Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
A few remarks:

First, referring to the Guardian's paper: I am really fed up with these failed economists (like Thaler and Sunstein) who try to reposition themselves by recycling their poor thinking as bogus psychosociology. What particularly angers me is the fact that politicians and journalists don't even notice the paucity of their production (I would never call this crap a theory). That tells a lot about the said politicians and journalists level of education/knowledge (Only a handful of them, like Gillian Tett seem to be way above the lot). Hellooo! Never heard of Herbert Simon and the bounded rationality theory? Never heard of James March and the Garbage Can Model of decision-making? Never heard of Pierre Bourdieu's concept of habitus? Let alone Korzybski's General semantics...

I agree with most of what you're saying, however I think that most of what is said today (not especially by you) about the Enligthenment comes from a very narrow representation of what it was and produced.

What I would add is that, together with a structural narrative, a society is structured by institutions (in the wider definition of institutions used in socio-economics; i.e. money is an institution, markets are, too...). In this sense, I think the relevant concept is the concept of paradigm. It was first proposed by Thomas Kuhn for the scientific domain: a paradigm is a vision of the world which includes a set of definitions (what is to be thought), objects (what is to be perceived/researched: we could call this a map of reality), problems (what questions ought to be posed), methods (how research should be conducted/ knowledge must be produced) and ways to evaluate the results.

Outside the scientific world, it was further developed by Edgar Morin in "La Methode" (and by Michel Foucault with his concept of episteme): together with definitions, objects, problems and methods, a paradigm includes beliefs (often unconscious), rules (how we should behave), institutions and the relationships between individuals, groups and institutions.

Years ago, I wrote my DEA mémoire on change within organisations. In that research, based on Edgar Morin, Kuhn and Gaston Bachelard's epistemology, I proposed that significant change in organisations (it could be applied to larger collective structures like societies) follow the same pattern/process as the paradigm change process identified by Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions:

  • the dominant paradigm has to be seen/felt as failing by a significant part of the community
  • there must be a new, robust "candidate" paradigm which seems to bring better answers/solutions to the problems encountered
  • given the new paradigm has yet to be put to work, it cannot show results, so the process by which it can be able to replace the old one is not demonstration , but seduction: the new paradigm (and those who promote it) must attract/seduce a significant group of people in order for the new paradigm to be implemented and tested against reality
  • the institutions and people who are part of (or play a central role in) the old paradigm (serious people?) are at great risk to lose their power/status (even if some of them can shift to the new one), so they are very likely to oppose change. Therefore creating new institutions and making new actors emerge is a necessary way to induce change.
  • the change process is not linear: internal and external events, as well as collective dynamics can accelerate (or slow down) the process.

Therefore, I agree with what you say, you don't change structural narratives (and paradigms) just by proposing an alternative one, because most people cling to it for cultural, psychological, sociological and economical reasons.  However, the big difference between organizations and (open) societies is that, usually, in the latter, several paradigms coexist, even if there is a dominant one.

There are many examples of change in institutions leading to a paradigm change (apart from the obvious case of revolutions): for example, the The 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and State triggered a major change in the French structural narrative.
More recently, the genius of the European Union founding fathers was to start the process by creating new institutions (the ECSC, the Common Market, Euratom) to induce change in the structural narrative of nation-states. Given the tremendous symbolic and economic  importance of money, the introduction of the Euro is a major step in the creation of a new European paradigm.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sat Aug 29th, 2009 at 11:58:02 AM EST
I read Kuhn in '64, I believe, and Korzybski around '70 and both remain very relevant.  Unfortunately, an understanding of these concepts remains confined to the same elite which for 200 years has been the carrier of Enlightenment values and the exponent of the Enlightenment project of universalizing those values.  That process seems to have hit a wall and seems to be in retreat.

Lakoff was correct about elites needing to update their understanding of how our minds work and how the general population views things.  My own view is that the goal is not to abandon the values but to become more effective exponents of sustainable democratic value creation. This is hard to keep in mind when the crown is baying for action according to "that old time religion", but is non-the-less imperative.

It is far preferable to accept, while heritage values can be vulnerable to criticism on grounds of cultural relativism and cultural domination, that it is still possible to create universal values, even though the process may be an ongoing one.  The alternative is to accept a long "war of cultures" which the Chinese may well win through sheer weight.  Does weight = rationality?  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Aug 29th, 2009 at 12:34:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Does weight = rationality?

weight of agreement creates consensus rationality.

perfect rationality may be a distant goal, (in your terms: universal values), that even recedes as one approaches, but the journey there, slaloming through the various '-isms' and '-ologies', knocking down a few!

as clever people with hidden agendas side-track us continually, it has been 2 steps forward, 1 back since time began towards some holy grail of simply being able to live side by side with ones' neighbours and mutually profit from the proximity, but i do sense a magnetic pull, created by the wishes and prayers of millions of 'little people' with common sense, whose names will never be famous, towards this shimmering mirage.

those 'clever people', unfortunately, have often squirrelled themselves into powerful positions as our 'leaders'.

so we have to work around that somehow, and i have faith that we can and are...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Aug 30th, 2009 at 01:44:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I try to differentiate organtization from technology from mythology.

The three of them define one's society but organization changes along technology and mythology.
In the Kuhm paradigm "paradigm", scientific revolutions have to do with cahnges of a whole set of scientific narratives.. this same thing happens when there is a change in one or more structural marratives or mythologies.

However, institutions can be reformed or adapted to new structural narratives as you say. So my focus was on narratives.
I do not mean to downplay the importance of instutional effect in our present paradigm. But their main effect is to slow down change outside it, following the changes within it (change everythign so that everything can remain the same).

Furthermore, the proper narrative  (even the non-structural) can generate new institutions more often than the other way around.

I see the introduction of the euro as an institution created by a narrative to fortify and try to make this narrative structural.

So, although my focus is somehow different let me repeat Brit's sentence and eco your feeling.. buy media...or create media or create instituion to spread or to fix those narrative..

Other than that, the only point I would disagree with you is about the idea that normally changes in narrative or institutions appear because the  previous one is seem as "failing"...

Here I do not agree, in some cases yes in others not (it probably depends on the topic).. I do not see how the pre-Shakespeare elite "feeling" mythology could be seen as failing in any sense. Actually, it was working pretty well..Of course Shakespeare was amazing compared to previous mythology, but I would not say that the previous one was seen as failing before the new paradigm of "feelings" came in.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Aug 30th, 2009 at 12:34:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A few remarks:

Is this an example of French understatement?  I will be a while longer chewing on this comment!

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Aug 30th, 2009 at 04:15:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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