Paradigm failure

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The Devil’s Advocate

In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.

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I can explain nothing to you unless I first draw your attention to patent inadequacies in your knowledge: discontinuities in the relations between objects, or the presence of anomalies you cannot account for by any of the laws known to you. You will remain deaf to my explanations until you suspect yourself of falsehood.

James P. Carse Finite and Infinite Games

Something to understand about power structures and other paradigms is that they collapse not necessarily because they are degenerating, but because a better power structure has become available. This is where the theoretical appeal of Karl Popper’s Falsificationism hit the buffers of real-life behavioural psychology, and why Thomas Kuhn’s account of scientific revolutions is more nuanced.

So, those who would cast a poor political leader out, must first present a robust and plausible alternative — ideally a group — that can shift the axis of the debate and provide a preferable alternative (it is not about doing a better job, but re-framing the debate altogether). Where a poor political leader has been defenestrated and replaced by someone simply claiming to be able to do a better job, the results are often underwhelming, and the political movement remains broken and susceptible to replacement.

That said, as a defensive strategy, incumbents should surround themselves with people who can exercise on the plan but do not have the gumption or charisma to re-frame the narrative, and who do not therefore present a plausible alternative. At least require someone to have the imagination to reframe things entirely.

The premises of James P. Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games throw light here: replacing an incumbent with a like-for-like replacement is a combative strategy from a finite game: the rules remain the same, the boundaries are fixed; there will be a winner and a loser. Reframing the narrative is a “poetic” act of imagination that changes the rules, identifies new objectives and allows the co-operative endeavour (a polity) to continue: this is an infinite game strategy.

Politicians who have successfully re-framed the narrative (for better or worse): Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour; David Lange’s Fourth Labour government in New Zealand; Donald Trump’s presidency of the United States. Note that each of these movements eventually foundered when it lost its aspiration to challenge and imagine a better future, and descended into a finite game-style battle within the movement to exert influence and usurp power.

Employers: remember, the reason employees stay is the not because you are not failing at the task of providing meaningful, rewarding work, but because no-one yet has re-framed the work proposition for that employee. As long as you continually reframe the work proposition, imaginatively challenging the employee, she will not be inclined to look elsewhere.

See also