Not long ago, I created a page describing A Proposal for a project that I consider the core dual mission of the progressive movement: 1) Mapping out the social institutional landscape, including all known public policy experiments here and elsewhere, all known suggestions, and all identifiable new ideas, evaluated on the basis of sound analysis applied to reliable data in service to human welfare, allowing for ranges of uncertainty and legitimate debates; and 2) working toward creating a national (and perhaps eventually international) system for communicating this universe of information, not only to those already inclined to make the best informed and best intentioned political choices, but also in ways that resonate with existing frames and narratives that are to varying degrees resistent to doing so.
From various angles, and somewhat haphazardly, I’ve been exploring the various dimensions and aspects of this mission on this blog, even before I clearly identified the mission itself. A crucial piece of the puzzle is the relationship between individual action and social change, a relationship which generally suffers from either oversimplification or underemphasis, or both. As I noted very recently, too many political activists believe that their only job is to get preferred candidates elected, and then are angry but unchastened when that inevitably proves insufficient (An Open Letter To Angry Progressives). The critical question for each of us, too often unasked, is what do we each need to do to best contribute to the realization of the progressive mission described above?
One starting point for addressing that question is consideration of The Variable Malleability of Reality, a careful recognition of how changeable each aspect of the social institional landscape is, and how to work through those interconnected threads of variable malleability in service to effecting widespread and profound positive change. The necessary attitude with which to address that systemic challenge is a combination of realism and idealism, or ”Cynical Idealism,” knowing and acknowledging what is, in order to create what can be.
But another aspect of the question of the intersection of individual action and social change is a more personal one, an identification of just what exactly “personal responsibility” means in the context of social responsibility, or being an agent of positive social change. While no one has to be saint to be a sincere participant in our shared efforts to improve the world, the on-going commitment on the part of each of us to walk the walk as well as talk the talk is more vital than we often acknowledge.
In one series of posts, I explored this nexus between the personal and social aspects of the challenge, recognizing that those of us who want to dedicate ourselves to improving the world really do need to try to improve ourselves as well (The Battle of Good v. Evil, Within & Without, The Battle of Good v. Evil, Part 2, The Ultimate Political Challenge). Referring back to the “Proposal,” the challenge of cultivating a gravitational pull to the progressive agenda, making it a more attractive force than its ultimately anti-social competitors in the political arena (Liberty Idolatry, Small Government Idolatry, Liberty & Interdependence), involves modeling the spirit of the movement, showing people that it not only is what we can aspire to together, but also what we can be individually.
An earlier, related set of posts explored the ways in which our individual foibles aggregate into political ineffectiveness and dysfunctionality (The Politics of Anger , The Foundational Progressive Agenda). Numerous other posts delineate how such foibles have matured into a new incarnation of populist anti-intellectualism, combined with extreme individualism, giving us the worst of both worlds in the form of ”The Tea Party” (“Political Fundamentalism”, “Constitutional Idolatry”). Other posts continue to trace the historical continuity between this movement and its anti-progress, anti-intellectual predecessors (The Tea Party’s Mistaken Historical Analogy, Social Institutional Luddites).
Following a discussion of such ideological foibles in general (The Elusive Truth , The Hydra’s Heads, The Signal-To-Noise Ratio, Pro-Life Dogma v. Life-Affirming Sentiment), I identified the basic duality involved: Ideology v. Methodology. The two institutions most committed to a careful pursuit of truth, science and law, rely first and foremost on a methodology, on procedural reductions of the influence of bias and caprice. While we have a process in politics for resolving conflicts, we don’t have a process in place for reducing bias and caprice. This is a dimension of the challenge which requires concentrated attention, and which inspired the proposal mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.
Despite the anti-intellectual rejection of the notion (while, ironically, always claiming to represent the more rational position), no enterprise suffers from an improved methodology, and no effort to confront the challenges of the world suffers from the increased application of reason. Reason isn’t everything: Passion and imagination both are vital ingredients as well. But reason is crucial, and plays an integral role in any enterprise, including the enterprise of self-governance.
A Framework for Political Analysis provides a very sketchy look at one aspect of the analytical paradigm that I developed during my work as a sociologist. I’ll need to develop this more fully in future posts, with a more complete description of how to use the techniques of microeconomics; game theory; evolutionary learning theory; linguistics, semiotics, and epistemology; and network analysis (along with tools from complementary fields, such as evolutionary psychology and cognitive science and evolutionary ecology) to explore the social institutional landscape that is characterized by various combinations of hierarchies, markets, norms, and ideologies (along with the primal social institutional material of emotions). While not everyone, necessarily will want to get into the weeds of these esoteric academic methodologies, awareness of them, and allowance for their ability to produce insights beyond those produced by casual observation and precipitous ideological assumption, certainly has a place in our collective efforts to continue to improve the human condition.
Some of the fruits of that methodology indicate its value. As I described in The Politics of Consciousness, human history is, in the abstract, a story of interacting evolving memes, aggregating into paradigms, which gradually accumulate anomalies (in the cultural context in the form of doubts and discontents; in the scientific context, in the form of inconsistent observations), which eventually generate paradigm shifts. In a series of subsequent posts, I explored various aspects of this dynamic, and contemplated some of its implications for the future (Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future, The Evolutionary Ecology of Audio-Visual Entertainment (& the nested & overlapping subsystems of Gaia), The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix).
In Adaptation & Social Systemic Fluidity, I explore the ways in which adaptations large and small ripple through the social institutional and technological landscape, triggering adaptations and modifications in both forward and backward linkages. In The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Technology, I continue the focus on the role of technology (drawing heavily on Brian Arthur’s recent book, The Nature of Technology), exploring the cumulative dynamical architecture of purposively programmed phenomena carved into and growing in conjunction with the social institutional landscape. In Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future, I outline and speculate upon the interplay of the title two defining elements of the social institutional and technological landscape. In The Evolutionary Ecology of Audio-Visual Entertainment (& the nested & overlapping subsystems of Gaia), I take a more precise look at one particular thread in that evolving social institutional and technological landscape, something that this project would seek to do, over time (perhaps over generations), comprehensively, compiling an encyclopedic dynamical mapping of the entire social institutional landscape. In The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix, I delve into the complex ecology of the interface of natural, human, and technological systems. In Counterterrorism: A Model of Centralized Decentralization, Tuesday Briefs: The Anti-Empathy Movement & “Crowdfunding”, Wikinomics: The Genius of the Many Unleashed, , and A Major Historical Threshold or A Tragically Missed Opportunity, I consider the role of modern communications and data processing technologies in continuing the process of unleashing “the genius of the many.” In Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems, I describe this driving force of social institutional evolution.
I also posted on specific aspects of the social institutional landscape, more relevant to the challenge of forging the best public policy. Economics is, of course, a topic of primary concern, and one which we all need to become better educated about. To that end, I’ve posted on various aspects of economics, including how to contemplate the question of public spending, monetary and fiscal policy, and economic priorities (The Economic Debate We’re Not Having , The Real Deficit , The Restructuring of the American and Global Economy, The More Subtle & Salient Economic Danger We Currently Face ).
Similarly, I’ve explored other aspects of the social institutional landscape, including international relations (Lords and Serfs on the Global Manor: Foreign Aid as Noblesse Oblige , Problems Without Borders , “Democracy IN America,” But Not BY America, The Brutality of War is Relevant), environmental issues (Environmental Open Forum, Deforestation: Losing an Area the Size of England Every Year, What One Marine Bacteria Might Mean to the World, Back to the Future, Sort Of: Sod Houses & Environmentalism, Energy and the Environment), child and family issues (The Most Vulnerable Americans, The Vital Role of Child, Family, and Community Services, Community, Family, and Crime Prevention, Solving Rather Than Punishing Problems), educational issues (Real Education Reform , The Importance of Mentors), health care issues (Sound Mind, Sound Body, Sound Society; Sound Good?, Is It Wrong to Require People to Buy Health Insurance?), immigration issues (A comprehensive overview of the immigration issue), and social/moral issues (Pro-Life Dogma v. Life-Affirming Sentiment). Many other posts flesh out various other aspects of our social institutional landscape (Should Political Libel Be Legally Prohibited?, Predators, Prey, and Productive Praxis, Free Will, Determinism, Quantum Mechanics, & Personal & Social Responsibility, The Meaning of “Representation”, Why Fame Is Attractive, “Is Religion A Force For Good?” ).
Finally, as several of the above posts linked to indicate, I tried to apply this improved mapping of the social institutional landscape to issues of public policy. Some of the overarching statements of general attitude and policy include “A Choice Between Our Hopes and Our Fears”, A Positive Vision For Colorado, What’s Right With America, and “A Theory of Justice”.
This blog is a somewhat haphazard nascent contribution to the paradigm I describe in the first paragraph, and in A Proposal. The paradigm is comprised of sets of interrelated memes, covering a broad territory, and involving various branches of the human endeavor, including: 1) methodologies both of how we form our understandings, and of how we attempt to implement them as public policy; 2) the products of the former methodologies, in terms of mapping out our social political landscape and its underlying dynamics; and 3) the myriad challenges we each must confront as individuals to become most effective in contributing to the development of this paradigm, and of its expression in the form of improved public policy.