Outlining an Emergentist Framework for Politics

Sand formationsI never knew until I had written a manuscript that writing it is actually only a small part of working through problems. In reality, creating a text or video or piece of work is the best way to figure out what you think. Knowing this is liberating, it lowers the bar on what you should expect to produce when creating something big, and gives a better sense of the time it takes to do something like write a book. Only now do I feel like I’m starting to see how the pieces fit together in the relationship of emergence to liberatory politics. The discoveries made during the process could end up producing other books and work that I never anticipated (like my exploration of the concept of time intersecting with cognition, agency, and emergence).

Out of the revisions I’m working on, I’ve extracted a few core basic theses that drive the project. My goal is to be able to give the gist of the arguments in a few pages, though much would be left out and unclarified. Thinking about the differences between using emergence and other tools led me to see a few aspects that are significant.

1. Recognition of the difference between the perspective of political agents and the emergent social world.
2. The development of social orders by the complex interactions of agents at differing levels, and shifting into and out of equilibriums across time.
3. Recognition of the relationships between differing events and potentials for actions and the production, changing, and breakdown of social equilibriums. Continue reading


Sketches on time, events, emergence, and methodological thinking

(this is a place saver for me to develop later in the text I’m developing). Working on my manuscript has led me to a number of questions and concepts that intersect in ways that aren’t fully clear to me yet. Emergence sits at the core of this discussion, and the gap between the role and experience of the agent and emergent events generates new problems and avenues. Today, people are questioning again what is firm and unchanging and what is transient as former constants get tossed aside in society’s reorganization. Things like bringing production back to the US, renewed social democracy, the loss of unemployment benefits in some regions, etc., stand as shocking sign posts to many (let alone the disruptions in places like Greece, Turkey, Brazil, etc).

Alongside emergence and problems of action and cognition is the issue of time. The gap between our experience and intervention in the world and the unfolding of events occurs through time, and specifically through change across time. Parallel with emergence, there is a gap in the unfolding of time between the perception and reaction to time by agents and the events themselves. How do agents perceive the continuity of events versus ruptures? Both the seeming immortality of finite processes (say the american standard of living) and the continuity of systems that some perceived to be nearing their end (when capitalism turns crisis into regeneration for example) create mental dissonance with actors navigating their own history.

This is to say our responses to time is often, usually, not in accordance with changes and that changes themselves are mediated in our own agency. The intuitive way of thinking about action and cognition (with it’s starkly demarcated individualization of practical reasoning) distorts the way in which our responses and actions are codetermined in crucial instances by emergent ones. I need a good thought experiment that could lay this out more clearly, but for now it is enough to raise that actions within time and events are not radically open, but bounded sets of possible actions. An account of group agency is necessary to unlock these gaps and give a good analysis of time, events, and emergence.