BOOK REVIEWS (2014) – Ervin László’s (1991) The Age of Bifurcation [Part 2]

6 February 2014

Summary (the TLDR Version)

Once we recognize that capitalism and communism—and its illegitimate love-child socialism that aspires to avoid the worst of both of those worlds—all rest on technocratic, linear concepts of time, differing in opinion only fundamentally on how much weight to give to the past as a determinant of the present and thus the future, then we see that we must indeed discover a third alternative, because such linear progress cannot, in a world of finite resources, extend indefinitely. And if we accept that sustainability acknowledges not just technological capacities and management of resources but the implementation of social justice as well for all on the planet, then sociocapitalist technocracy must end. Chaos theory offers an alternative, which begins with a change in how we conceptualize time.

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this already, you can skip it.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop).  I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To:  Ervin László’s (1991)[2] The Age of Bifurcation [Part 2]

This is a second reply to László’s book; you may find the first one here. While worrying László’s use of the word ‘predict’ and exploring his analysis of conception of time, a third posting on this book will get more into the specifics of what László proposes, but understanding this change in the conception of time marks a necessary step for rightly understanding (I think) his proposal, especially as he wrote in 1991, prior to 9/11.

Here we go with the “we can predict the predictable” argument. The first hedge we get, “the nonequilibrium crystal ball does not foretell a ready-made future. It tells only of what one can predict—which is important, even if it is not everything” (37). I’ll reserve judgment on this, but if all nonequilibrium conjectures can tell us involves, “We could predict that or not” does not cut the mustard. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we can. In the next chapter, László les disingenuously states bluntly, “”Unpredictability is a generic characteristic of trajectories defined by chaotic attractors” (53).[3]

Disingenuously, László admits, “The limits of predictability in the human sphere may not be the same as those that apply to simpler systems” (38). The glaring obviousness of this claims distracts from the fact that it makes no attempt to say whether nonequilibrium—I will just say chaos theory from here on out—applies either in simpler or non-simpler cases.

To illustrate his point, László notes the reliable predictability of a well-wound clock. I want to pick on his specific claim even: “If we know where the hands are now, we shall know where they will be in five minutes” (38). Only if we know either (1) that the clock operates exactly accurately, or (2) if we know in what ways it operates defectively—both necessary conditions assuming that the operation of the clock remains consistent.

But the more significant defect of this example concerns that we make clocks. In my previous post, I distinguished between mathematical explorations of chaotic dynamics, which have the two advantages of (1) rationally permitting an assumption of determinism in the operation of the (mathematical) system, and (2) the plausibility of cause and effect descriptions, even within the context of chaotically unpredictable (mathematical) dynamics. When we talk about physical phenomena in the actual world, however, the assumption of determinism and the claim to “know” what factors impinge upon the actual chaotic dynamics we observe do not have the same grounding as in the mathematical case.

To substitute the mathematical approach where the physical approach more accurately applies denotes a fundamental piece of sleight-of-hand.

So picking a well-wound clock to describe a “simpler” case involves an article of bad faith. We know this makes a simpler se because we made it, we built it. Cybernetics encounters this same issue—when we design a machine that appears to behave chaotically (or, in fact, does), the assumption of determinism and our claim to “understand” the operation of the machine has a more rational basis compared to when we construe something like a crowd as a “machine” and then assume determinism and a knowledge for how it behaves.

So a more pertinent simpler case consists more of water running over a waterfall, such as at Iguazú Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. We might model[4] all kinds of details of this dynamic system—the volume of water going over the walls, the force of the water striking at the base, the temperature of the mist above and below the falls, &c—and this would involve taking account as much as possible of variations in the water flow from season to season and according to changes in weather, &c. I use this as an example, because accurately modeling this simpler case precisely requires keeping track of variations in the “operation” of the water in a way that László (sloppily) disregards when offering the example of a (man-made) clock. But, again, the greater error consists in pretending that a system we design and build makes for an adequate illustration of a phenomenon in the physical world; in this substitution of the mathematical approach where the physical approach more applies we clearly see László’s (intentional or unintentional) error.

He then compounds the error. He notes that, “the ‘movement’ of humanity through history may not be as predictable as [a well-wound clock]. One can even doubt that it is predictable at all” (38). And then he proposes, “The human future is predictable if the past is, that is, if there are laws or factors that have determined the course of history” (38).

This offers a very aberrant notion of “predict”. Todorov (1973)[5] once remarked to the effect that the weakest possible hypothesis about any phenomenon involves that we may categorize it; one might add, in light of László assertion, that an equally weak hypothesis about events of the post involves that we can ascribe factors that account for its occurrence. But at the very least, this amounts to prediction after the fact, which doesn’t warrant the name prediction at all.

If only the matter stopped there. When one deals with (claims for) linear dynamics, as in the sort of “simpler cases” László invokes, the consistency of operation makes examining a past behavior for future behavior a relevant endeavor. If we study the well-wound clock, we come to understand the factors that impinge upon its otherwise consistent operation and knowing those factors allow us to adjust our predictions in light of them.

With chaotic dynamics, however, this kind of cause and effect become detached; we do not, in fact, understand a chaotic dynamic’s “consistent operation” in the first place. This remains true even in those chaotic (mathematical) systems or dynamics we ourselves build and investigate. He disingenuously or inappropriately asks, “Could there be such laws [of human history], and if there could, what would they be like?” (38). They would say this (I answer): sometimes chaotic dynamics prevail, and when they do, they will persist until they cease. Beyond that, we can predict nothing in either the strong or weak sense of the word. And anything we might guess at will not have chaos as an authentic root. Undeterred by this, László merrily continues:

Two kinds [of laws] could possibly enter into play. One pertains to the nature of the human organism, the other to the nature of societies. The former set of laws or factors are biological, and if they are determinant they would create a kind of biological (more precisely, genetic) determinism. The latter set are sociological, and they in turn would spell a social (that is, socio-cultural) determinism (38).

I cannot stress enough once again how this invalidly substitutes a mathematical notion of chaos fist at one level, to the physical world of human organisms, and then at a second level of remove, to non-physical phenomena like human societies.

I think László even knows this, or tries to work against it; notice how he couches his claims in highly subjunctive phrases: “two kinds [of laws] could possibly enter into play”; “could there be such laws, and if there could, what would they be like?” Having begged all these questions, László then invites us to “look at each [kind of law] in turn” (38). Later in the book, he states unambiguously, “The laws of evolution, in nature as well as in history, are probabilistic and not deterministic” (58); this effectively reverses much of what he claims here. In practical terms, he wants to state, “we cannot halt the evolutionary process or regress it to some prior stage. We must ‘go with the flow’ but can choose which way we go” (57). Besides that this begs the question, it at least drops the conceit of predicting the unpredictable.

To jump back to analyzing a previous chapter, however: his first sentence for biological evolution reads, “If biological factors determined the course of history, they will also determine the future” (38). It really does not involve splitting a semantic hair to object that the “determinants of history” need not axiomatically get assumed as the “determinants of the future”. We have a mixing of domains here that not only makes little sense but also contradicts human experience.

Consider the moment when you must make a decision: steak or seafood (or anything else). From the standpoint after the decision, looking back on it, after we choose “seafood” for example, it may seem blindingly obvious in retrospect that no other choice ever would have come about. But that falsifies our experience on the side before the decision, when we quite sincerely dithered and played with different possible outcomes—including saying, “Fuck it all” and going out to pizza.

From the standpoint after the decision, all of the factors that previously (before the decision) seemed to have all equal (or at least equally confounding) desire-value now show in a (very) different light. It hardly suffices to say “hindsight is 20/20,” because this doesn’t explain at all why, simply by passing some “magic” moment of the decision itself, suddenly our eyesight snap into such clearer focus.

It may not fall wide of the mark, in fact, to suggest that the determinants of the past do not exist until we pass the moment of decision. This means that my hunger before the decision (and what it makes of my choices, steak or seafood) and after the decision (in light of my choice of steak) do not constitute the same thing, even though I use the same word to refer to both. Certainly what “steak” means before and after I chose it points to two different things.

Consequently, László’s bland assumption that the phrase “determinants of the past” must synonymize with “determinants of the future” falls short of tenable, never mind the other objections to the claim. That László immediately after favorably cites sociobiology shows how quickly and undesirably this sort of question begging goes. Rhetorically, by which we may understand desperately, he refers to sociobiology as a “reputable school of thought” (38), on that otherwise has gotten linked to eugenics, racism, and misogyny.

I refuse to engage the sort of vapid twaddle these premises generate, even if László seems to do so only for rhetorical purposes, i.e., to dismiss the notion later. One really can’t seriously address such a heap of insensibility as, “Our genes make us aggressive: the history of societies is the history of wars, only interspersed by the cessation of hostilities because periodically there is  need to recoup one’s strength and regroup one’s forces” (39). The history of the world refutes this then and now, even without silly invocations of genes to explain wars—László, in any case, only offers technical objections (see below).

The realm of politics has indeed been a bloody mess, as Eagleton (1989)[6] fairly observes, but politics constitutes a very narrow part of human civilization, which consists preeminently and in the largest part of people getting along—just as we all do right now, in this café. As the robot messiah in Lem’s (1980)[7] Return from the Stars puts it,

The planetary bioplasm, its decaying mud, is the dawn of existence, and lo! from the bloody, dough-brained cometh copper….” [….] “Behold the last efforts of the strutting croaking master of quartering and incarceration, for yea it riseth, thrice riseth the coming kingdom of the nonliving….” [….] “And the dough-headed took their acid fermentation for a soul, the stabbing of meat for history, the means of postponing their decay for civilization….” [….] (135–6, italics added).

When we understand history as only the stabbing of meat, by a very narrow and elect few of sociopaths, then doubtless history—also as Canetti (1960)[8] delusively and deludingly believed—looks like a bloodbath, but such traumatized whining about the course of human history need not provide our starting or our ending point. In fat, as seems the case here, even to argue this amounts to a justification for further bloodshed—this much becomes obvious in Canetti, most assuredly—or at the very least, a merely rhetorical howling in order to justify some change in policy direction, just as László seems to have stressed various environmental catastrophes in previous chapters just to make his proposal seem palatable or necessary.

And since human genes dispose them to aggressiveness, selfishness, and power-seeking, “through careful genetic manipulation, controlled interbreeding, and the selective diffusion of the new stock we could mutate sapiens to a higher form” (40). Putting it like this, László finally blinks and declares such a project “hopelessly unrealistic” (40), though primarily on technological grounds; he doesn’t touch the moral argument at all, and the fact that he doesn’t does not merely offer testimony to who he thinks his audience consists of (technocrats) but also (I suspect) because his standpoint fails ultimately to have a moral ground, but we’ll see. In any case, he assures us “there is no need to grieve over this” (41); “for it is not genes that determine the nature of an age” (41).[9] Nonetheless, it seems an irony of his book that he volubly invokes the unpredictable dangers of deliberately mutating our genetic code as part of his larger exposition that we can make “predictable” interventions into chaotic dynamics.[10]

László then surveys four views of time or history: the circular, the helical, the linear, and the nonlinear, remarking at the end of the third section, “There does not seem to be much sense in viewing the path to the future as a linear process” (48). In the last section of the chapter—after a startlingly brief exposition on nonlinear evolution and history—he addresses to some extent various cognitive advantage to each point of view, an specifically says, “Unless we are comforted by the notion of a preordained destiny, we will be pleased that [the nonlinear] scenario harbors more freedom for human action than a deterministic unfolding of history” (51).

This appeal, which echoes Pascal’s wager, seems very strange, since he suggests that a nonlinear view of evolution and history (suddenly) does not have as much determinism in it as a linear or circular conception of time (evolution and history). In terms of appealing cognitive ideas, he continues:

Unless we are adventuresome to the point of foolhardiness, we shall be content that the scenario is more determinant than the fully random sequence of historical events of the positivists. And unless we are afraid of novelty, we will find this scenario more interesting than a mere cyclic recurrence of past phenomena (51).

I appreciate this attempt to identify various merits of a given myth or narrative we might tell ourselves about time (i.e., evolutionary biology and historical socialization) but not the non-plural approach to it that wants to make the nonlinear narrative the most desirable one. In the next chapter, he similarly asserts, “In the final analysis, chaos in society spells human freedom—freedom to change the structures and institutions in which people live their lives” (53).[11]

What follows consists of a very focused-in examination of this passage in László’s book. It may seem overly focused, in fact, but it involves (literally) how we view the progression of time, understood as evolution (biology) and history (sociology). Due to the consequences involved in how we conceive of time, it doesn’t seem gratuitous to spend the effort to grapple with it, especially since we live in an Occidental culture where we simultaneously insist that history (an evolution) occur randomly while yet having some forever (linearly) increasing or decreasing direction. Lázló’s exposition, in fact, ably exhibits this basic contradiction or confusion.

One may infer László does not favorably describe those “comforted by the notion of a preordained destiny” (the linear view), those “adventuresome to the point of foolhardiness” (the stochastic view), and those “afraid of novelty” (the closed-circular view) of time, preferring (of course) the human freedom suggested by chaos (the nonlinear view). A bit of a wrinkle occurs here, however, in that Lázló’s parallelism breaks down.

He has provided four views of time, whether in evolutionary or historical terms—the circular (closed, eternally repeating favored by those), helical (cyclically repeating but progressive), linear (non-repeating increases or decreases), and nonlinear (chaotic but fruitful), but slips the random view (of the positivists) into his rhetoric here and leaves out whatever objection one might make to the helical view.

One might assign these fears of novelty, foolhardy adventuresomeness, and comfort in predestination in different ways to the views of time, as history and evolution, that László offers.[12] To offer just one assignment, and following a path of least resistance, the “fear of novelty” aligns itself most readily with the closed/circular notion of time—the one that Lázló admits held the Chinese dynasties together and in good stead for thousands of years, and of course countless thousands of other cultures as well. With the notion of  preference for predestination, a preordained destiny, we get on slipperier ground, because the conceit of the linear view of time, whether advancing or declining, involves its predictability, but this doesn’t quite seem the target of Lazló’s objection. The helical view—namely, that history recurs but manifests in different forms each time, rather in the same way that each human body more or less reprises from birth to death the same pattern of biology but with individualized variations—contains novelty and does not necessarily threaten preordination. And of these four views of time, none explicitly claim randomness.

In point of fact, the helical and linear view do not unresemble one another that much; if one straightened out the curve of the recurrent helical form, it would readily turn into the sort of line that the present dominant discourse in Occidental culture construes in forever progressive (or regressive) ways as “linear”. The primary difference of opinion involves to what extent one gets to call or describe a new event now in terms of past events. Whether a father’s son reaches puberty, does the boy reprise his father’s own puberty or does this event constitute something fundamentally or essentially new. The linear view wants to take no cognizance of past events as determining anything; nothing “shapes” the course of history’s unspooling, and against this notion of shaping, i.e., as an implied critique against those who have a taste for predestination, then each next historical instance appears essentially in a vacuum, and thus (in that way) randomly. Thus, any event that appears (in biology and history) does not, cannot, refer back to any previous event. Obviously, such a position represents an ideology, since nothing compels we must take account of the past or not. And the linear view does not adamantly and dogmatically insist that history plays no part—it simply matters that the past, whatever its influences, does not determine the present, that we must look at events now as independently appearing things, more than inevitable consequences of other events (equally independent) in the past.

Having said all of this, this teases out how the phrase “unless we are comforted by the notion of a preordained destiny” critiques the recurrent helical view, while the phrase “unless we are adventuresome to the point of foolhardiness” critiques the linear view, referring to it in positivist and stochastic terms.

If this alignment of László’s objections to circular, helical, and linear notions of time, as biology and history, holds water, then of course his advocacy of a nonlinear view follows as an alternative to those. But in particular, his critique of the helical view—particularly that it rests on a “taste for predestination”—marks a dubious moment. Mathematically, chaos itself arises in near-recurrence, exactly as the helical view of time would assert. Moreover, these recurrences—both in the helical an nonlinear scheme—remain (by assumption) fully determined, and both due to the influence of attractors. In the nonlinear view, these attractors comprise a visible and preeminent part of chaos theory. In the helical view, which you might visualize as an ever out-sweeping arm of a spiral, the “attractor” occurs elementarily as the center around which the spiral turns.

So, the primary difference—at least as László’s appears to want to make it here—does not involve a contrast between the repeating circular dynamic of the helical model—imagine how the hands on a clock continuously move in the same pattern exactly, even as the spiral itself traced out by those hands gets bigger and bigger—compared to some repeating non-circular dynamic in the nonlinear model—because ultimately the “shape” of the repeating dynamic makes no difference in kind. Rather, the difference lies in the never-changing quality of the helical dynamic—over and over, the sweep of its hands pass forever through the same four quadrants of the circle in the same order always—as compared to the nonlinear model, which (by theory) has an in-built acknowledgment that the dynamic (non-circular, non-repeating or not) may change. If currently, every human being goes from birth to youth to maturity to old age, traversing time and again past the moment known as their birthday (as the earth circles round the Sun), each time subtly different yet the same, then the nonlinear conception (if surreally) allows us to imagine that we might go from birth to maturity to old age to youth or, even more radically, through different current states we do not even have names for yet: perhaps an (1) age of insociation, where we invent language all on our own, then an age of (2) pansociation where our psyches acknowledgment no object distinctions but rather a unity of them, and so forth.[13]

This does, in fact, represent an authentic alternative to the closed, helical, and linear/stochastic views of time, as history and evolution, but when László pitches it in terms of freedom—“in the final analysis, chaos in society spells human freedom—freedom to change the structures and institutions in which people live their lives” (53)—then we must exercise great caution. In the first place, our freedom to change the structures and institutions in which we live requires human action, not chaos. This notion that we can change our structures has its great home in historical materialism, as Eagleton (1989)6 makes clear, and it stands in marked contrast to any notion of unchangeable human nature (whether religious or psychological). László, in fact, argues that we should not try to change human nature at a biological level, we should not tinker with our genetics. As for other ways of changing human nature—through religion, or through Marx’s desire to make a new person—Lázló objects to these under his critique of “positivist” or “stochastic” view of time.[14]

But, as I have shown, the technocratic optimism in Occidental culture remains just as certain (if contradictorily) about the randomness of evolution and history. Capitalism too promises to change structures and institutions—or at least claims the capacity to. So that if László implicitly rejects Marxist linearity, he must also reject Capitalist linearity as well. He won’t say so outright, since his dominant audience consists of capitalists.[15]

So whatever “freedom to change the structures and institutions in which people live their lives” we already possess—or find ourselves prevented from accessing due to the consolidation of capital and Power—that makes for a non sequitur as far as the shape of evolution or history; more precisely, the prevailing discourse describes evolution an history in a linear/stochastic way to maintain the status quo. László proposes an alternative, particularly in the observation that sufficient system stress will lead to bifurcations, whatever the marxocapitalist technocrats otherwise believe. We may take heart from this fact. Human history and evolution were not always like this; chaos jumped us into this attractor, and if we now stand in a truly different era, we see this in the notion that we may (for the first time) actually stand capable of intervening into whatever next evolutionary/historical bifurcation we find ourselves facing down. We should not act so naïve, however, as to imagine that our world’s marxocapitalist technocrats, who now together wish to globalize the world, will not delight in taking up this new “nonlinear” trick and turning it against us. Perhaps Lazló’s secret consolation over this possibility arises from the fact that any technocrat so naïve will get his for such hubris when it all blows up in his hands.

If the Bomb once represented the (unfortunately) literal symbol of world-destruction and the mutagenic potentials of radiation at the physical (biological) level, then chaos theory in the hands of technocrats may prove the (non-literal) symbol that promises world transformation through the radioactive potentials of (social) mutation.

László constructively asserts the inadequacy of Communism or Capitalism—and by extension implies the only marginally corrected variety of socialism that tries to mitigate the worst of both worlds[16]—and insofar as this all seems rather breezy, if apt, I want instead to reject the sentence “individual freedom and autonomy, the same as social and economic justice and equity, are perennial values of human life” (56).

Since László does not define what he means by freedom, autonomy, social justice, economic justice, or equity, this appeal to the obvious becomes treacherous. But especially the desire for freedom and autonomy as universal; this certainly denotes an anachronism, and clearly enough that Occidental discourse has long enjoyed denigrating First Peoples of the world (and their cultures) as having no desire for freedom or autonomy. I have visited Việt Nam; a great deal of conformity of dress occurs, but I heard no one there expressing the emptiness of their life because they lacked a freedom to wear something other than chambray shirts and khaki pants. In the US, H. G. Wells’s thoughts on the distinction between freedom and liberty might go over most people’s heads. In Turk’s (2013) play Behind the Badge: A Theatrical Examination of Police and Prison in America, the narrator asserts that with all of the manifold forms of surveillance and restrictions on behavior we now experience—to say nothing of the 2.3 million people, mostly of color, overwhelmingly poor—that we live in the least free country in the world; no wonder we howl about freedom so much as a necessity. Perhaps this explains why Việt Nam ranks #2 in the world on the Happy Planet Index 2012 and the United States #105.

I suggest instead that “perennial human value” consist in the values of cooperation, fairness, empathy (or compassion), and recognition (which includes the social allowance to become outstanding). On this view, freedom becomes freedom for what and autonomy becomes autonomy to what end and for whom? If we honored these four values—as for example in the principles of the Egyptian goddess Ma’at, who describes how the spirit of justice should occur socially—then social justice (economic justice represents an unnecessary redundancy to stress) begins to occur ‘automatically”. Socioeconomic injustice arises as a function of betraying some principle of fairness, cooperation, empathy, or recognition. I would keep this in mind as we proceed because László specifically says, as distinct from the now obsolete “classical strategies of liberalism and communism” (57), that the “new strategy [must be] to optimize individual freedom and autonomy at the same time as ensuring social justice and equity” (57).

To begin with, as opposed to organizing “a dynamic, technologically advanced, integrated and diversified multilevel society” (57) hierarchically, i.e., “commanded from the top and forcing its many parts and elements into a pre-designed unity” (57), we might opt instead for a “holarchy, where the diverse parts and elements participate in setting goals and objectives and cooperate in carrying them out” (57, italics in original). He notes that we possess the various wherewithals to create a “society based on voluntary cooperation born of understanding and solidarity” (58); I would point in this claim to some of his terminology and my emphasis on cooperation, empathy (understanding), and fairness.


[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge.

[2] László, E. (1991). The age of bifurcation: understanding the changing world. (World Futures General Evolution Studies Vol. 3). Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach, pp. i–xvii, 1–126.

[3] I can imagine that László would respond, “I do not claim that we can make predictable interventions, but that we might intervene to soften the effects of disastrous changes.” This sounds reasonable, but if one deals with unpredictability, then any sort of intervention must fall in the unpredictable zone regardless. On the other hand, we live in chaotic and non-chaotic times, and we must do something, so whether the results seem predictable or not, we will act; as human beings, we must. And precisely due to chaos, sometimes our sensible intervention have wholly disastrous outcomes. So the most salient objection to László’s exposition arises in how he advances his argument; he resorts to the term predictability, even though it makes his point incoherent, because he lobbies for the implementation of chaos and bifurcation theory on the social scale. He misrepresents the actual stet of human affairs (where chaos recurs) in order to appeal to a linearly technocratic (Occidental) discourse. And the final outcome of that would seem more like co-optation and distortion (of the chaos theory approach),c rammed into a Procrustean linearity, in order to (all over again) maintain the status quo. László will wind up with a comfy sinecure as “Chaositician Prime”, and the rest of the world will continue in its handbasket on the way to oblivion.

[4] To whatever degree of precision we can stand.

[5] Todorov, T (1973). The fantastic: a structural approach to a literary genre (trans. Richard Howard). Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University Press.

[6] Eagleton, T. (1989). Bakhtin, Schopenhauer, Kundera. In K Hirschkop and DG Shepherd, DG (eds.). Bakhtin and cultural theory, pp. 178–88. New York: Manchester University Press.

[7] Lem, S. (1980). Return from the stars. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

[8] Canetti, E. (1981). Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart), 6th printing. New York: NY: Noonday Press. (paperback)

[9] I frankly think he gives too much credit to sociobiology to sufficiently ground his breezy dismissal of it here. His technocratic objections simply demand technocratic rebuttals, and the heirs of Laughlin’s eugenics do not hesitate to enthusiastically masturbate to fantasies of such technocratic solutions. All of this amounts on my part to a questioning of László’s strategy in writing his book.

[10] Once again, the direness of his argument returns in subjunctive form: “If accidental mutations occurred in large numbers, the gene pool would soon be severely contaminated” (42).

[11] As an aside, I get very sketchy when someone brings up the notion of ‘freedom” in a US (or an Occidental) context; let us remember that inhuman atrocity called neoliberalism that lead to anti-democratic coups, the murder and disappearance of people, the betrayal of human social progress in South Africa and Poland, the despoliation of modern Russia, to say nothing of the degradation and atomization of society in the United States and England especially beginning from the advent of Reagan an thatcher that took its cues from Friedman’s (1962)*—may his name never come from people’s lips except as an epithet—Capitalism and Freedom.

*Friedman, M., & Friedman, R. D. (2002). Capitalism and freedom. 40th anniversary ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[12] And it might prove interesting as well to hazard in what way and how he came to make such assignments himself, if one could determine that. He accuses the positivists of viewing evolution and history as random, but most who view biology and economics in “scientific” terms do so as empiricists (more or less positivists) an thus less as proponents of a stochastic “model” of time, but (in fact) a linear one. In other words, László seems to have passed on raising the dominant view of time currently in vogue: the progressively linear one. World War I did a great deal of damage to this view, and the rest of the twentieth century added fuel to the fire, but this seems more to make people less sanguine about what “progress” means without destroying the notion that we still, in some sense still more or less progress.. So the adventuresome foolhardiness of the positivists points, I suggest, to the technocratic optimists and pessimists, who see their interventions (into biology or society) in linear, one-to-one terms. But, since László’s target audience consists of Occidental rulers, it seems unlikely he would bluntly accuse them of stupidity.  Thus, he counterpoises notions of freedom—a major neoliberal buzzword—against regressive preference for predestination and scants the “fear of novelty” as undesirable as well. But all of this, ostensibly not to support further neoliberalism but to offer a (nonlinear) articulation (of it, or something else). This simply points to László’s already neoliberalized soul or to his (fawning) attempt to ingratiate his notion to the dominant discourse.

[13] Whatever in the world “and so forth” might mean in such a sentence.

[14] I have resisted the temptation to bring up Eliade’s (1965)* Myth of the eternal return in the main body of this post, not for its want of relevance but to stay focused on László’s main points. László himself acknowledges the value of the closed/circular conception of time, as supporting China for thousands of years, and Eliade too here notes the intense relevance, even up to the day of modern Europe while he wrote his book, for the “archaic” mentality. Even to call this conception of time “closed” represents already an Occidental misprision; one should speak, rather, of the helical notion (as described above), which Eliade’s description supports. Accusing people of a closed conception of time represents little more than racist ethnocentrism, as Occidental culture congratulates itself with its doctrine of liner time an history. A main advantage, as Eliade sees it, of the “archaic mentality” involves its abolition of the terror of history, something that (our) linear conception of history cannot offer save by promises of future technocratic solutions or, as we see more and more (especially in the news), simple amnesia. If the archaic mentality represents a deliberate abolishment of history, the linear conception, as it plays out these days, activates an unconscious abolishment. And the problem less becomes that those who forget history get doomed to repeat it, as that ignorance of events in general makes people more readily manipulated by events “of the moment”. The destruction and atomization of the relationships of the fabric of the social world have extended into the temporal fabric of things as well; we have a billion threads on Facebook, for example, that go nowhere in time and offer an illusion of connection, in place of the (longing for) connection we now experience due to the destruction of—our detachment from—the past. As capitalism promised the individual, “You can live as if you owe no one anything,” so that now extends to ourselves as well, by severing any debt to ourselves to our pasts. The giddy liberation of this comes merely with an annihilation of all significance in our lives; we approach the condition of the animal (as we imagine it), which does nothing but react mechanically and instinctively to what gives it pleasure or pain in the moment. If we could never pause to reflect on this, it might work over the course of a lifetime, but even the dullest amongst us who has a standard issue ration of self-reflection can’t keep this moment forever at by. They can only hope that the vertiginous terror or annihilation it exposes turns out as just one more detached moment in a wholly detached life. The so-called archaic mentality Eliade speaks on behalf of offers an alternative to this degrading and politically eviscerating state of affairs.

* Eliade, M. (1965). The myth of the eternal return: or, Cosmos and history. [Rev.] Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press.

[15] And in this, again, we find the main danger in László’s exposition; whether or not his nonlinearity will not become simply the next (linearly plied) technocratic “trick” of neoliberal disaster capitalism. &c.

[16] I have sympathy for the view that argues communism has yet to appear on the human scene, that what we have seen so far (in Soviet Russia, China, &c) represented socialism, not communism, so that if I place capitalism and communism as bookends in my argument, this view says I err; that I should say, rather, capitalism and socialism, and perhaps refer to sociocapitalist technocrats, rather than marxocapitlist technocrats.


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