Gian Piero de Bellis

Polyarchy : a Paradigm

(2002 - 2013)

 


 

Presentation

The present confusion
The old paradigm : failings
The new paradigm : functions
The papers

 


 

The present confusion (^)

  Cultural transformations and technical innovations are taking place at a phenomenal pace. However, social and political thinking and acting has remained practically unchanged and is now so out of touch with reality as to be, like a broken machine, out of order, that is, useless.
Yet, events happen and keep happening because history does not stop. Individuals are moving and changing even if they do not truly know where they are going and what will become of them.

  At the end of the XX century, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, the weakening of many barriers and borders in Europe, the end of distances (e.g. instant messaging), the reduction of size (e.g. miniaturization); all these phenomena, among others, herald the dissolution of the reality produced by the age of the nation states and nation wars (e.g. compartmentalization, mechanization, gigantism, etc.) without necessarily depicting clearly what will supersede it.

  This situation of confusion, leading either to a passive acceptance of events or to a distorted interpretation and destructive intervention, will remain so until new thinking tools are devised, capable of truly organizing reality theoretically and mastering it practically.
 

The old paradigm : failings (^)

  This theoretical and practical confusion is the result of perceiving and assessing reality through the use of a paradigm that presents too many shortcomings and contradictions to be amended via integrations and corrections.
This old paradigm is based on specific concepts and attitudes, accepted almost without discussion. They could be briefly identified as:

Fragmentation. Reality is portrayed as made of fragments, namely, as material and social atoms, mechanically assembled.
Simplification. The relations between the parts of this fragmented reality are thought to be based on mono-linear causality, one main cause leading straight to one main effect.
Contraposition. The simple parts of reality are seen as clashing atoms and are portrayed through the use of a vocabulary made of polarities (black, white), dialectics (thesis, antithesis), struggles (for survival, for class emancipation).
  In the course of time, these concepts and attitudes have undergone some revision or addition. New mental habits and terms have been taken on board, as for instance:

Integration. The parts composing reality have been integrated into wholes. From that moment onward many social scientists have focused on totalities and kept repeating that "the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts," misquoting or misinterpreting Durkheim who stated that "un tout n'est pas identique à la somme de ses parties" [a whole is not identical to the sum of the parts] (Les règles de la méthode sociologique, 1895). Since then it has become an intellectually authoritative statement that the whole (e.g. society) is more important, being bigger, than the supposed parts composing it (e.g. communities, individuals). People abiding by this conviction inevitably tend to attribute to society an unjustifiable aura of mystical superiority with respect to mere individuals,
As a matter of fact, entities of realities are, at the same time, wholes and parts (along a wholes-parts continuum). Moreover, a whole can be functionally 'smaller' than the parts composing it (e.g. a dysfunctional family).

Plausibility. Simplicity has been strengthened by plausibility. This has made it possible to assume that what is plausible, in the social sciences, is also, generally, veridical. Until lately, not much place was given to the counter-intuitive aspects of reality. And so the social discourse was and still is too full of plausible statements repeated too often without any critical questioning to their truth. Given this situation, the expression 'plausible but false' should become a common saying within the new paradigm.

Functionalism. The excesses of the contraposition model have been tempered by the functionalist outlook. This has not solved the problem because it has attempted to replace a partial portrait of reality with another partial one. Functionalism as a replacement for conflictualism does not represent a substantial progress towards a better understanding of reality. What is needed is a new approach capable of amalgamating the incredible richness of entities and relations, of cooperation and competition, which compose and animate the current world.

  So, no amount of theoretical tinkering seems sufficient to bring the old paradigm back to a workable use.
     It needs to be replaced by a new paradigm.
 

The new paradigm : functions (^)

  The need for a new paradigm is long overdue.
The new paradigm should accomplish the following functions:

Interpretation: to perceive and organize new phenomena in meaningful/useful ways;
Conception: to free the mind of outdated concepts and attitudes in order to be able to conceive new patterns;
Construction: to project the new patterns from the (theoretical) mind to (practical) matters, without discontinuity.
  There is then a clear connection between the emergence of a new paradigm and the actuation of a new praxis to build new empirical (possible and preferable) realities.
Otherwise, if we remain anchored to outdated dysfunctional paradigms, we keep manufacturing and transmitting myths based on the perpetuation of (old) fiction instead of producing science (knowledge) grounded on the interpretation of (new) facts.
 

The papers (^)

  The papers here presented intend to offer a contribution towards the emergence of a new paradigm.
  The main aim is to present matters for examination in order to push minds into discussion.
  Examination and discussion of the data and beliefs contained in these papers should lead, in the course of time, to their corroboration or refutation. In any case, this would represent an advance in knowledge, away from the present stagnant state of the social sciences, especially the political sciences.

  These papers can be read independently or in sequence. A certain redundancy (repetition of the same concept) will be felt by those who go through all the papers.
  Some points of this presentation, especially those concerning a new paradigm, will be dealt with again, a bit more thoroughly, in the summing up.