No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

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.


In the first chapter of his book "The Last Hour of Truth," Armin Nassehi discusses the concept of complexity in society and the limitations of perspectives in understanding it. He discusses the work of Pierre Bourdieu and the idea that our thoughts and actions are interconnected and that the realities we encounter are constructed through our own practical efforts. Nassehi also discusses populism and how it often relies on oversimplification and exclusion in order to present itself as a solution to complex problems. He argues that the renaissance of populism in recent years may be linked to an increase in complexity and confusion in society. Nassehi ultimately argues that it is important to recognize the limitations of our perspectives and to avoid the temptation to oversimplify or try to exert too much control in an effort to understand and navigate complex social systems.

Second Chapter - World Change - Between Collective Unity and Better Insight

Nassehi discusses the difficulty of making the transition from individual action to collective effects in a complex society. Better moral insight and collective unity (solidarity) do not solve the problem of complex action situations, as they simplify something that is significantly more complicated. He cites Adam Smith's theory of the invisible hand of the market, which suggests that competition will lead to an equilibrium that will result in a Pareto optimum, as an example of a perspective that focuses on the accumulation of individual actors in larger structures and underestimates the rules within which the individual behaves. Nassehi also discusses the induction problem, which refers to the difficulty of drawing conclusions from specific empirical cases to general statements, and the idea of rebuilding, which involves attempting to convert a system in a uniform way. He suggests that sociology can help to warn against rebuilding fantasies by highlighting the complexity of systems and the fact that they often react intelligently to conversion attempts by individualizing their promises.

Third Chapter - Complexity - The heliocentrism decentered the world

Nassehi discusses the concept of complexity in relation to social crises and political decision-making. Nassehi argues that approaches to addressing social crises should be based on an understanding of complexity, rather than relying on predetermined frameworks or solutions. He also discusses the role of distinctions in shaping our understanding of the world and the emergence of competing distinctions as a result of increased complexity. Nassehi suggests that as the world becomes more complex, it becomes more difficult to negotiate and resolve conflicts within a single distinction and that different logics and problem-solving approaches emerge as a result. He concludes that a situation is complex when it can assume several other states and when there are multiple possible solutions to a problem.

Nassehi argues that our understanding of order is shaped by our perspective and that in a complex society, it is difficult to coordinate different logics and approaches to problem-solving. Nassehi suggests that modern societies rely on interruptions between these different logics, which enables them to focus primarily on themselves, but also makes it difficult to have a directive influence on the dynamics of society. He also discusses the role of narratives in understanding and describing complex situations and the tension that arises when the desire for a solution or punchline conflicts with the complexity of the situation. Nassehi concludes that modern societies experience themselves as crisis-ridden due to the difficulty in coordinating different logics and that it is important to recognize the limitations of our ability to understand and describe complex situations.

Fourth chapter - two worlds - is there analog life in digitized worlds?

Nassehi discusses the concept of analog and digital signals and their relationship to communication and understanding. He argues that analog signals require strict coupling and exclude the possibility of distributed intelligence, while digital signals allow for the independent processing of information by different components. Nassehi suggests that the world operates digitally, but appears analog to us due to the limitations of our perception and the role of reafference in maintaining the illusion of a one-to-one correlation between perception and the object of perception. He also discusses the role of distributed intelligence in modern societies and the difficulties that arise when different logics and functions perceive each other and create a system that is not of one piece. Nassehi concludes that modern societies rely on distributed intelligence and that political approaches that rely on analog means are unable to effectively address digital problems.

Fifth chapter - It's the society, stupid! - Economization as a metaphor of social complexity

Nassehi discusses the role of the economy in modern society and the limitations of economic explanations for social phenomena. He argues that the complexity of modern society can be understood through the dynamism and confusion of the economy, but that it is not the sole determinant of social dynamics. Nassehi suggests that the economic system is a dynamic system characterized by a lack of stability and that it is shaped by social complexity. He also discusses the role of cultural conditions in the development of capitalist mentality and the paradox of scarcity in economic transactions. Nassehi concludes that the economy is a parable for the complexity of modern society and that it is important to recognize the limitations of economic explanations for social phenomena.

Sixth Chapter - Translation Conflicts - On Dealing with Differences in Perspective

Nassehi discusses the idea that in modern societies, decisions must be made constantly and the world does not provide enough information on what to do. These decision-making processes can contradict each other and are held together in an individual by their connection to the body and consciousness. The author suggests that in order to influence society, one must approach it as a complex event and recognize that society is not a space of solidarity in which interests can be equalized through appeals. Instead, political and economic actors must work with incentives that use the logic of their respective fields, rather than trying to override it. The author also discusses the role of translation and communication in managing interruptions between different logics and perspectives within society. The author suggests that in order to navigate complex modern societies, actors must actively deal with the different perspectives of society and apply the respective interruptions to their own problems.


In the conclusion of the book, Nassehi asks three questions: how can scientifically valid ideas be translated into political programs, how can those programs be translated into framework conditions for economic decisions, and how can normative political programs be translated into the behavioral dispositions of consumers and private decision-makers. Nassehi suggests that in order to address the complexity of modern society, we need ethics commissions, interdisciplinary working groups, and other forms of multi-professional organization that can address the problem of perspective differences. He also emphasizes the importance of urbanity and the ability to tolerate and endure difference, suggesting that urbanity is a fundamental form of modern social association and a key aspect of modernity.

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