garden of delights by Bosch

Last week’s summaryIn 2012 EVT, Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population. The increasing incapacity of the political authorities to deliver the security citizens seek increases the risks to the legitimacy of the whole system. The first two phenomena driving Everstatan political authorities’ incapacity to deliver security are a deepening budget deficit and an increasing need for liquidity, and a related creeping appropriation of resources while the strength of central public power weakens to the profit of various elite groups. The first of this group is the lenders’ nexus. The second type of elite groups is developing strongholds focused on those resources needed by Everstate and is exemplified by an extreme form of outsourcing, crystallized by the company Novstate.

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An outdated worlview leads to misunderstanding and disconnect

As discontent settles in Everstate, with its corollary of slowly rising tension, widening scope of grievances, and creeping feeling of injustice, while people continue, in vain, to seek security, Everstatans try to give meaning to their hardship, to understand what is happening to them and why. Meanwhile, Everstate’s governing bodies also look for ways to solve the various problems they face, which demand understanding the situation.

increasingly dysfunctional models (normative and socio-political) s3

Such quests mean that the current normative models held in Everstate, and, more broadly, in the liberal order to which Everstate belongs are increasingly dysfunctional and outdated. Indeed, should they be adapted, they would provide the right framework for both efficient and satisfactory actions and meaning. Whilst now, nothing makes sense anymore and the situation worsens almost on a daily basis. The economy is growing inefficient; the political authorities’ actions repeatedly fail to ensure security; discontent increases; the formal bureaucracy of the state apparatus is questioned at many level, including by the bureaucracy itself; the state infrastructure seems to be now unable to fulfill its functions ; appropriation of public resources and power grows. Those are signals or symptoms that something is amiss in the models followed.
But then, if this is the case why has a new model not already emerged? What is happening and why?

Actually, Everstate and its fellow countries have now to face one of the toughest challenges, if not the hardest, that may confront a society. They are facing the intrinsic difficulty that goes with the need to change the various models that frame their lives and related institutions.

Currently, there is only one major model of socio-political order that frames the organisation and behaviour of most countries in the world, including Everstate: the modern nation-state, focused on the sole improvement of citizens’ material well-being, in its liberal democratic version. Other variations, such as Communism, have failed as the Cold War showed, and lessons have been learned from others’ experiences. Nothing else is available. Thus, if there is a need for change, then something new must be created, which is very difficult indeed.

normative beliefs step 3First, ideological stakes are at work. The model of socio-political order is at once grounded in the past and in increasingly deeper systems of beliefs, themselves constructed historically.*

The first layer is a system of norms or beliefs, which can be seen as an ideology (a set of ideas), and quite akin to a religious system of beliefs, with all the sacred connotations and emotional attachment that may go with it. It will also contain the culture and mores of a specific society or country.  It evolves slowly with time. From this level are derived, for example, the legal concepts applied in each country.

This layer is then included in and interacting with normative beliefs that act at systemic level and are constructed out of interactions between different systems of beliefs and actors. Here are worked out norms that rule the lives of all actors in the world, such as, for example, the existence of states that are territorial, sovereign, independent, the importance of modernisation (being modern), a norm that was constructed and imposed upon the world starting from the end of the nineteenth century.**

Then, one finds the deepest level of norms that may be called paradigmatic and will contain those values that are most crucial, deepest and most fundamental.  For example, at this level may be located fundamental ideas about life and death, about the place of human beings in the universe, about the evolution of the universe, about fundamental ethics, etc.

Each layer of norms results form past evolution and past norms and has emerged out of collective efforts to face past historical situations. Each layer evolves at a different speed and the deeper it is, the more difficult to change it, the more threatening any potential change, and the more chattering the experience of changing it, at both collective and individual level. However, as the more superficial level – the socio-political model in its specific Everstatan guise – is embedded within the others and includes elements of them, then any change similarly involves dread.

Besides the human cognitive difficulty in revising models in front of new evidences***, ideological stakes to keep the model of socio-political order are thus strong considering the difficulties and consequences of altering it. Finally, as those models are normative, questioning them generates a fear to be cast away by the group, with all the internalised dread related to the impossibility to survive alone if one were excluded from the group. Thus, new evidences that could question models are either not seen or consciously and unconsciously dismissed. The likelihood to see this denial happening increases with the depth of the set of beliefs that is touched.

universities, knowledge institutionsThe knowledge and understanding institutions  act as guarantor of the ideological and normative system. As such, and according to the norms they uphold and represent, they also provide legitimacy to the governing bodies within society. They tend, at least initially and according to their specific normative position, to further forbid questions and to stop the emergence of new ideas and new models. Meanwhile, prompted by the rising disconnect between reality and the norms and the dysfunction and hardship it generates, a demand for another understanding, one that would be adapted to  the current reality, is voiced increasingly loudly, and lends strength to the rise of alternative purveyors of knowledge or to a major renewal within traditional ones.

Considering where Everstate stands historically and normatively, the knowledge and understanding institutions are mainly located within the academia, especially those departments where the latest models of socio-political order have been designed and upheld: economics departments and business schools, with the support of some of the most liberal and economically minded political science studies, as well as some divisions focusing more exclusively on technology and applied science.

Everstate has very good quality universities and those last 60 years they have provided increasingly recognised scientific knowledge and understanding, notably in the areas of main normative concern, such as economics, business and technology. They have educated generations of civil servants and also play the role of think tank. The analyses thus provided are widely recognised throughout the country as being explanatory and providing good advice to the ruling institutions, contributing thus to good governance and sanctifying the legitimacy of the state. Those universities are enmeshed in the global academic network and Everstate scholars travel extensively and can be heard in international workshop, while they contribute to global knowledge.

Interestingly in Everstate, the scientific institution cannot be seen as a single body anymore, that would, as a single actor, protect all norms. The organisation in disciplines that took place over the last centuries, and that played in the hands of those upholding a modernising and materialistic division of the world, giving power to a few, also contains within itself the seeds of a potential renewal. Indeed, as demand for a new adequate understanding increases, if norms must be revised, if some beliefs must be discarded, then the separation in disciplines means that the complete demise of  science is not necessary, only part of it will have to be revised or even discarded. This also means that in the near future battles are likely to be played within universities, in Everstate but also at global level.

Some churches, at least those which  adapted to the more materialistic part of modern life, can also help upholding norms. However, as Everstatans are relatively uninterested in religion, churches’ influence is so far marginal. One notices, nonetheless, a revival of some religions as citizens look for meaning and understanding, an understanding that mainstream beliefs do not bring anymore. It is thus likely that churches will play an increasingly important role in the years to come, notably if sciences cannot be renewed when needed.

International institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank or the United Nations agencies, being born of the latest systemic norms and to sustain them, also contribute to enforce their universal, orthodox character. The latest born global institution is private, a powerful global association of companies that influences even heads of states. It upholds all the norms related to business. Efforts towards further or different regional and global governance  let expect the appearance of new actors at this level and of coming related normative battles. Any attempt to question or change the norms upheld by those organisations will be fiercely combated.

To complete the structure, we find professionals trained in those institutions and having thus acquired those skills that are so crucial to the functioning of this system created for past conditions also act as guardians of the norm. For example, business consultants or high level executives coming from the corporate world, notably in areas linked to finance, act as unquestioned and unquestionable gurus. Novstate, considering its hybrid character is particularly active in the normative field, from the specific funding of research programs within universities and think tanks to full use of its friend networks, notably within mainstream media.

To be continued

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* The organisation in four layers of norms and beliefs is only sketched here as a hypothesis. Each of them may be constructed as a complex system and more research would be valuable on their interactions, the way they are born and evolve.

** See notably, Bull, H., The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics, (London: MacMillan,1979); Bull, H. and A.Watson, The Expansion of International Society, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984); Gong, G. W., The Standard of ‘Civilization’ in International Society, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), Lavoix, Helene, ‘Nationalism’ and ‘genocide’ : the construction of nation-ness, authority, and opposition – the case of Cambodia (1861-1979) – PhD Thesis – School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), 2005; for modernisation, see, among others  Giddens, Anthony, The Consequences of Modernity, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990).

*** Richard Heuer, Jr., Psychology of Intelligence AnalysisCenter for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1999, defines cognitive biases as “mental errors caused by our simplified information processing strategies” stemming “from subconscious mental procedures for processing information. A cognitive bias is a mental error that is consistent and predictable.” Chapter 9. At work here among other biases would be the bias known as the “Persistence of impressions based on discredited evidence (difficulty to discard the initial causal model created). – also called Belief persistence after evidential discrediting” Anderson, Craig A., Mark R. Lepper, and Lee Ross. “Perseverance of Social Theories: The Role of Explanation in the Persistence of Discredited Information.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1980, Vol. 39, No.6, 1037-1049.