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New model is needed for understanding social reality

This post aims to contribute to developing mesoscopic reasoning as a foundation of a methodology for dealing with complex social issues in social research and in the public governance. A given social concern is complex when it is comprehensible only on many incompatible levels while simultaneously cutting through many incommensurable frames of meaning such as from micro to macro level in the economic, social and environmental domain of a sustainable development. A mesoscopic methodology is simple in a complex way: it rests on triadic logic, which triangulates contradictions of social complexity by overlapping them on their margin, in this way revealing where they correlate and what they have in common at least secondarily. Mesoscopic description of social complexity reaches beyond principal oppositions by establishing the middle ground between them. A new approach to reasoning about social complexity should capacitate present generation for guiding collective processes toward more positive future undergoing a transformation of contemporary societies from postmodernity to antipostmodernity (Badiou, Žižek).

This writing is foremost an evaluative undertaking. Evaluation roots in science but it also aims to go beyond its objective but incompatible achievements resulting from an application of opposing theories and even more from rival scientific paradigms (Kuhn). Science alone cannot bring a more connected understanding of complex social reality by merely discovering and organizing brute facts about it while ignoring values and culture. As standard science is strictly distancing itself from separating between good and evil, it is then a not uncommon situation that somebody’s bare truth is sharply opposed to what is highly valued by many others. Deep insight into complex social reality can only emerge from the mesoscopic intersection between facts and values. It seems reasonable to claim that as much as philosophy precedes every scientific undertaking, evaluative interpretation should always follow it. Even though mesoscopic evaluative ( )rationale is merely secondary, cyclical and vague, its reach is nevertheless broader and deeper compared to science. Comparisons between different frames in theories of truth suggests that up to (but certainly not beyond) a given point, a weaker orderliness of a theory of truth may importantly enhance researcher’s capacity for forming less universal but nevertheless more generally valid knowledge. By applying less dogmatic approach, evaluation nevertheless indisputably contributes to original aspiration of science for holistic understanding.

The mesoscopic rationale of social complexity rests on irrationality, which comprises everything that is incomplete and inconsistent, so it remains and excluded from conventional scientific or political considerations. The mesoscopic rationale is not , as in unreasonable, but irrational, resulting from clashes among rival generalized, but essentially incomplete rational assertions about truth, the highest good, or justice. One’s claims about social matters must appear to the vast majority of other rational claimants as genuinely incomplete, irrational or as rationally blind in relation to some other, indeed many other, integral aspects of ‘the whole truth’.

Clash between rationality and irrationality calls for a different, evaluative-scientific model for comprehending a complex social reality, one that rests on irrationality, or, probably better, one that could be rational on irrational foundations, where bias, vagueness, asymmetry, and incompatibility, rather than order and certainty, is the starting point in rational inquiry. The complex situation in society is rationally comprehensible only through the irrational perspective of incompatible value systems that are incompletely holistic because they bring forward in their ‘concrete universals’ (Blair et al, 2002) only particularised universalisms, such as only environmental, only social or only economic sustainability. It is possible to be sustainable only through one of its imperfectly holistic manifestations. This suggests connecting contradictions on irrational foundations, with an approach that is rational in an irrational way with a rationally consistent elaboration of the irrational. Mesoscopic ( )rationale in this regard implies three imperatives. First, rational concerns are always rooted in irrational determinants; further, incompatible rational contributions can be overcome and integrated only irrationally; and finally, rationality can be legitimised only through the irrational frame of evaluative interpretation.

A central force of social complexity is a mesoscopic agent who is able to bridge social contradictions between the rational and irrational. Each totalizing claim contains an irreducible contradiction. In every truth claim, there is the void, which usually goes unaccounted and so ‘haunts the situation’ (Bourdieu). However, the content of the void in my totalizing claims is invisible only to me, but it is very well visible from the perspective of many others with different totalizing claims. I become aware of its existence in an exchange with others who also pursue incomplete holistic claims. An agent can link with the irrationality of others only when first deconstructing own bias and so by discovering and progressively constraining own inconsistency. The self-reflective agent persistently searches its own prejudices with the aim to deconstruct them as a source of blindness about what is valued by others in their totalizing claims. An agent who is reflexive in this sense obtains self-knowledge and develops an ability to see the void.

Self-reflective deconstruction of own bias operates as a driver for connective interactions with others, who also aspire to deconstruct their own bias. Then the void is not emptiness but a dense solution of potential for linking incomplete holistic claims when their inconsistency is brought to mind with self-knowledge.

Deconstruction of the bias is a prerequisite for reconstructing social wholes as complex units in their intrinsic radical diversity. The black box mentality in social sciences explains the unknowable (how to accommodate contradictions of complexity) with the unknown. Deconstruction of bias aims to open the black box of the canon (such as concepts of the invisible hand, or hermeneutics) and replace its mysticism with irrationality, and then negotiate a passage between irrationality and rationality through the middle world. Only then can mesoscopic reasoning emerge as the deconstructive machine for creating more holistic insights in socially complex conditions of antipostmodernity.

When trying to resolve a complex situation, from the sustainability of development to collective safety, a mesoscopic agent needs to sail carefully through narrow and dangerous passages between what is misunderstood (knowledge) and what is not understood at all (disorder). A mesoscopic agent, as a sailor with prejudice, can save his mission only by setting his reasoning on the middle path between diverse sources of blindness, which he himself partly invokes. The mesoscopic agency is therefore contingent on how much an agent knows not only about the complex contradictions of a concrete social issue at hand, but also about himself as a knower where self-reflection leads to self-recognition by enhancing self-aware intelligence. Complex reality is integral and an agent is part of it so he or she can discover it by discovering him or herself. In complex conditions, as Max Planck already remarked, ‘we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve’. The mesoscopic agency is then coevolving as a self-transforming agency of complex world formation.

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A methodologist in social research from Ljubljana; Evaluator. Slovenia. Author of "Social Complexity" Vernon Press, 2021.

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Bojan Radej

Bojan Radej

A methodologist in social research from Ljubljana; Evaluator. Slovenia. Author of "Social Complexity" Vernon Press, 2021.

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