Wednesday 28 September 2011

On 'Theory'

I've been reading John Mearsheimer's essay 'The False Promise of International Institutions' and am somewhat irked by its many weaknesses. So much so that I don't really know where to begin. (Some of the contradictions he makes are so blatant as to be funny.) I think the most objectionable aspect is the role he assigns to 'theory.'

In my opinion: Any given international incident is sufficiently different from all other comparable incidents that responses to it will always be conditioned, primarily, by situational rather than theoretical knowledge. Theory will never determine practice. However, without theory in the broadest sense it is impossible to make sense of any situational details. Therefore, theory can never determine practice but practice depends upon theory nevertheless.

'Realism' (in the vein of Mearsheimer, not generally) is a bad theory because it aspires to a level of power that could determine the response to any given incident. As such it abstracts from almost every situational detail. As such it is flawed, perhaps even dangerous. It ignores the vast majority of what goes into any given situation and, what's more, is proud of this fact. And, of course, it fails.

The complexities of international politics demand empiricism with theoretical support; the half-baked social physics of latter-day realism is less than useless. By portraying all action that conforms to its assumptions as necessary action, action that it would be irresponsible not to take, then it justifies - a priori - that action.

That said, more subtle varieties of political realism exist and are both deeply necessary for political theory and largely neglected by mainstream IR theory.

Political realism must not determine any given view of any given incident but it must not be eliminated from it either. It is both too limited and too important for the role that realists ascribe it. It can never fulfill the role they dream of for it and the more they try to shoe-horn it into that role the less relevant it becomes for its proper task: framing the situational specificities of particular incidents.

Totally empirically unfounded transhistorical, transcultural (so, really, universal) forces of 'human nature' are just too unwieldy and monolithic to, effectively, automate intellectual and political responses to intensely detailed particularities, as Mearsheimer apparently wishes they could.

Political realism, at its best, is a theory of contingency and the lack of assuredness or foundation when encountering concrete particularity. It is itself an argument against grand theory of this sort.

But this is not the 'realism' of the 'rich tradition of realism' that Mearsheimer claims, without citing any evidence whatsoever, goes back 700 or 1200 years (he claims both).

Grumpy proclamations of the importance of 'external reality' and theories of correspondence thereto are placed in quite comedic contrast when grandiose assertions about the millennia long endurance of a single theory are provided without even a hint of evidence for such an improbable and unbelievable trajectory.

And so it is for so many who defend epistemological realism and 'science' in IR: when they take on critics of their position they fail to correspond to those critics' arguments in any way!

Realism of all kinds deserves better. So does science for that matter.

Annoying Fallacies

I am so very tired of that most widely committed logical fallacy (does it have a name?) where the refutation of a proposition is assumed to denote the endorsement of that proposition’s opposite (which is itself assumed to be both obvious and singular). The denial that there is ‘a real, knowable, objective external world’ is taken to constitute an affirmation of the inexistence of anything ‘outside’ of what had previously been assumed to be ‘inside’ (and against which the ‘outside’ of the ‘real, knowable objective world’ had been defined). Namely, this ‘inside’ was ideas, sociality, consciousness or human subjectivity. The fallacious observer cannot comprehend how anyone can refute the existence of ‘a real, knowable, objective external world’ as this, to them, automatically denotes the affirmation of the inexistence of anything besides ‘ideas, sociality, consciousness or human subjectivity.’ Non sequitur.

The situation is made even worse when the doer of the denial attacks the fallacious observer by critiquing the ‘outside’ reality and posing it as ridiculous. In so doing the denier implicitly or explicitly endorse the floating, lifeless, immaterial ‘inside’ and set the two parties at each others’ throats for eternity. This is how wars get started. (And it is over little more than which end to crack your egg.)

Don’t refuse the pole, refuse both poles and the opposition. Break each element down into its constituent parts, ask what each part was doing in the previous schematic and put the bits back together again in a way that avoids the traps and pitfalls of the previous arrangement.

Please don’t take sides over false oppositions; he who decides the sides decides the whole bloody game.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

"The governments don't rule the world - Goldman Sachs rules the world"

Same video as the last post:
The governments don't rule the world - Goldman Sachs rules the world
This is why all conspiracy theories are ridiculous: True power laughs in the face of secrecy. True power just doesn't care.

But let's be clear: it isn't shocking that this guy exists. The world is full of heartless bastards and always has been. And, to be fair, his job is to make money from this sort of thing. So it isn't the fact that this guy exists that this is shocking nor that he holds these beliefs: it is that these are the people running the world!

That is why I said it is 'institutionalised sociopathy'. It's an entire civilisation built on finance capitalism, which is in turn built on the most openly, utterly, deeply unapologetic nihilism imaginable.

The Eternal Return of Nietzsche!

"I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession"

I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession
This deserves to be the headline of every newspaper everywhere. Not because it's news but because it's the most utterly perfect encapsulation of our times. Not just institutionalised sociopathy but shamelessly so.