[ExI] [Soc]Complex Adaptive Systems - Tending Always to 50/50 split

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Sat Oct 11 20:08:03 UTC 2008

At 12:32 PM 10/11/2008 -0700, Jef wrote:

>I recognize also that
>many (most?) people are by nature predisposed by nature or training to
>be unequipped or uncomfortable with multiple layers of abstraction.

50% of them, anyway.


Unmasking routine "binary oppositions" or "binary contrasts" is, of 
course, a stock in trade of critical theorists. Binarization seems to 
be a default setting of the human mind. This was analyzed 
interestingly in Anthony Wilden's books, e.g. System and Structure, 
1984; The Rules are No Game, 1987.

The following is child's play, I know, and does not invoke 
hyperplanes, but it's my attempt at a sketch of some of Wilden's 
analytics, fwiw:


A logic is a normative set of transformation procedures on an agreed 
set of discursive primitives. The deconstructive intervention in 
philosophy and criticism--at least as it is commonly understood by 
its workaday interpreters and practitioners--is just the latest in a 
series of questions raised about the probity of applying strict 
logics to human discourse.
         Since logics are themselves a form of human discourse, this 
interrogation (which in turn is bound to be discursive and logical) 
is deeply self-reflexive. Put baldly, deconstruction's narrowest 
objection is to what it sees as the binarisation of discursive 
constructs and evaluations--though, as we shall see, this important 
objection is pitched in terms quite different from those of an 
informational or cybernetic theorist such as Anthony Wilden, who 
painstakingly distinguishes such connective expressions as 
`difference', `distinction', opposition' and `contradiction' (1987a, 
p. 22 et seq.). `The commonest examples,' as he playfully puts it, 
`are "opposed to", on the one hand, and "on the other hand", on the 
other' (ibid.).
             Difference is, of course, the hallmark of contemporary 
applications of deconstruction to such fields of contest as feminist 
and gay sexual politics: significantly, two of deconstructor Barbara 
Johnson's book titles include the word. Wilden specifies it thus: `a 
continuous or analog relation, e.g.... the real number system.' That 
is, numbers such as 0.67359, 1.25, 18.95539, 10^41, etc, the gaps 
between each number infinitely divisible.
             Distinction is a `discontinuous or digital relation, 
e.g.... the alphabet'. That is, alternatives that are rigidly 
`chunked', with no slippage between them.
             Opposites denote entities such as north and south poles, 
mutually obliterative electric charges, positive and negative 
integers (where [+1] + [-1] = 0). These are real opposites. Imaginary 
opposites include, importantly, `imaginary symmetrization of a 
two-term hierarchy', where `upper' and `lower' terms are construed in 
a mystified fashion as equally important even though the upper term 
always holds the trump card.
             Contradiction obtains between a proposition (at one 
level) and its denial (at another) by the use of the word `not'. `In 
the social context, "contradiction" signifies social, economic, and 
political conflicts between levels in an illegitimate hierarchy' 
(ibid., p. 24). It is not to be confounded with refusal (as in `don't 
contradict me, child, just go and clean your damned teeth now!').

         Opposites Contract

A notable tendency in poststructural theory has been to collapse 
these varieties of contrast into a single concept such as `binary 
opposition', and then denounce it as dire evidence of logocentric 
bigotry. A binary structure, the philosopher Elizabeth Gross (now 
Grosz) has suggested, `constructs an other for the privileged term, 
against which the latter can distinguish itself' (Gross, 1986, p. 
27). Nor is this logocentric ploy innocent:

             "The polarised structure of binary pairing establishes 
one term out of a given field or system of terms as a positive value, 
which, by negative definition, constructs an `other' in which it can 
cast all that it is incapable of accepting or desiring in itself. "(ibid.)

This is surely a rather oddly mystified account. Is it the privileged 
term in the dichotomy which does the `casting out', or the human 
person who makes that choice (perhaps under the overwhelming 
influence of her informing culture) in specifying a given dichotomy? 
Gross offers a Kristevan `abjective' reading:

             "In expelling as `waste', `residue', or `corruption' 
those elements it cannot bear to remain in contiguity with, the 
primary terms draws a border around itself, beyond which its other is 
cast." (ibid.)

             We shall need to turn our attention briefly to some 
basics of logic. In one form or another for thousands of years, 
Western philosophy has agonised over the appropriateness of applying 
analytic protocols (deriving formal results strictly from arbitrary 
axioms) to synthetic propositions (those that hang upon states of 
affairs in the non-discursive universe.)

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