The Crisis of Western Civilisation in the Age of Entanglement (Part 1) …

The drift towards Autocratic Technocracies

“Liberty and Freedom are complex concepts. They go back to religious ideas of Free Will and are related to the Ruler Mystique implicit in absolute monarchs. Without absolute monarchs patterned after the Old Gods and ruling by the grace of a belief in religious indulgence, Liberty and Freedom would never have gained their present meaning. These ideals owe their very existence to past examples of oppression. And the forces that maintain such ideas will erode unless renewed by dramatic teaching or new oppressions. This is the most basic key to my life.”

Frank Herbert

autocracy

/ɔːˈtɒkrəsi/

a system of government by one person with absolute power

plutocracy

/pluːˈtɒkrəsi/

government by the wealthy

technocracy

/tɛkˈnɒkrəsi/

the government or control of society or industry by an elite of technical experts

In a recent 19 January 2022 press conference marking his first anniversary in Office, US President Joe Biden responded to a question as to whether the United States was more unified since he was first appointed to Office.

An extract of his response follows:

“Based on some of the stuff we’ve got done, I’d say yes, but it’s not nearly unified as it should be.

Look, I still contend — and I know you’ll have a right to judge me by this — I still contend that unless you can reach consensus in a democracy, you cannot sustain the democracy.

And so this is a real test — whether or not my — my — my counterpart in China is right or not when he says autocracies are the only thing that could prevail because democracies take too long to make decisions and countries are too divided.

I believe we’re going through one of those inflection points in history that occurs every several generations or even more than that — even more time than that, where things are changing almost regardless of any particular policy.

The World is changing in big ways. We’re going to see — you’ve heard me say this before — we’re going to see more change in the next 10 years than we saw in the last 50 years because of technology, because of fundamental alterations and alliances that are occurring not because of any one individual, just because of the nature of things.

And so I think you’re going to see an awful lot of transition. And the question is: Can we keep up with it? Can we maintain the democratic institutions that we have, not just here but around the World, to be able to generate democratic consensus of how to proceed?

It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be hard, but it requires — it requires leadership to do it. And I’m not giving up on the prospect of being able to do that.”…

At the core of the answer is a more fundamental question around what type of Society is best placed to navigate an emergent Material World and are the increasing rates of change, complexity and uncertainty that are arising in the first decades of the 21st Century challenging the core pillars and axioms of all Societies, particularly Western Civilisation?

Was our Society’s Episteme and Techne sufficient and robust enough to navigate such an emergent Fitness Landscape?

It was a question explored in a 7 March 2021 article titled The six crises of Secular Liberalism and the Legitimation Crisis.

Six crises were identified across Western Civilisation including Meaning, Reason, Epistemology, Truth, Social Justice and the Role of the State.

At the time, it was concluded that the combination and interplay of these 6 Crises poised profound existential questions around our capacity to navigate this ever-changing Worldan Age of Entanglement.

Cracks were beginning to appear in our Temples of Reason.

Was it really the “end of history” or an existential crisis of Secular Liberalism and Western Civilisation?

Our Leaders, Institutions and Society were finding it more & more difficult to think the unthinkable and navigate a complex and uncertain Material World.

Common meaning, values, truths and beliefs were increasingly becoming polarised and replaced by Political Partisanship Ideologies, Dogma, Orthodoxies and Tribal Stories.

An emergent Legitimation Crisis that European Philosopher and Sociologist Jurgen Habermas had outlined in his 1974 eponymous book.

A generational gravitational shift towards Hypernormalisation.

In other words, an increasingly simple fake fictional World despite our Material World’s complexity.

So what are the core Axioms of the 21st Century?

Over 400 years ago, at the dawn of the Age of Reason, Renaissance Polymath Nicolaus Copernicus upended our World View and perception of Reality.

No longer was the Earth at the centre of our Universe.

Copernican heliocentrism emerged anchored by the Sun.

It was a profound “jump-state” shift in how we perceived Reality which resulted in new Axioms and a New World View.

One that changed the course of Human history.

The emergence of an Age of Reason, Temples of Reason and the Cult of Reason that drove the Scientific, Industrial and Digital Revolutions and led to the re-architecture of Western Societies towards Secular Liberal Democracies and Scientific Technocracies.

UK philosopher, poet, novelist, cultural critic, and retired medical physician Raymond Tallis, in an August 2020 podcast titled Monteverdi & his Constellation — The New Art of Science, eloquently outlined how these new Axioms and “World View” emerged around the 15th and 16th Century (Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Copernicus et al.).

He synthesises the essence of the importance of this period and how it was the catalyst for the Scientific Revolution.

A quote:

“We can look at different levels. One is actually to question authority. One would no longer look up what Aristotle said in order to find out how the world works. Let’s investigate it ourselves. The second is, obviously, the focus on observation. The third, I guess, is to put forward a hypothesis that were tested. Galileo was testing Hypotheses for much of his life, particularly in relation to mechanics. And the fourth was a suspicion that ultimately the World was a “kind of machine” or nature was a Machine. When Galileo said the “book of nature” was written in the language of mathematics, that’s very close to a mechanical idea of nature which was developed enormously by Descartes. As far as Descartes was concerned, all of nature was mechanism including animals and including our body’s, and we were “ghosts in these machines”. And of course, that climaxed in Newton, the whole idea of the Universe being a great huge clock of intermeshing parts”…

Illustrative of this shift in our World View was the emergence of Newtonian Classical Physics, the evolution of Capitalism towards a Neo-Liberalism which saw the Economy as a Machine and Humans as one of three capital “inputs” that increasingly were being substituted by the other two – Physical (e.g. Machines & Automation) & Financial Capital, a new regulatory systems complexity science called Cybernetics which contemporary French Engineer & Philosopher Jean-Paul Dupuy believes saw cognitive science increasingly viewed through the lens of the “mechanisation of the mind, the anthropomorphism of computation (e.g. Artificial General Intelligence) and a new digital narrative anchored in the Fourth Industrial Revolution which saw various Life & Biological Sciences such as Genetics, the Natural Ecological Environment and Biology as essentially “problems to be solved” by technocrats — engineers and scientists. The embracement of a God Complex and Scientific Engineering Precision.

“Not least of the effects of industrialism is that we become mechanised in mind, and consequently attempt to provide solutions in terms of engineering, for problems which are essentially problems of life.”

– TS Eliot

Despite this prevailing World View – an Orthodoxy – Complex Living Systems, the Material World, Human Body and Mind as a Machine – a Mechanisation and a Cartesian form of reductionist abstract Reason (Cartesianism, First Order Logic, Aristotelean Term Logic etc) — there were some leading original thinkers challenging this perception of Reality.

In the 19th Century, Ada Lovelace had a fundamentally different perspective on the nature of emergent mechanical computational machines (e.g. the Babbage Analytical Engine) to that published by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence. She saw these Machines as tools for Human creativity and sensemaking rather than thinking machines with their own Agency.

Similarly, late 19th and early 20th Century US Pragmatist Philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce questioned Newton's Theory, and the notion of a Mechanical Material World ruled solely by Newtonian Laws. He believed that randomness, chance and disorder were as relevant as Material World phenomena.

Likewise, US 20th Century Philosopher Karl Popper, in his 1966 essay titled — Of Clouds and Clocks: An approach to the problem of Rationality and the freedom of man, highlighted the Limits of Reductionism.

Each raised fundamental issues of the Mechanistic World View that had dominated Western thought for over 300 years.

“For one of the things which almost everybody thought had been established by the Newtonian revolution was the following staggering proposition:

“All clouds are clocks-even the most cloudy of clouds”…

- Karl Popper

Just like when Copernicus upended our World View in the 16th Century, a similar Copernicus 2.0 moment was required as our Classical Models of the World (Mental World) no longer were adequate for a Quantum Material World.

Previous articles, including Why Philosophy matters more than ever in the Age of Entanglement, When two Worlds collide, and The Age of Entanglement, highlighted how the advent of Quantum Mechanic coupled with a range of accelerating trends emerging in the 20th Century (e.g. the rise of globalised networks/supply chains/finance/energy/communications, internet, environmental challenges, pandemics, Information Theory & advances in computation, new frameworks for Decision Making) were highlighting a growing Reality Gap in our foundational Axioms and World View — the inadequacies of existing Classical Models of the World (Economic, Financial, Ideological etc..) that were signalling a much needed Copernicus 2.0 shift.

A new World View that combined Clouds & Clocks.

A new World View that combined Reductionism with Entanglement and at the same time recognised the limits of what we know.

A new World View that recognised the inherent nature of the Human Condition.

A new World View integrating our Mental World and Material World — metaphysics with physics, reason with meaning and mind with the body.

“Complexity is the increasing Dimensionality of our Interrelationships and Interdependencies from which arise nested patterns of adaptive order in an emergent World”…

- The Complexity Void

Was Complexity, Uncertainty and the Human Condition the new Axioms for the 21st Century?

A shift towards Integrating our Mental World and Material World?

In Part 2 of The Crisis of Western Civilisation in the Age of Entanglement, the eternal dualism and dialectic between Order & Chaos, Reductionism & Entanglement and Codification & Emergence will be explored.

We will begin our discussion on some of the possible reasons Western Societies are drifting toward Autocratic Technocracies and moving away from our rich Classical Western Traditions.

Does it lead to a core question about whether this trend is the antithesis of the episteme, techne and frameworks and approaches needed to navigate a non-ergodic emergent complex Material World?

Footnotes:

[1] To be added shortly

Unlisted

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Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid

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Richard Schutte

Richard Schutte

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid