Complexity II

Last week I opened the subject of trying to understand human actions in the context of the constant change tied in some way to the complexity of the world.  This week I go further in thinking about these related topics by examining an author who thought he had the ideas in hand.

 In 1987, Thomas Sowell published A Conflict of Visions that is still in print.  His theme was that people construct mental visions that govern their actions in worldly affairs.  There are two essential visions; constrained and unconstrained.  He traces these visions back into history and chooses examples from the writings of Adam Smith to Milton Friedman as exemplars of constrained visions and Thomas Paine to John Rawls of unconstrained visions.  He explains visions of knowledge and reason, social processes and describes some varieties and dynamics of visions.  He then moves on explaining application of visions to equality, power and justice by drawing from his array of thinkers.

 A vision is our sense of how the world works and this kicks in immediately in encountering a new situation which may be moral, political, religious, economic or social.  Before we think, we make an assessment.

 In the constrained vision, life cannot be laid out in a plan which is then followed to its intended conclusion.  Human beings simply do not have the intellectual  capacity to overcome the limited choices available.  The constrained vision focusses on limitations

 The unconstrained vision sees humans as capable of overcoming limitations in the world through wise and human social policies.  The unconstrained vision focusses on humans making positive changes in the world.

 You cannot move from Sowell’s explanation to contemporary liberal and conservative thought, but if you work with his explanation, you realize that it is difficult to be all one or the other, though some people seem to manage it.

 Sowell is not the only one to attempt to elaborate a social process that guides us in coping with life that offers little in the way of direction.  Even though  Sowell attempts to lay out two ways of approaching the constant diversity in our lives the task exceeds his grasp through the fact that every individual constructs his/her own intellectual and emotional structure to deal with the world.

 Diversity in life faces us all, is constantly changing and challenging our ingenuity in coping with it.  I nod my head at Sowell and then go forth to fumble my way on, encountering people everywhere who are doing the same thing.  So, I close with the same insight as the previous blog; death clears the way for change.  Depressing, but, perhaps true.

  1. #1 by Marv Mostow on February 11, 2014 - 10:24 pm

    That is it: Death clears the way for change? Come on, there more to follow, I hope.

  2. #2 by John Boswell on February 14, 2014 - 9:57 pm

    I’ve thought about what you said-which was pithy-and I would like to see if I give more explanation.
    War is a case in which we seem to have to kill a certain number of soldiers to get generals and others to stop feeding men into the same death maw. In WWII, after Pearl Harbor and the battles in the Java Sea we gave up cruisers and battleships and went to submarines and aircraft carriers. Right now, we keep aircraft carriers because we can’t settle the argument about whether we can do it all with missiles.
    Natural death carries away a layer of people with certain ideas and they are replaced with younger ones with different ideas.

  3. #3 by Leo on March 28, 2014 - 11:28 pm

    Here are some less aggressive examples. In virtually every war since the Crimean War, medicine has made significant advances. The treatment provided in ERs across the country is informed by the experiences and hard lessons learned by trauma teams striving to save those harmed in war zones. Death is inevitable for both individuals and organizations, why not learn and pass that knowledge on?

    Though I must admit that there seems to be a good chance that the tragedy of the commons will strike the only planet we have.

  4. #4 by John Boswell on March 29, 2014 - 12:18 am

    Leo, thank you.

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