of the author–. The reason I bring about this book is due to my sympathy with many of Schmidt observations and feelings, nevertheless I don't want to stress on my sympathy but on a more impersonal opinion. Excerpts where kindly copied from St. Drogo's Books. The first one shows the general aim of the author:

p. 2 - "I argue that the hidden root of much career dissatisfaction is the professional's lack of control over the 'political' component of his or her creative work. Explaining this component is a major focus of this book. Today's disillusioned professionals entered their fields expecting to do work that would 'make a difference' in the world and add meaning to their lives. In this book I show that, in fact, professional education and employment push people to accept a role in which they do not make a significant difference, a politically subordinate role. I describe how the intellectual boot camp known as graduate or professional school, with its cold-blooded expulsions and creeping indoctrination, systematically grinds down the student's spirit and ultimately produces obedient thinkers - highly educated employees who do their assigned work without questioning its goals. I call upon students and professionals to engage in such questioning, not only for their own happiness, but for society's sake as well."

I bring the second excerpt because it brings into discussion the extension of Marxist critics into the so called 'Knowledge Based Society':
p. 40 - "To say that professionals are ideological workers is not to say that they formulate the ideology in the first place, for they do not. Professionals have no more control over the ideology they propagate than nonprofessionals have over the design of the products they produce. Professionals merely have an operational grasp of the ideology inherent in their occupation's actual role in society. Employers trust them to use that ideology to extrapolate policy and handle new problems as they arise, and to do so without constant supervision. Professionals are licensed to think on the job, but they are obedient thinkers."

Finally, the third excerpt illustrates precisely what I'd like to question; schmidt's anthropocentrism where the unit of sense is the human-individual:

p. 4 - "A system that turns potentially independent thinkers into politically subordinate clones is as bad for society as it is for the stunted individuals. It bolsters the power of the corporations and other heirarchical organizations, undermining democracy ... it does this by producing people who are useful to hierarchies, and only to hierarchies: uncritical employees ready and able to extend the reach of their employers' will. At the same time, a system in which individuals do not make a significant difference at their point of deepest involvement in society - that is, at work - undermines efforts to build a culture of real democracy. And in a subordinating system, organizations are more likely to shortchange or even abuse clients, because employees who know their place are not effective at challenging their employers policies, even when those policies adversely affect the quality of their own work on behalf of the clients."

I cannot say wether his position is theoretically hopeless or not, but I'd like to locate the validity of his position in a more general debate which is between the developmentalist and non-developmentalists. Yes, again I talk about modern vs. postmodern approaches; actually I'm tired of taking everything to the same arena because it only oversimplifies problems, but is the only way to make a map of this debates for someone who takes no time to go in depth on these issues. Again let me say one more thing about this general debate: At least from the 'scientific' point of view a good path to reveal the relations between ('scientific') developmentalims and its antithesis are: the works of Illia Prigogine, Furusawa and Kaneko (2000) and Adami, Ofria and Collier (2000). In the other side is the work of Carroll SB (2001) which gives one of the must solid scientific hypothesis to counter-argument developmentalism. A brief review of this subject can be found in Wikipedia reference for Complex Adaptive Systems. Let me oversimplify this to those who are not curious enough as to read the cited references. Developmentalists say that society tends to increase in structural complexity, in other words, humans will hopelessly become functional cells of 'higher' organisms; those structurally more complex than the isolated human. Symbiogenetic Evolution (see the work of the biologist Lynn Margulis) is one example of developmental mechanisms of evolution without having to proclaim teleological approaches. Simbio-genesis emerges under natural selection and it complements many other mechanisms associated to darwinian evolution. On the other hand are those who think that there's no global trend. The work of carroll states it in a precise statistical formulation by saying that complexity growing is just an illusion due to a non-uniform sampling of living organisms. The sampling in this case is mistakenly focused on the right hand tail of a time evolving gaussian distribution describing biomass versus structural complexity -see Carroll SB (2001). Going beyond scientific positions, we should know by now that in one corner we find the modernist and on the other the postmodernist. 

Carroll SB (2001). "Chance and necessity: the evolution of morphological complexity and diversity". Nature 409 (6823): 1102–9.

Furusawa C, Kaneko K (2000). "Origin of complexity in multicellular organisms". Phys. Rev. Lett. 84 (26 Pt 1): 6130–3.

Adami C, Ofria C, Collier TC (2000). "Evolution of biological complexity". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 97 (9): 4463–8.