Marxism, Enlightenment & Romanticism

Steve.Keen at unsw.EDU.AU Steve.Keen at unsw.EDU.AU
Sat Nov 12 16:46:37 MST 1994

In general I agree with Alex that:

|        Basing a revolutionary doctrine today on science, you would have
|to come to grips with chaos theory. You would have to abandon concepts of
|linearity and Progress, and you won't be able to dismiss chaos as an
|expression of the decadence of the bourgeois intelligentsia, or whatever.

And to add some meat to the statement that:

|Sure, there's still a dialectic, but not as it was conceived in the 19th
|century. It could be defined (perhaps) as order spontaneously emerging
|out of chaos, and vice versa.

I'd say that it finally lets science catch up with the insight first
captured by dialectics: that reality is dynamic, and the relations between
things can end up transforming things themselves. If that's too cryptic
for some, I'll elaborate if any interest is expressed in this thread.

Tom comments:

|<Aw, why?  Even if there is chaos at the molecular level, how does that
|effect society and sociology?  Is all chaos at this level?  Pretty
|2nd wave postivistic, to think that our social science has to goose-step
|to what the latest trend in the physical sciences has to say!>

I had a similar attitude towards chaos about 2-3 years ago; I thought that
it was being seized upon by the conservatives in my profession (economics)
so that they could explain the "wiggly bits" in their graphs of economic
processes that, according to their underlying theories, should be smooth.
Then I started on my attempts to model a non-conservatives theories of
financial instability (Minsky) using differential equations... and built
a simple model that was chaotic.

What I learnt subsequently was that any process in which the relations
between three or more "things" (in my case, workers, capitalists and
bankers as classes, wages, profit and interest as income sources) cannot be
characterised by straight lines will generate "chaos". On the other hand,
if the relations between things are linear, then there is really only one
likely outcome--equilibrium or stability.

If I'd built a "linear" model, in other words, what I would have got was
my initially unstable system settling down to "equilibrium"--i.e. unchanging
--shares of output between capitalists, workers and bankers. Increasing
the interest rate in the simulation, for example, would have simply increased
the equilibrium bankers share, at the expense of the other two classes.

In my nonlinear model's case, the "chaos" was that at low levels of the rate
of interest, the system did settle down to equilibrium shares. However, if
the rate passed a threshold level, the system at first appeared to be settling
down but then passed through a "black hole" into increasing instability before
finally collapsing in a debt-induced depression.

All this is by way of example, Tom, to say that "chaos" isn't just at the
molecular level; it is a general principle of the relations between "things"
where those relations are not linear (in my model's case, one simply
"nonlinearity" was that workers were assumed to demand wage rises during
booms and accept wage cuts during slumps, and that the shape of the curve
[employment rate vs rate of change of wages] was curved).

Chaos is a bad word for this area, and it's gradually being replaced by
the other word Alex used, "complexity". The essential points are that
simple relationships can generate complex systemic behaviour [whereas
"classical" thought would have been that it takes complex relationships
to generate complex behaviour]; that small quantitative changes can have
large qualitative effects; and also that order can arise out of this
complexity, but it is an order which evolves with time, and where the
relationships between separate entities are important forces shaping
the development of those entities.

To me, a lot of that new wisdom captures what was meant by dialectics in
the first instance--and that a lot of the linear progressive stuff that
became associated with dialectics was a result of less gifted practitioners
than Hegel and Marx attempting to latch on to what was then "the latest"
in 19th century science.

Ironically, there was a (barely) 19th century scientist with whom Marx
and Hegel would have had great affinity: Henri Poincare. In 1899,
he established the existence of what we now call chaos; and he started
to develop a philosophy based upon this...

Steve Keen


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