Monday, December 5, 2011

Delanda and Decision Making

I'm about 50 pages into Manuel Delanda's A Thousand Years Of Nonlinear History and I'm pretty excited about it.

The thing that I see in it is a way to conceptualize individual decision making within materially and historically complex contexts.

Because with people like Foucault, who I love, we see the downplaying of the subject, the minimization of human decision making. Foucault's reasons for downplaying the role of the individual are understandable, as Johanna Oksala made clear to me in Foucault On Freedom. He was responding to phenomenological philosophy's tendency to ignore historical context in favor of introspection, to treat the subject as ahistorical. Foucault's histories may appear to ignore the subject, thus destroying any chance of conceptualizing freedom. But, on the contrary, his histories are meant to show us the limitations on our freedom so that we can choose with more efficacy. His explication of complex historical networks of languages and institutions is not meant to convince us that human freedom does not exist, but that it can only exist within this historically determined networks, that all of our thoughts and actions can only be historically constituted.

Foucault's choice to reduce the role of the subject in his histories, while understandable, leaves us with a challenge: How to arrive at a clear conception of human freedom while continuing to recognize the constitutive effects of languages and institutions?

I believe Delanda can help me with this. He argues that "to understand the role of decision making in the creation of social order, we need to concentrate not so much on the more or less rational character of individual decisions, but on the dynamics (centralized or decentralized) among many interacting decision makers" (43). He insists that we must take account of larger circumstances, the uncertainty of information, the difficulties that people have in knowing exactly what they are deciding, all of which can be summed up in the term 'friction'. He claims that to remove friction "from our models (by postulating an optimizing rationality, for instance) automatically eliminates the possibility of capturing any real dynamical effect (41). This comes remarkably close to Clausewitz's conception of friction as a force that can never be perfectly defined by theory, but which will always be a factor in decision making, all of those minor mishaps and events that lower the general level of achievement in a military campaign, or in any type of decision making, for that matter. Nonlinearity is also a major factor in Clausewitz, so Alan Beyerchan argues.

What I really need from Delanda, therefore, is a way to create a model of decision making that takes account of both the material and the ideal, of the physical structures of matter-energy around us and the languages, institutions, and ideas that give those material structures their unique cultural coloring.

Interestingly, this is precisely the task I am working on in AZI. I am working on developing a philosophical model of decision making that can then be applied to political, military, and civilian educational systems. The crux of the model, of course, will be the idea of experience, synthetic experience, and different forms of simulation that can provide such a synthetic experience.


How curious.

But this is also where I see my work on Collingwood going. I am still reflecting on The New Leviathan, and the current part of AZI is an examination of political/aesthetic themes in Collingwood's final monographs. I hope to show that Collingwood's work was heading in the same direction, that his work implies the need to come up with a model of decision making and a method of educating that type of decision making.

So, there is something very serious going on in Delanda's work. I can't wait to see where this book leads me. How it leads me closer to Deleuze. How it leads me towards a synthesis of materialism and idealism. How it helps me in this task of properly conceptualized choice and the education of judgement.

Because I see myself pursuing work in the space where Collingwood, Clausewitz, and Foucault collide. Perhaps Delanda will be a crucial part of this attempt to synthesize these authors.

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