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The General Theory Of Unknowing

Politics / Economic Theory May 20, 2014 - 05:33 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


The Project
I am presently developing and testing the several hypotheses structuring this theory, which at present is only at the descriptive, not predictive stage. I am actively seeking research collaborators and funding to continue the works needed to achieve a defined theory with possible predictive capabilities. The theory concerns a wide range of disciplines, ranging from semantics, information and general systems theory, to economics and finance, political science, geopolitical and military studies, sociology, ethics and philosophy, social anthropology, and the general history of western civilization. Other disciplines are certainly concerned, notably the theory of governance and government.

The reference timeframe particularly concerns the period from the late 1970s, to today, and particularly focuses what are termed “mature western postindustrial democracies” but almost certainly applies in other political-economic contexts around the world, such as the “emerging economies”.

This term has been chosen to designate a describable state of society, especially concerning what sociologists call “social facts and communication”. These vary with time and other factors, including economic, political, ideological, ethical and religious change, or changes to (and within) the “social referentiel”. This concerns the semiotic or semantic framework governing the cultural perception, and the treatment and processing of “social information” in society. This processing governs and results in “socialized information” and new or modified social facts.

A social fact does not have to be empirically valid, it can for example be a myth or legend. As such it however has to be validated by various cultural semantic frameworks which may be mobile or flexible and may change in a short period of time. The factors deciding how they change is of direct interest and relevance to the General Theory.

A social fact does not have to be logical in the strict terms defined by (among others) Boolean logic gates or operators, which are essential to the operation of IT processing equipment and the integrity of programmes. In other words, social facts and communication always incorporate a certain, sometimes high degree of ambiguity. Loss of control over ambiguous states is relevant to our theory.

Concerning political communication as a major subset of social communication, this can “mutate or evolve” towards states of extreme ambiguity where antinomic or completely opposed paradigms co-exist. This state can for example also affect, by cultural propagation or other processes (concatention of dominant social paradigms), the economic and financial domain and many others.

Under certain specific historical, cultural, political-economic and geopolitical conditions or circumstances – in our case we are especially interested in western society after the 1970s – the phenomenon of “propagated unknowing” arises and plays a very large role in the mis-perception of social facts and the change or mutation of emerging newly-dominant “permitted” paradigms.

This can be a “shock process”, for example nation-specific or national social facts and communication, where the formerly dominant paradigms of national culture can change or mutate rapidly following defeat in war or economic collapse. Other processes of change, not triggered by “catastrophe”, can operate with the same result. For the timeframe and the countries of interest to us, non-catastrophic triggers or gates were and are certainly in play, in the unknowing process.

In social anthropology, the study of millenarian cults in non-western “primitive” societies very often concerns radical change of social facts and communication due to non-catastrophic trigger events. The cults can completely destroy the previous semantic or semiotic framework, producing a social-cultural phenotype of “general unknowing”. This is always an unstable state. In political terms it is often a prelude to the equivalent of civil war in western societies. In moral terms it is often associated with the rejection of “conventional morality” alongside “conventional knowledge”, for example outbreaks of infanticide, the murder of aged persons, rape, incest, and random violence.

Whether catastrophic or non-catastrophic events operated upstream of the “unknowing process” in western society is not of critical importance to our theory. The process is manifested by the same, or similar major changes of political, cultural, ethical and moral, linguistic and semiotic frameworks. Also, propagation may start slowly but can be very rapid, whether or not there was a real, implied or socially-defined mythical catastrophic event or events, preceding the unknowing process.

For the individual person in society, unknowing is radically different from ignorance, which can notably be voluntary, or due to learning difficulties in the education and acculturation process of the individual, or caused by biomedical and psychological conditions, such as schizophrenia, or other factors. For society, unknowing can be perceived as a form of “dumbing down”, but like individual states of ignorance, dumbing down is more accurately and simply defined as social ignorance.

Being unable to know either social facts, or empirical facts is in fact radically different from voluntary social ignorance. An analogy could be the rapid loss of linguistic ability and comprehension, or “unlearning the national language”. After de-acculturation, losing the ability to comprehend language, especially if this is rapid, social facts and communication will inevitably become meaningless.

Our General Theory concerns the process which includes “rapid de-learning” of social paradigms and the “system logic” of the network and framework of meaning in society. This “loss of social meaning”, or meaning in society, may or may not have catastrophic consequences – for example economic and-or geopolitical. Our theory, with development, may lead to predictive capability for the results and effects of the unknowing process.

Unknowing is not Dumbing Down
It is important to repeat that so-called dumbing down is, at most, an earlier upstream stage or event in the unknowing process, which can be called the downstream “more perfected” stage. Dumbing down can be defined as the social avoidance of “stressful information” including social facts that, themselves, have not yet been modified, mutated or obliterated from “social memory” or what we can call “society's hard disc drive”. They can be treated as “remanent” social facts and may or may not be empirically validated or able to be validated by unambiguous data, for example data on the economy.

They however exist. Conversely, unknowing can be analogized with a pre-emptive wipe of society's HDD accompanied by the simultaneous change, on a random/semi-random basis of the logic operators governing social paradigms and the framework of social meaning.. The process is radical. Uncomfortable and unacceptable real world facts, whether socialized or not, are destroyed before they can damage one or more newly-dominant critical social paradigms. These may have “iconic status” but they are often extremely recent, very fragile paradigms. Protecting their status, despite their fragility, results in powerful outbreaks of mass unknowing which can be cyclic, periodic, secular, etc.

The social facts are obliterated, upstream of any later voluntary social ignorance called “dumbing down” and society experiences “destructive incoherence”.

Public acceptance and use of new, modified or mutated social paradigms is accelerated by the radical modification of society's semiotic frameworks including all social referents. , in a complex process where there is random or semi-random change of “social logic” operators. Whether the social paradigms are remanent, extant or recent, their mutation enables what can be termed “instant myth” paradigms to enter the semiotic framework of society, possibly reinforcing one or more recent or very recent paradigms, and destroying many older paradigms.

This has major destabilizing effects in and on society. It is in many cases also self-propagating and self-amplifying, certainly in the case of western society, in the reference timeframe.

We can make another comparison with millenarian cults in “primitive” societies, comparing them with similar dangerous cults in pre-modern western society, such as the Witch Hunts of about 1600-1800 in the future USA and many European states of the time. The Witch Hunts, by concatention of social paradigms were able in Europe to spread across movements as diverse as peasant revolts, challenges to patriarchal family systems and wealth inheritance, fear of bad weather and poor harvests, socialized response to large-scale migration and population movements, and ongoing social response to ideological reformation and schism of the Church in Europe – among others!

Not knowing, by destroying social meaning in these complex and ramifying crisis conditions, was more socially effective and much more powerful than “dumbing down”, but a simple question is this. Can dumbing down go to zero? Is this a reverse-learning process able to mimic the unknowing process? Our General Theory suggests this is not the case.

Unknowing and Governance
The General Theory takes into account that the structure and function of government, for western society at least, has certain “ideal types” and antonymous types, that is socially approved and disapproved types. To simplify relationships between the process of unknowing and governance, our theory only retains three conceptual types of government.

These are theocratic states, police states and democratic states.

Still today in a small number of states such as Saudi Arabia and North Korea the press, media and public information is heavily censored, manipulated and controlled. The brutal elimination of “thought criminals”, by death or imprisonment, is a regular occurrence. The conceptual model of the evolution of government in western culture is of theocracy preceding democracy, whereas police states can co-exist in time with democratic states, but for our General Theory we hold all three of these framework typess – theocracy, police state, democracy – as interchangeable and logically equivalent.

The definitions of “theocracy” and”totalitarianism”, for our theory, only signify highly centralized power and almost total control over dominant “permitted” social paradigms. Various types of repression are operated by the power elite to maintain their power. In a democratic state, notably, intellectual and-or other repression by a “hidden elite” is possible and logically valid in our theory.

Other claimed theoretical models of governance – such as “the technocratic state” - do not exist and thus we do not address any potential unknowing process in that non-existent framework. Nor in other claimed or theoretical but non-existent forms of government such as “the anarchic state”, which itself is defined as “non-government”.

When for any reason, for example economic shock, there is the collapse or mutation of dominant social paradigms and-or their rapid replacement by “new myths”, any of the above three types of government can also collapse or mutate. For example a democracy can shift to a police state, which is known, but logically any other combination of change is possible, for example theocracy → democracy and then democracy → police state. The process of unknowing, our theory suggests, can radically accelerate such “epic transformations” of governance and government.

Our theory's logical framework accepts the well known (to physicists) conflict of Newtonian/Quantum physics paradigms, where the second permits simultaneous “entanglement phenomena”, crossing from subatomic to macroscopic domains under certain states of change. Simultaneous outbreak is proven, making it logical that all three of our theory's accepted “governance models” - theocracy, democracy, police state – can or might exist simultaneously. The permitted and dominant social paradigms in this conceptual Hybrid Model would according to our theory, be very limited in number, very highly structured, and highly defined as to their social perception and interpretation.

Predicting the economic and geopolitical impacts, and potential impacts of unknowing may be the most interesting results from development of the General Theory of Unknowing.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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