187. System tragedy
I continue the preceding discussion of the notion of a script as a composition of nodes that can each be filled in from a repertoire of alternatives that can substitute for each other in that node, in that script.
This repertoire is limited by the need to preserve the function of the node in the overall script. Something that would jeopardize that role and hence threaten the integrity of the script would not be permitted. All scripts, of action, bodies, sentence, type, style, building, theory, or organization impose limitations on what can be substituted in nodes.
Taking a seat and waiting to be served will not work in a self-service restaurant. Poison destroys a body. Poetic license in putting words in strange places creates wonder or confusion. Prior to impressionism paintings were made in studios and going into nature to sit and paint was odd. Postmodernism evoked ridicule in mixing styles. The wrong kind of concrete will cause a building to collapse. Offering taxi services by private car owners upsets the taxi industry.
The script of established theory, with basic core assumptions, established methodology and logic, and underlying ethics, is called a ‘paradigm’. In economics it is utilitarian ethics, methodological individualism, rational choice, and the ‘spirit of geometry’ with the use of mathematical models.
In items 33 and 34 of this blog I discussed how scripts yield prototypes as a template for recognition. That makes for efficiency in human action and interaction, but it does constitute a form of prejudice. The practice of non-linguistic scripts is accompanied by what Wittgenstein called ‘language games’, socially and often tacitly accepted linguistic scripts, and, vice versa, language can be understood as being embedded in scripts of practice, in Wittgenstein’s doctrine of ‘meaning as use’.
This perspective yields one way of looking at conservatism and at what elsewhere (item 109) I called ‘system tragedy’. Often, justified as they may seem, things are ruled out because they threaten the integrity of the wider system, or are ignored or simply not perceived when they do not fit in a script that is relevant to the situation. Worse, operating outside the established language game one is seen to speak nonsense. Innovation and reform have a hard time when not fitting in established scripts.
How to break out of that? For this I proposed a ‘cycle of invention’ in item 31. To escape from the conservatism of the established order one has to break out into a new ‘selection environment’ with different scripts and corresponding nodes. There, one may have to make new local substitutions into some nodes of the script, or bring in entire new nodes, in order to survive in the new environment. That, in turn, puts pressure on the larger order of the script and may trigger or necessitate its restructuring, in experiments with new structures of old and new nodes.
Self-service forced such change in restaurants, poets force new meanings by bringing in words in odd places, artificial limbs produce new body scripts, impressionists went outside, in nature and outside established academies and galleries, and after struggle came in triumphantly, nylon replaced sisal in ropes, plastics replaced cotton.
So, to escape from system tragedy, one must challenge the system with novel conditions in novel contexts, and allow for opposition and competition from niches outside the established order. There lies the merit of markets and democracies, with all their imperfections and perversities. A flourishing life is a game of breaking up scripts.