The sociological politics of systems…

Whilst I am intending to watch Adam Curtis’ All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace again, this is more of a sketchy blog expanding some of my initial thoughts (now about a month ago) on what was a truly inspiring and captivating documentary.

Essential to the documentary, for me, was the discussion of systems – how it relates to the way social, political and economic life is ordered and shapes interactions, opportunities and resources. Sociologically speaking, the idea of systems can be either progressively or regressively utilised for political action. For instance, Functionalism utilised system theories to argue everything, even the high levels of income discrepancy, has a function to support the interdependent compartments of the system.

Another type of system conception is Norbert Elias’s work on interdependence, which incidentally formed the backdrop to my dissertation. He illustrates the ways society’s interdependent relations, especially the development of the state, are connected and influence psychological processes. This has strong links with Murray Bookchin’s work on the ways in which bottom up, non-authoritarian/hierarchical organisations enable democratic community control over areas such as energy.

Theories (namely, by realists) based on the ‘circulation of elites’, eventually manipulated by fascists such as Mussolini, shows the power of system theories for political praxis. Many elite theorists were for the cherry picking of ‘talent’ from the ‘bottom’ of society to undermine the potential of revolutionary forces. On a related note, Curtis shows how activists campaigning against the World Commission on Environmental Development believed those at the top were using concepts without constructing real change (which I tend to agree with). The documentary also discussed the profound influence of Ayn Rand upon neoliberal ideas, something that is clear when we have ‘leaders’ who feel that it isn’t damn right offensive to unveil a statue in London of a man, Regan, who screwed people over for fun with his sidekick Thatcher. The sheer amoralistic, egotistical and ‘rational’ conception of people and life, prevalent within Rand’s work, has clear connections to the profit-making motive enshrined in capitalist ventures.

The global political economy and the restraints it places upon institutions such as the European Union is something I have discussed (with others) before. This is again something Adam Curtis discusses in line with the recent revolutions occurring through the Arab Spring. The problems of revolutionary situations often issuing in new types of oppression are common; and for me, are part of a wider neoliberal system undermining the level of change possible (Venezuela, for me, is another good example of this). However, this doesn’t mean that people can’t work with potential in mind, even if it is never entirely met; working with goals, ideals and aspirations is important.

There is no real central argument, as such, to this blog; more a blurb regarding the significance of theories and views on political and economic systems. It’s clear that there are many different systems, and there is the potential for counter-hegemonic systems (what Bookchin advocates, for instance), to counteract the dominant global political economic neoliberal system – but this will take time, effort, and compromise.


4 thoughts on “The sociological politics of systems…

  1. Do ‘counter hegemonic systems to counter the dominant global, political, economic neoliberal system’ really have to entail compromise? I personally feel this is a myth created by the dominant hegemony.

    Class is the spark that changes history, Developing full conciousness of your class, of political economy and of all the social and economic factors that actually form you as an individual (a opposed to the factors that you are continuously topld make and develop you as a person) can only result in an awareness of your role in the world and how the world works. This awareness then makes it possible to make concious changes and to build and create accordign to your needs.

    Basically the urge to compromise and the belief it is necessary only results from a continued belief in the dominant hegemony.

    I see this as slightly changes the generally accepted forms of struggle. It moves from a battle over economic control to a battle over ideology (although defending econmic gains is of course important!) When Marx wrote that revolutionary transformation can only occur with the “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” he was not meaning a literal dictatorship as Lenin and many later Marxist’s interpreted him. When read in context it appears (at least to me) that was argueing that capitalist society survived through the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Everything was dominated by bourgeois ideas (and culture). A counter to these ideas had to be achieved before any meaningful physical change could occur. Change can only occur with a change of the ideas dominating capitalist society to anti-capitalist ideas. Only then is it possible to build something new.

    Yet by compromising and keeping all new ideas tied to the current dominant ideas of society, no change will occur because the belief amongst most people that no change is possible will always paralyse any attempts at action before they have begun.

    One of the reasons the labour party remains the dominant opposition party in Britain was because of the belief that for changes to occur, compromise has to be made.

    However, haveing said all this, I have no real solution or plan for a way forward, other than a vague notion that we need to counter the dominant hegemony and to do this we can learn from a variety of sources. At the moment the best we can do is communicate with like minded people and build from there!

  2. NCG,

    By compromise, I mean that you still have to remember that there are things to do that may go against your overall political creed, but help people in the short term; for instance, I would be all for supporting a political party such as Labour actually stopping the welfare changes or the NHS changes going through parliament. I don’t support them, nor do I think they counter the dominant ideology – but if it helps improve people’s lives, i think it is dangerous to preside with a limited ethical conception of what is right and what is wrong. We don’t live in a perfect, idealised world – and sometimes compromise and working within the system to make real change is required.

    I would love for there not to be the requirement of compromise; but we live in a system that isn’t truly democratic – where often we have to make a choice out of Labour or the Tories, and compromise our beliefs to try and make the lesser of the two evils have more say. Greens will never be elected en mass under PR, for instance. With a global political system shaped so fundamentally by neoliberalism, it is hard to throw off the associations with this ideology and distant oneself completely from it’s political, social and economic ramifications. However, building communities and people’s empowerment from the bottom up, can really make a difference.

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