All politics reduces complexity

I wrote a post a while back on Trump and the Denial of Complexity; however, I may have been a little unfair in focusing only on Trump because politics in general reduces environmental complexity. Any successful system reduces complexity. One way politics reduces complexity is by tying politicians and political parties to issues. According to King and Thornhill,

Luhmann stresses that it is a major advantage of political parties that they contain people, in the role of politicians, and that individual politicians gain publicity for themselves by campaigning for particular themes and on particular mandates. The association of specific themes with individual people commonly enables the political system to address topics which it cannot yet fully absorb and which still posses ‘too much complexity’ and ‘too much contingency’ to be processed through normal decision premises. The personalization of issues as they are represented by specific figures in different parties is therefore, so to speak, a filter mechanism, through which the system initially tries out new options or rehearses its reactions to problems. This might, in a practical light, account for the  way in which certain politicians attach their reputation and ambition to individual question, only to see these fade from the spotlight, and to find their own ambitions ruined. (Niklas Luhmann’s Theory of Politics and Law, 199-20)

This suggests that the political system is using Trump (and other candidates) to test the relevance of certain controversial issues or try out reactions to certain problems, such as globalization.

The presidency of Jimmy Carter comes to mind. Carter made human rights  the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy and talked about the

inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in that fear.

But apparently the voters were more interested in economic prosperity and finally defeating communism, and Reagan took over after one Carter term. Reagan them resumed supporting Central American dictators, among other things. Today, the Republican party has lost interest in Reaganism and is rudderless.

We could also relate this to the science system, in the sense that certain scientific or scholarly questions attach themselves to certain people (academic “stars”) or researchers attach themselves to certain questions to build a career. If those questions don’t actually lead anywhere, then the science system has learned something. The fate of the people attached to those questions isn’t of any concern to the system.

The fallen politicians tend to to fine, however, because they can become lobbyists or mass media personalities (e.g., Sarah Palin).


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