Armin Nassehi (2017), Die letzte Stunde der Wahrheit – Kritik der komplexitätsvergessenen Vernunft (The Last Hour of Truth - Critique of Complexity-Forgotten Reason), Hamburg: Sven Murmann.
This is an excellent book by Nassehi about complexity and how to deal with it. Nassehi, in Nord and Connell's (1993; From Quicksand to Crossroads: An Agnostic Perspective on Conversation, in: Organization Science) term, "turns the kaleidoscope" and dislodges old patterns of thinking, generates new patterns and fosters awareness that numerous configurations (of logics) are possible. The book gives a lot of thoughts to ponder, above all the question of how (not) to deal with complexity, as in the different logics that have established themselves next to each other. As a risk and safety professional, one has to manage deviations and make them appropriate. Another insight is the concept of distributed intelligence: there are many loosely coupled problems, speeds, capacities and operational units we have to deal with. A final insight is that, with complex issues, it is not very useful to insist on better insight and collective unity. For risk and safety professionals, the challenge is to supply different helpful activities under one roof with a common illusion (e.g. the illusion of a homogeneous safety culture). A subject like safety in organizations always has real counterparts, like efficiency and workload, that have to be dealt with at the same time. Therefore, the individual motive cannot be collectivized. On top of this, different real-life contexts can't be overcome through simulating a cultural unity.
"A male-heroic leadership style with directive forms of influence is something like a functional equivalent for the intellectual in front of a blank sheet of paper."
First chapter - World Creation - The consistency of the blank sheet and the inconsistency of the world
An author, according to Nassehi, is not the creator of the world he is writing about: he/she is part of it and must first be instructed by this world. One has to learn that society withdraws from regulatory access because different things are happening at the same time and there is no lever to be found from which it can be influenced. That consequently also applies to its description. Nassehi uses the example of writing on a blank piece of paper, while there are many more pieces of paper that have already been written on as a metaphor for practices, routines, structures, expectations, constellations which mutually neutralize, reinforce, or solve very different problems. The blank piece of paper illusion: one pretends to be able to write a consistent story about an inconsistent world.
Nassehi describes Pierre Bourdieu's sociology as a sociology of practice that uses empirical situations to describe how people get used to what they are doing, so that the world does not appear plausible to them in the form of abstract ideas and beliefs, but because these ideas and beliefs have proven plausibility in practice. We behave in a tried and tested manner within social relationships (habitus forms). Bourdieu is interested in the practical conditions under which a certain habitus arises, and their plausibility.
A lot of criticism (Nassehi mentions philosopher Byung-Chul Han and sociologist Hartmut Rosa) consists mainly of alienating sentences instead of noticing the complexity of the problem. In all areas of society, a wide variety of instances have a say at the same time. For Bourdieu, the intellectual, as a critical spirit, must be able to understand the limitation of perspectives as just that: perspectives, and thus recognize in a self-critical manner the priority of practice over reasoning - precisely because the latter is also a practice. A direct consequence of this idea is that the intellectual must recognize his own limited position. Bourdieu has shown that what we think is the result of what we do, not the other way around. Realities arise through one's own creative construction work.
Nassehi asks:"Why is there no tradition for describing complexity, a phenomenon that is beyond the design scope for a confident designer?" The point, according to Nassehi, is to develop a speaker position that does not fall for the prescriptive overestimation of oneself.
Complexity, in Nassehi's words, means that the current state can assume several other states and cannot be clearly causally derived from the past. Complexity refers to the multiple coding that is generally present. It points out that in a world like ours it is impossible to think of a position from which everything looks the same. Under the forgetfulness of complexity Nassehi subsumes those types of thinking:
- that are looking for only one lever;
- that make single-line explanations;
- that overestimate the possibilities of influencing society;
- that work with a basic principle;
- that know a desirable state of the world.
Most stories just don't work out; that is the state of complexity that must always be started with, according to Nassehi. The book title "The last hour of truth" is about these stories that pretend to bring society as a whole to the concept, and act with the help of simple lever movements.
Populism, according to Nassehi the natural opponent of complexity-sensitive thinking, should be understood as such forms of political communication that:
1. pretend to speak in the name of "the real people" and make clear statements about who belongs and who does not;
2. are critical of the elite and institutions and the validity of authoritative speakers such as scientists, media, church people etc.;
3. provide simple solutions to complex problems and questions.
Nassehi thinks the renaissance of populism has something to do with complexity and confusion. The resulting cultural battle is a battle for the power to define; a battle for narrative authority that nobody can win at the moment. The focus is not anymore on material distribution issues, but on the question of sayability, of cultural meaning, e.g. Trump offered his voters sentences that could be said for them.
A simple argument is always easier than a complex one. Nassehi would rather withdraw from battles and find a language for the problem of complexity. If the scientist or other actors from other fields make their moves primarily to make their moves primarily to improve their positions, assert themselves and capitalize on their investments, they can only do so if they participate in and believe in the meaning of the game (Pierre Bourdieu calls this 'Illusio'). Nassehi believes that it is worthwhile to explain the mechanisms and structures of complex processes; not in order to solve all problems, but to point out the theoretical conditions under which practical problem solutions can be approached at all. The simplest solutions seem to remove the tension at the moment, but produce considerably larger consequential problems.
Second Chapter - World Change - Between Collective Unity and Better Insight
The world changes and we are right in the middle of it. Our change efforts are attempts to change something in the world; the way in which this is possible depends heavily on how we observe the horizons of what the world appears to be.
The open question for most people is how the easy-to-gain insight into what is right can lead to the transition from individual action to collective effects. Either everyone has to be convinced of some sensible idea ("better insight"), or there has to be something like collective solidarity and individuals limit themselves in favor of the integrity of the whole. This threshold from individual insight to collective action or from individual interest to collective interest is the real problem, according to Nassehi. It is not difficult to identify the right thing, nor does it seem difficult to qualify right action. People are political actors, economic players and moral subjects all rolled into one; all three demands give rise to different pressures and logics. The basic problem is that nobody in a complex society finds himself in simple situations of action.
Better (moral) insight and collective unity (solidarity) do not solve the problem of complex action situations: they simplify something that is significantly more complicated. Both insight and solidarity want to restrict options for action in favor of those recognized as correct, sometimes even against better insight. One has to learn to accept that a correct attitude or the knowledge of correct behavior on the individual level cannot simply be rounded up to collective action and collective effects. That is the problem of collective action, as examined by Vilfredo Pareto and further developed by Mancur Olsen. Individual actors have little interest in restricting their own advantages in favor of a collective good, even if this would benefit them in the long term; one must always expect that others will not adhere to the insight.
Adam Smith's thinking about the invisible hand of the market, which will settle into an equilibrium that will lead to a (Pareto) optimum, focuses on the accumulation of individual actors in larger structures and underestimates the structures, i.e. the rules, within which the individual behaves. It is a great dilemma if one believes that one wants to achieve collective effects from the attitudes and actions of individuals.
The business ethicist Karl Homann has been pleading for years not to rely on insight, but to recognize competition in the markets and still ensure desired goals through rules that do not curb competition but its undesirable consequences. The only open question is then under what conditions political actors are interested in promoting such rules, or under what conditions voters honor them.
The induction problem describes the difficulty of drawing conclusions from concrete empirical individual cases to general statements. The extent to which it is even possible to infer theories on the basis of empirical statements is a difficult and controversial epistemological, conceptual and methodological problem of the social sciences. There is a long tradition of describing the world in anthropomorphic categories - either as the unity of collectives or as the insight into what is right.
A perspective like "rebuilding" is based on a system that can be deciphered by means of a uniform logic. On the other hand, she does not anticipate complexity, with the fact that the system reacts to the conversion during the conversion and does not present itself as a unit, but is more intelligent than the intelligence of the conversion. One has to do sociology to warn against such rebuilding fantasies. The system to be converted is not simply made of one piece, but reacts very intelligently by individualizing its promises.
Insight and reconstruction both present the event (in this case: capitalism) as a complex event that does not simply describe a state, but a complex dynamic in which the practice of an order reacts to itself through itself and thus its initial conditions change permanently through its own movement. One can no longer simply describe this order with means of causality. So, even complex problem descriptions fall back into very simple description traditions when they encounter the connectivity of their diagnoses. What is a blind spot in both perspectives is the question of how one can influence a complex system that is less uniform and less of one piece than a system that one seriously expects to be able to rebuild or change linearly.
Third Chapter - Complexity - The heliocentrism decentered the world
This sixty-three page chapter forms the core of the book.
The political styles of the center with their left and more conservative forms are also impregnated by these two traditions of description, especially in current policy fields. The left perspective will tend towards centralized solutions or a stronger regulatory policy. The more conservative side relies on the actors' ability to understand and waits longer until they shift to a more social democratic policy. Coalitionists mainly resolve this difference in a moderating political style.
Nassehi considers both the idea of transforming capitalism and the idea of changing the world through behavioral change to be sub-complex. For him it is important to approach the complexity of social crises, instead of discovering that the framework conditions of the criticized subject change with the criticism and that things continue in the way they did before.
Nassehi writes:"Nobody speaks in substances anymore, nothing is as it is". Everything is the result of differences, distinctions. The Christian tradition teaches that the difference between salvation and damnation or between faith and sin constitutes the dynamic of earthly life. Syntheses are due to the counterplay of theses and antitheses; a story of differences that are fought out in class struggles. This makes unitary thinking appear as a false consciousness.
The distinction between salvation and damnation depicts the whole world, because there can be nothing that does not fit into the distinction. The first aspect of complexity, according to Nassehi, is the emergence of competing distinctions. Something incompatible comes to light, for empirical reasons and as reasons for a developing plausibility. Not whether the earth revolves around the sun became a question of truth, but the distinction between true and false sentences. Observations are neutralized by not including them in your own decision. One does not find distinctions in the world, but worlds in specific distinctions. The external form of criticism criticizes by applying a different distinction as to whether something is true or false. The object of the criticism would then be the use of an inappropriate distinction: This is not about questions of faith or salvation, but about scientific questions of truth.
In the Galileo case, the Vatican was not concerned with salvation or damnation, nor was it about the truth or untruth of the observation, but only about the legality of the procedure that would have been valid only through the signature of the Pope. This story serves as an example of how multiple coding of reality is established in the modern world. Different forms of unity establish themselves, which perceive the world with their own logic. However, the world has become too complex to be ordered through the simple power mechanism of certain distinctions taking precedence over others.
When different logics become more complex, the justification requirements of "good" or "bad" change, and/or observation becomes more precise than one knew from previous worldviews or legal regulations. For reasons of complexity, these increases in possibilities and different problem-solving concepts can at some point no longer be negotiated within the scope of a distinction. Different worlds arise in one world, worlds that function according to different rules. The individual logics then make themselves independent of one another in their practice. The process of multiplying different problem-solving tools reacts to increases in complexity. With the logical separation of the areas, these are relieved because they have to deal with less complexity by only having to solve their own problems. At the same time, however, the complexity requirements in relation to the logics increase. The increase in complexity cannot be solved simply by suppressing it. Different universal observations arise side by side.
A situation is complex when it can assume several other states; when there does not have to be a necessary or unambiguous relationship between an event A and an event B. This applies to almost everything that is not a trivial machine or a simple algebraic equation. Complexity increases wherever different logics take place simultaneously and next to one another. How things appear depends on our perspective towards them. Looking at something from an economic perspective solves different problems than doing it from a political, scientific, legal or religious perspective. Economically, something always appears as a problem of scarcity, as a problem of the appropriate use of resources and the creation of future solvency. From a political perspective the world appears as something that has to be shaped collectively and for which one has to acquire majorities, or at least plausibility.
Nassehi proposes to use the image of distributed intelligence for understanding the logic of modern society: loosely coupled problems, speeds, capacities and operational units. The looser coupling makes it possible to replace or further develop a component without having to edit the entire system.
Distributed intelligence increases the independence of the components, but also increases the complexity of the interfaces and reduces the possibility of central control because you no longer have access to all processes of the other components. Distributed intelligence is above all the gain of plural intelligence and the loss of central possibilities of determination, depending on where you look. Linear forms become precarious.
Interface management corresponds to a polycontextural society. The world always presents itself as it appears from the respective context. Obviously there is no instance, no place, no perspective, no distinction, no observer point of view, no speaker position and no authority that could speak equally for all contexts. There are battles for advantages and hegemony: military, economic, knowledge-based, legal, territorial, religious, cultural and aesthetic.
Strategies that focus solely on the instrumental perspective of the reconstruction or the moral category of an insight that can be collectivized, only work because they pretend that the world can be described within a logic:
- e.g. through the fixation on the one main contradiction in the critique of capitalism in the restructuring perspectives of the left, which are based on the assumption of an objectifiable analysis of class and interest situations, whose real counterparts then appear as false consciousness;
- through the bourgeois-conservative idea of moral insight, the renunciation of options for action and collectivable morality, which leaves the proponents of this idea astonished that actors either behave according to different algorithms or that the individual motive cannot be collectivized;
- finally through the idea of the right of overcoming modern polycontexturality through the simulation of a cultural/ethnic/national unity that seeks to overcome the complexity of the situation through routines of inclusion and exclusion, and ultimately has to determine how polycontextural even an ethnically completely homogeneous society would be.
The success of most high-profile descriptions of modern society lies in the fact that they oppose a modern experience that eludes linear description because it requires a description of non-linearity; descriptions are tied to the seriality of language. Describing society in the narrative of a contradiction, as a society of people who are not willing to understand, or as a deviation from a homogeneity naturally inherent in society, has the advantage of trying to heal the polycontexturality of society through monocontextural forms of description.
Complexity, the simultaneous processing of different tasks, which are no longer causally linked, but linked to one another in the form of interactions and mutual enabling relationships. is the problem that in computer technology has led from the hierarchical architecture of the vertical and asymmetrical arrangement of the components with a clearly identifiable center towards a more horizontal, symmetrical, loosely coupled shape.
The abundance of new tasks, the diversity of processes and the higher performance through (partial) autonomization of components made it necessary to switch from the classic model of the division of labor and its central organization to the coordination and cooperation of functionally autonomous components that are mutually exclusive.
The transaction costs of centralized division of labor accumulate when the head office is no longer able to predictively view all processes of an architecture with the help of strong control, which then leads to faults in the periphery, affecting the ability of the entire system to work. This is inspired by the utopia of classic scientific management, i.e. a management model in which knowledge, wishes and skills are combined in a uniform and unifying way.
The transaction costs of the second model, the coordination and cooperation of functionally autonomous components, are reduced by the fact that the partial autonomy of the components solves problems where they occur. In the respective environments only the output is registered, but the process itself is a black box. There is a bigger need for coordination and communication services. Because it is no longer centrally established who does what, why, when and for what, this has to be determined again and again in constant bargaining processes.
In modern society, different social logics and functions develop side by side, each solving different problems with different means, media and under different conditions of success. The social establishment of distributed intelligence or functional differentiation is the result of unplanned historical development and modernization processes (compare Elias, 1970; MF).
The socially distributed intelligence is not to be seen as a centrally planned program, as Ulrich Beck did with his repeated criticism of the paradigm of differentiation. The fact that almost everything important takes place in organizations (companies, ministries, universities, schools and administrations) is an indication that the division of labor, separation of powers, multiple responsibilities and entanglements unfold everywhere. These cannot be designed from a single mold.
The Internet is an example of how networking develops unplanned and evolutionary and finds its strength in the loosely coupled form of different components, with forms of mutual control. This constellation enables complexity: the same thing can mean different things for different addressees. Every user of the Internet has the opportunity to tread paths that would not have existed before without his or her practice. Michel Foucault wrote about heterotopias, realized utopias in which the real places within culture are represented, contested and turned at the same time. Different experiences are made there, which provide a culture with a certain deviation to other places; a dynamic is set in motion against normalization.
Mostly, reflections on the Internet speak Rheingold's motif of communalization and the social network: the possibility of counter-publics and the bringing together of subpublics that would not be accessible without the network. However, what networks offer is something completely different, according to Nassehi: Networks do not enable collective wisdom for many, but rather individual intelligence on the part of individuals.
As we know from network research, loosely coupled connections are able to bring together information that one would not get in more strongly coupled networks. The more complex a social situation is, i.e. the more ambiguously individual elements are linked, the more chances there are of benefiting from weak connections. The dream of "wisdom of the many" is not distributed intelligence, but collective intelligence, the attempt to cope with complexity through a form of emergent conformity, organized around a mean value in a moderate spread of the cases. But, according to Nassehi, that is an afterthought of a complex event, like prices are the result of a market process. Collectively, only the result is easy to describe.
One can only identify different states of "mess" if one focuses on them in terms of notions of order. Gregory Bateson and his daughter: "If I have a special meaning for order, then some other people's 'orders' will appear to me as a mess - even if we agree on what we call a mess."
- Obviously, order is less likely than disorder.
- There are very different categories of order which, from someone else's point of view, appear to be disorder or at least a different kind of order.
Q: How do you get a disordered set to generate an order?
A: By making one of many possible choices. But since there are many possible combinations. it is highly unlikely that something decent will come out. One runs the movie backwards so it looks like everything happened forward. But in reality the "shaking" happens backwards. Order is unlikely and ultimately can only be explained from within, not from the total amount of all possibilities. That is why one cannot understand order forwards, only backwards. We know this from complex technical accidents. It could happen that a commercial aircraft crashes because the on-board kitchen catches fire due to a faulty fuse in the coffee machine and this fire spreads to system-relevant components of the aircraft and causes it to crash. However, if the defective backup had been noticed beforehand, it would not have been possible to infer the future crash (compare Sidney Dekker's tunnel metaphor in the Field Guide to Understanding Human Error, third edition, 2014; MF).
Kierkegaard wrote that life can only be understood backwards, though it must be lived forwards. We only have the distinctions available to us that are known to us from the past, but which are hardly suitable for the future. Order is the result of our own gaze, but it is not arbitrary: the gaze is exactly the form in which we see it. We're always in the world, so we can never start over. The complexity of the world is represented in something similar to the shaking of possibilities, but one can't demonstrate that because we are always in it and from the perspective of order we cannot even see how improbable this order is.
There's one problem: from a performative point of view, this excludes what narratives need: an imagined punchline, a solution, a lever from which the narrative unfolds. The textual nature of the description, which has to amount to a punchline, requires writing backwards so that you can read forwards. We cannot pretend that there are descriptions outside of descriptions, that there is what is described without the description. While oral speech simply disappears after the fact, texts and narratives are under greater pressure to have to come down to something.
Time diagnoses and self-descriptions of society depend on the reading habits of their audiences too. A description that emphasizes complexity must either rely on a different concept of order, or discover order in disorder, which results in the same tension. In a society in which there are different forms of order and disorder side by side, mutual indifference can also be a solution, as is the case with the distinction between religious, scientific and legal orders.
A modern, complex society solves its problems by being able to do without a central instance with a stop rule for operating different logics. The success of our modern complex society is that interruptions have established themselves between the different logics. This has enabled the functional systems to develop by leaps and bounds:
- The ever faster self-correction of scientific truths;
- The ability of politics to make everything the object of political decision-making; politics attaches the logic of political action to political success, not to the controllability of problems to be solved politically(!);
- The legal system is almost comprehensively able to establish a secure expectation through norms and to establish conflict possibilities through the externalization of decisions to appropriate authorities, regardless of what is legally regulated;
- The economy wants to achieve the greatest possible effect through the limited use of resources, completely independent of what is traded, produced or performed; it only takes into account how it happens.
Of course, there are those who do business economically who are really interested in the best product and who keep tinkering until they are satisfied themselves. There are also political actors who really care about something, a good solution for those for whom they speak out. There are also scientists who are explicitly interested in the good and beneficial application of their results. In legal practice it is often about a very explicit form of justice, and in art it is often about the motif of comprehensibility and accessibility. Despite all this, one cannot really step back from the strange independence of these logics and intelligences, which have an almost brutal pressure to act; they do not release anything that happens from their grasp. Therefore, modern societies usually experience themselves as crisis-ridden, precisely because they are not able to coordinate the different logics with one another. Modern society incorporates interruptions between these different logics and causes them to focus primarily on themselves. This makes it so difficult and almost impossible to have a directive influence on the dynamics of society. From where should one coordinate the different logics? Some hope for politics, others for the market or science, some even for religion. All of this can, in that case, only be done politically, economically, scientifically or religiously, even if the people agreed to meet for such coordination. An operational interruption is built in, in the sense that there are no more stop rules that could restrict the dynamics of the individual logics.
The different logics relate almost exclusively to themselves and find their options in themselves in their respective stubbornness. One can do justice to the law by obviously doing something that is outwardly compliant with the rules, completely independent of inner convictions. The perspectives and logics ultimately lose their orientation to the whole, but at the same time gain an autonomy that makes them uncontrollable even for themselves.
The separation of different logics solves a problem of complexity: things can have different meanings at the same time. But: new complexity problems arise due to the increase in respective options. The coordination of different logics and intelligences becomes more and more improbable the more they relate to themselves. That makes society indescribable in the sense that several stories can always be told about society at the same time, if one does not want to succumb to the fantasy of a coordinating unit.
The increase in options have real societal effects, according to Nassehi:
- Science cannot avoid scientific knowledge or actively forget it. Scientific increases in options provide the solution to problems that one would not have without science;
- Medical progress leads to increased medical options, which in contact with medical inquirers hardly meet with understanding, let alone practiced rituals (e.g. determining the time of death for the purpose of organ transplantation);
- Athletic performance possibilities come to be oriented towards the limits of the physical possibilities;
- Increases in media options also create a need for short reaction times and create rapid moodswings in society;
- Economic success can be bought by demanding even faster distribution which creates new supply bottlenecks;
- Because complex technologies can only be technically controlled, technical option increases themselves require more technical option increases;
- Politics cannot refrain from any subject in which power can be acquired, secured or lost.
Modern society buys performance through the interface problems of distributed intelligence. The demand for moderation as an economic solution is an utterly uneconomical principle, even if it were economically sensible.
Because of the distribution of intelligence and the resulting structural lack of stopping rules, not only economic but also other orientations always strive for growth, improvement and optimization. According to Nassehi, it is not the conflict between capital and labor, but the one between politics and economy that exemplifies the conflict dynamics of our time.
Nassehi is aware that the reproach against his four points (difference in perspective, distributed intelligence, order as post-rationalization, and increased options) will be "it is the system that is the problem, and there is no alternative". However, complexity is categorically tied to the possibility of other connections, solutions and alternatives. Only a diagnosis that does not formulate truths in the sense of assumed causality will be able to offer a realistic diagnosis and strategy.
Complex systems always operate in the present, always react to themselves in the present and have to reproduce their structures in time. This is what Nassehi calls the Society of Presents. At the same time, different things happen in an almost uncoordinated manner (it is not something sociable or something that can be addressed with criticism, praise, recognition or affection). Society is something that happens, that is constantly practically and presently performed, that is more unstable than it mostly appears to us, especially when we describe it as something. It can be seen as a piece that is performed over and over again.
The social modernization process is to be understood as an internal emancipation process in which the functional logics on the one hand become more independent of one another, but on the other hand they become highly dependent on one another. The different roles are neither coordinated by a central director, nor do they have a script to work on. Society has to improvise her structure.
Fourth chapter - two worlds - is there analog life in digitized worlds?
Analog signals require a strict coupling, which excludes distributed intelligence in the sense of operationally independent components. Digital signals, on the other hand, allow the different components to use them according to their own processing rules and only treat as information that which makes a difference for them. Nassehi's analogy: The world looks analog (it looks the way we see it), but it operates digitally.
Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver tried to show that communication can only come about if information can be generated from signals with a certain probability. The probability depends on whether the signals fit into an order that can be deciphered using the receiver's means and which is plausible for the receiver. There are many prerequisites for signals being received as signals. Communication is unlikely because communication processes always have to deal with the imprecision of the transmission of information, and the recipient is not simply a passively receiving vessel. The recipient receives according to its own processing rules that the sender cannot dispose of. Strictly speaking, the transmission model sender-receiver is not about transmission at all, because the sender can only transmit if the recipient is ready, able and willing to receive. Information is only generated where it is processed, so that something (a signal, data, a difference, etc.) also means different things in different places, i.e. due to different components.
The different logics, intelligences and functions perceive each other depending on their own processing rules and thus create a system that is not of one piece. The economy reacts economically to political framework conditions and often counteracts political intention. The education system cannot solve the problems as quickly as it is needed in political publics or in companies. Science generates contradicting analyzes because it primarily solves scientific problems. Economic, political and legal forms defy ethical justification algorithms. The power of modernity lies precisely in the fact that the different logics view their social meaning as a logical meaning of their own, so the interruptions of functional differentiation or distributed intelligence in principle cannot be overcome. All three typical political descriptions (left, right, conservative) react to digital problems by analog means, Nassehi writes.
Analog technology provides for a one-to-one transfer of cause and effect, signal and reaction, control and implementation; the signals transfer physical or electrical quantities directly. However, precisely because of this ability to differentiate, such a smooth transmission also includes all errors; it is as it is, and its reception technology is geared towards reproducing the signal as faithfully as possible. We are used to viewing the signals we receive as analog signals. Permanent self-monitoring is an implicit prerequisite for conscious processes. The physiology of our perception works with the help of much more complicated processing processes. However, the experience of what is perceived, requires at least the image of an analog, continuous world, which is confirmed by our perception. The reactivity principle (von Holst and Mittelstaedt, 1950) compensates for the diversity of environmental signals through a selection principle that distils from a chaotic abundance of possible information that which turns the chaotic into a manageable, perceptible, calculable environment.
Information processing always takes place with the means and also in the interest of the recipient, who selects in a way that the information can be processed; everything else disappears in the background noise. The principle of reafference helps to maintain the illusion that perception is a one-to-one correlation between perception and the object of perception; this was the definition of an analog world. We always see the social world as we expect it, and hold on to socially desirable or socially proven images longer than useful. Such an analog illusion includes considering society as a unit that can be rebuilt or as a group phenomenon with a corresponding density of homogeneity.
The perception of the world by a brain ensures that external stimuli become data and that these are processed according to their own rules, with the aim of being able to presuppose an analogue world, which, however, cannot be presupposed. The brain works according to its own logical processing rules and thus creates an inner, closed way of existence, which is the prerequisite for our external contact. Neuroscientist Ernst Pöppel says: The integration of isolated events into something like continuity takes place through time: the brain has a kind of internal cycle of its own, which makes it possible to integrate different states one after the other (up to 2-3 seconds). The brain continues by running on with its own processing rules and orienting itself on what has proven itself and what is confirmed in contact with the environment, continuously through paths in time, ever currently new ("frames"). The world is processed digitally so that it can be experienced in an analogue way. Digitality initially means nothing else than countability - (digita is the finger on which things can be counted). Digital processing therefore relies on countable, time and value discrete representations of the world. The big advantage is that the digital data structure enables different data sources to be recombined. The recombination of data that has not at all been collected this purpose.
In contrast to analog worlds, which consist of something that can be told in analog form (music and sound, text, meaning and cultural comprehensibility, shapes, beauty, threat and ugliness, taste and practicality, holiness and darkness); digital data consist only of time- and value-states. If analog worlds are full of practical values, then digital worlds are worlds of signs that do not depict what they mean. An organism has to adapt itself automatically to its environment, which in turn changes itself, which is why the brain is most likely to shape and change itself in relation to its environment in the period before puberty. There is an interruption of interdependence between the brain and the environment, which in principle cannot be overcome, but which is what enables openness to the world. In the constitution of the world in consciousness, the brain is not a scanner, but an independent actor, which differs not only from its environment but also from the self: the self is wedged between the brain and society.
Organisms with central nervous systems process external stimuli always interrupted by the threshold of a centrally controlled nervous system, which does not simply receive them in analog form, but conceives them digitally. Digital worlds are therefore the normal case of information processing in animate nature, which only serves to simulate analog worlds in which complex organisms can move and orientate themselves as individuals.
If one also understands the social world, i.e. societies, as systems that process information and are thus cognitively operating systems, it would be very strange to be deceived by the analog images that serve to simplify the world, without their digital form of self-dynamic order formation. Digital information technologies are changing society. Rather, society itself now appears to be digitized. Usually we see the world in an analogue way; we perceive an order that allows us to find our way in the world we see.
Seeing means: fitting a picture of the world into known pictures and expectations. In the social world, these are the well-known criteria: stratifications, milieus, expectations, normal life courses, experiences, typifications, milieu-specific promises, temporal and spatial programs of behavior, i.e. everything that makes the complicated behavior in societies calculable. A little bit of information (e.g. clothing, style, badges of rank and function, roles and habitus, language style and choice of words, physiognomy and cultural codes) is then enough for us to develop the rest. This is the practical knowledge we have about the social world. To represent what we say in advance as an intention in the head is more of an exceptional situation. Most of the time it somehow speaks for itself, and intent and execution somehow coincide, going so far as to sometimes use a vocabulary we wouldn't have thought of if we had consciously thought of it.
Lifeworld means the world that is essentially pre-reflexive, i.e. given to us as the basis of our explicit experience. Practice means that our dealings with and in the world have proven themselves in practice, through our actions, through repetitions and confirmations. The social world thus develops analogous forms that give us a certain calculable certainty about what applies and what does not apply. This analog image corresponds to the shape of the world. It seems to be necessary to have a somewhat transparent world in order to be able to relieve oneself of too much pressure of complexity. What works well, works well until it is practically called into question. Ultimately, the feeling of crisis arises as an adjustment disorder to the analog image of the world that provides us with order. Objectively, a threat is the same whether a room is dark or light - but when the light is on, it is subjectively given a shape and can be causally classified, while in the dark it remains so indeterminate that it appears even more threatening. Society reacts to social digitization with analogizations. Categories emerge that create more clarity, more analog visibility than they are actually entitled to. Take the persistence of the gender difference, for example. Probably no other way of dealing with the world is as impressive as perception; sensuality seems to have priority over meaningfulness. The three political types of right, left and conservative ideas for changing and improving the world are analogous descriptions of a world that, in its digital complexity, defies almost all causal mechanisms. Causality is not the principle of the world, but only a principle of order, a simplified representation of a more complex reality.
The computer makes it possible to recombine data that were not intended for combination, which does not increase control and control possibilities, but makes control itself a basic problem. The computer no longer generates an excess of criticism like the written media did, but rather an excess of control (Dirk Baecker). It enables connections to be found that ultimately overwhelm the observer. Digital technology suggests connections behind the visible reality that can no longer be caught by analog forms of observation.
It is not only people that can be recombined, but above all data. People are no longer analog addressees, but become digitized and digitizable data themselves. The criticism of big data: it is an instrument of power and enables total control; it is politically uncontrollable and endangers our informational self-determination. The analog everyday experiences of users are far away from data mining strategies, business concepts and intelligence gathering. However, contributing to big data is almost complete inevitability.
Big data turns analog users into digital phenomena, digitizes the traces of analog practices (movement profiles on streets and on the internet, buying and leisure behavior, participation in social networks, etc.) in such a way that data can be recombined that was not collected for a specific recombination. This creates statistical groups that do not even exist in the analog world. With technical digitization, a sensor-based form of pattern recognition creates a new form of world recognition, used in market research and marketing, election observation and manipulation, traffic research, evolutionary research and medical research. The modern, complex society is a digitized and digitizable society. The (social) media revolution creates discomfort, but the criticism has no addressees.
Fifth chapter - It's the society, stupid! - Economization as a metaphor of social complexity
Bill Clinton said in his 1992 election campaign: "It's the economy, stupid!" 'You can talk about all kinds of things, about conflicts and differences of interest, about political concepts and questions of style, about possible solutions, etc., but in the end everything remains a question of the economy, i.e. the production and distribution of scarce goods and social justice.
Yes, social disputes always have to do with distribution problems. But can these questions only be explained economically? One can only understand the tremendous dynamics of the economy and capitalism if one does not explain society in terms of the structure of its economy, but conversely the economic dynamics in terms of social complexity. Karl Marx put it correctly: the principle of limitless accumulation. An economic system based purely on this principle could only emerge because society adopted that form of distributed intelligence. There is definitely an economicization of society. However, one could just as easily speak of a complete politicization and juridification, of a scientification or mediatization of society.
In its dynamism and confusion, the economic is a parable of the complexity of modern society. So it has to be: It's the society, stupid!
The possibility of quantifying values, risks and results that a monetary economy brings with it breathes a rational spirit. Economic data are thought to be hard facts and economic action is considered to be rational action, although economic decisions are decisions made under conditions of uncertainty. The economic dynamism is characterized by a lack of stability: crises are rarely predicted and there is just as little agreement on the retrospective interpretation.
The economic system is a dynamic system that, through its emergent structure formation geared towards individual players, creates so many networks, feedbacks, reciprocities, interferences and resonances that all support is lost. Niklas Luhmann speaks of unfounded complexity: The more complex a situation appears, the less stable descriptions of this situation will be and the more plausible it becomes to explain the excessive demands of observation with complexity. The term itself loses all form and can ultimately only be used as a "sigh".
With his description of the circular form of profit for the sake of profit, Karl Marx described how the success of capitalism throws it into difficulties. Max Weber reconstructed the fateful power of occidental capitalism in its cultural conditions and advocated the thesis that certain Protestant motives first brought about the mentality of the objectification of social relationships that are decisive for modern working capitalism. Both Marx's and Weber's diagnoses are based on the assumption that it is the economic dynamics itself that is causing them to go awry. Marx argues that even if all salaries were equal, this would not change the structural alienation; society would be seen as an abstract capitalist. And Weber wrote: "The objectified economic cosmos, (...) the rationally highest form of the material supply of goods that is indispensable for every inner-worldly culture, was a structure to which lovelessness clung from the roots." The sphere of the economy finds its only anchor point, its only condition for success, its meaning exclusively as obstinacy.
Adam Smith just wanted to discover a mechanism in the capitalist mentality of self-interest that serves the good of all. The metaphor of the invisible hand had the function of being able to develop trust in the unplanned practice of the economic. Niklas Luhmann saw the metaphor of the invisible hand as an attempt to make the paradox of scarcity invisible: Every access to scarce goods that serves to reduce scarcity increases scarcity: More abundant supply of one is greater need for the other, and only because this is so does the social problem of scarcity arise at all. Economic transactions thus ultimately create the possibility and impossibility of themselves and have to deal with the fact that they never experience the paradox of scarcity. According to Luhmann, economic theory reacts to this with the metaphor of the invisible hand and thereby diverts the problem of order of the economy from social questions towards temporal expectations. Economic action does indeed produce social inequalities and imbalances, but the invisible hand promises a progress-oriented confidence in the future. After the invisible hand "increasingly began to suffer from osteoarthritis", as Luhmann put it, this confidence in progress has been replaced by belief in growth as a necessary condition for economic and thus social stability.
Economic action always shifts problem-solving into the future. It's a kind of optimism that denies reality. Everyone solves their problems temporarily, and this creates a dynamic system, the internal consequences of which work back on itself, without the economic system being able to find support in any way, because nowhere is there a concrete place where you get to grips with the economy. The economy is a system of individual moves from which an emergent order results, for which there is no representative place within the system at which one could start. If everyone did the same thing economically, the system would collapse. This turns economic systems into idiosyncratic systems that do not arise causally, but rather from the interaction of competition and network-like mutual observation. The success of economic transactions always lies in the future and therefore, it is always a not-yet.
Debt is nothing more than a time machine that removes immediate reciprocity. Debt buys time, i.e. freedom - but also the opposite. If there is one basic modern experience, it is that the different speeds and timing of this society do not go together. Money is the medium that succeeds best in making postponement and temporal transcendence possible. That ultimately turns our culture into a debt culture, that is, a culture in which we later answer for what is happening to us now - and now for what we used to do. We are to a certain extent made responsible for ourselves. Only then does our life completely moralize and make us all methodical Protestants in the broadest sense. What we can currently observe is an almost extreme present-day orientation in our culture. One always had to adapt to the balance of give and take. All pleasure wants eternity - which means nothing else than immediate fulfillment, because eternity is not the result of foresight and delay, but the realization of the possible.
A closed group structure that seems to have lost contact with the outside world because it finds its conditions for success only in its own milieu: the young generation, especially from the financial sector, are hardened by vulgar economist models of the individual utility maximizer and full of contempt for political regulation. Just as the over-politicization of left-wing extremist thinking had created a strange revolutionary atmosphere, people on the stock exchanges see the solution to all problems in monetization and financial instruments. Colin Crouch has shown that Keynesianism itself made it possible for the financial economy to benefit from government spending policy to such an extent that it has forfeited its economic function for the real economy in the sense of a monetarist policy. There can only be solutions if long-term perspectives can be institutionalized. Since corporate decisions have been depersonalized, this mechanism has been suspended. The capitalist's willingness to take risks is ultimately increased by irresponsibility saturated with severance pay.
Economic dynamics must always postpone the solution of their problems into the future; the current representation of this solution horizon are debts. All attempts to tame capitalism in a more socialist or more conservative way are political attempts to intervene in this dynamic, with stubborn consequences. Whether Marx, Weber or Smith, the image of the economic in all these descriptions lives from drawing a dynamic system that functions according to its own laws that cannot really be seen through.
Limited rationality (Pareto, Simon) means that the perspective of the actor who is capable of making decisions and who is forced to make decisions, finds its limits in his own perspectives, in his limited information, in his view and his interests, not least in the impossibility of complete information. The concrete decision-making position is analog; it contains reasons, concrete goals and ideas, with wishes and conventions, assumed security and trust, personal networks, etc. All of this can be reasonably controlled or at least represented analogously. It can be told, as a corporate culture as well as a decision-making program, as a moral orientation as well as a leadership-, work- or investment-style. Entire consulting branches are working on such performances, with the hope of achieving calculable effects through such channels or at least increasing their probability; most of the time it's just about being able to point out something that can be told in order to get through the day until the next decision .
Economic activity is now heavily habitualized and tied to specific styles. Therefore, people talk about in a downright uneconomical manner in companies today. Values penetrate the self-description of companies and thus deal with topics of public debate such as ecological questions. Such narrative forms sometimes even make the economic framework of one's own activity invisible. Companies describe themselves to themselves and to the public as conveyors of values and as organizations driven by moral values, whose market success is to be achieved both by means of and for the sake of values such as authenticity, justice, honesty, respect, responsibility, etc. The function of such value communication is, among other things, that it is difficult to contradict, which puts its performative value in front of its informational value and draws a picture that can be processed analogously.
Criticism of capitalism is a political critique of economic dynamism. In a dynamic system there is no place where the overall system can be represented. A system that presents itself as an ermergent sequence of moves cries out for collectively binding decisions and regulations, i.e. for politics. The economic liberalism of Hayek is the only economic theory without an idea of how the different logics of a society make each other possible. One has taken the rights of defense of the citizen against the state in as a model for the defense rights of the economy against the state.
In the economic system, the obstinacy and the presence-based nature of all operations can be easily traced. It is a system that can never be shut down, if only because the fundamental problem of scarcity can ultimately only be solved in a future state.
The economy is a crucial metaphor for the sophistication of modernity. The relationship between politics and economics is the key difference on which diagnoses of society are sharpened. Capitalism, social market economy, or socialism, are about the question of the relationship between economic dynamism and political control. The phrase "It's the economy, stupid" can claim so much plausibility for itself because the economy can be used as a metaphor for how much the dynamics of the economy with its unmistakable consequences and its ultimately incalculable speed stand for the complexity of society, which can hardly be represented in analog form. The decoupled structure of the different parts and the lack of stopping rules ensure that the logics are infectable for stubborn derailments.
Sixth Chapter - Translation Conflicts - On Dealing with Differences in Perspective
Since the world has perceived itself as a society, its relationship to itself been shaped by the fact that the world can be shaped, and it has to be shaped. More and more decisions are needed and the world itself does not provide enough information for what to do. A way of life in which the individual is simultaneously embedded in different expectation structures, in which life courses are not clearly defined and in which life must be led and thus also fail, according to Nassehi can only be told as a decision-making story. Decision programs can contradict each other. In a human individual, uncoordinated decision-making programs are held together by the coupling to the body and consciousness. Modernity is complex for human consciousness, which can only think linearly, and for the body which only lives linearly. If we think of society too much as anthropomorphic (organized in a similar way to humans with the continuity and centrality of body and consciousness), then simple fantasies of centralized control or changeability of society arise.
- society is characterized by distributed intelligence;
- all the different processes take place simultaneously;
dynamic systems are hardly predictable, even if one tries to understand them only in their "stubbornness";
then one, according to Nassehi, must presuppose the influence on society itself as a complex event.
The criticism of the resource consumption of our economy and way of life is appropriate, but so is, according to Nassehi, the criticism of the moral posing of such inadequate, complexity-forgotten attitudes (they are "like board games for self-reassurance"). Looking at the process of change from the end, i.e. from the point of view of the desirable behavior of those who need to be changed, is an authoritarian attitude. The approach also pretends to have no alternative in its goals. Society, being complex, is simply not a space of solidarity in which interests can be equalized through appeals. Any intervention in processes irritates not only these processes, but also others who work according to different conditions for success and rules of action. Society is not made of one piece, but also reacts to interventions in a variety of ways.
One can make political demands and receive loyalty and votes and thus options for power in return. Economic actors will react economically to this, and the economic system does not react with one voice but in the form of prices. If you want to achieve something, you have to reckon with the obstinacy of the different social fields of action and use the kinetic energy and direction of the other side as well as its strength to steer you in a certain direction. Economic processes can best be steered through incentives which do not override the logic of the economy, but use it for political or legal goals. What is needed is a fairly precise knowledge of the other side.
Walter Benjamin compares translation with a tangent that touches a circle; they meet at one point and then go their own way. It is the recipient himself who initially restructures unstructured information as information from his or her horizon. Communication and translation are concepts that focus less on connections and couplings than on the management of interruptions. There is no information transfer at the interfaces between the different logics, but the respective sides choose from the abundance of possible connections according to their own criteria with on-board resources and translate their environment into information that they deal with relevant to themselves. Actors have to learn to actively deal with the different perspectives of society. The company does not deal with threats like climate change as a unified society, but at the same time politically, economically, legally, scientifically, artistically, religiously, educationally, medially and, last but not least, in specific private decision-making programs. The logics themselves deal with a considerable dynamic and the application of the respective internal rules of action. Where different logics meet, they deal with the dynamics of simultaneously different things and the corresponding translation conflicts.
Concluding the book, Nassehi asks three questions.
1. How can what is scientifically valid be translated into political programs with which one can work on the basic political problem, namely maintaining power and loyalty at the same time? 2. How can these programs be translated into framework conditions for economic decisions?
3. How does one translate the normative programs of the political into the behavioral dispositions of consumers and private decision-makers?
Problem-solving tools and attempts to influence complex dynamics and processes should deal with the problem of complexity and discover a new form of expertise in it, a moderating expertise that recognizes the multiplicity of expertise, including the fact that there are no final solutions.
Many cultural criticisms of money are about its impersonal and objectifying character - but that is precisely its strength according to Nassehi: money makes values translatable into one another and is able to disregard the person who carries or owns these values. Social power structures are reflected in markets, especially when it comes to influencing opportunities based on ownership and access to resources. Markets establish universalization of differences in perspective, of individual players with individual decision-making positions that are not supposed to be standardized. By emphasizing different individual interests and perspectives, markets undermine the political unreasonableness of their preparation as collective events. Organizations are social systems that operate the difference in perspective and division of labor, the difference in tasks and responsibilities, the simultaneity of different things and the attempt to relate these different forms and activities to one another in a coordinated manner, coordinated at the management level.
Urbanity is perhaps the most fundamental form of modern social associations, characterized by the fact that what does not belong together comes together. The urban is a behavioral disposition: We get used to the foreign in such a way that we don't even have to protect and appreciate it in order not to find it threatening in principle. An urban habitas is a habit of looking away and enduring difference.
The short history of modernity can be reconstructed as an establishment of speakers and speaker positions - as speakers they were suddenly there and you can no longer get rid of them. That applies to all former suppressed "minorities".
Nassehi says that to deal with complexity, we need ethics commissions, interdisciplinary working groups, inter-ministerial decision-making bodies, forms of citizen participation, project structures in companies and think tanks with project-like assignments for scenarios, because they have functionally adjusted to the problem of the perspective difference in a multi-professional organization.