As a recovering theoretical physicist, I often have the urge to break things down into the smallest possible component to see why and how they work. For those not in the know about the king of all sciences, the general trend over at least the last hundred years in physics has been for reductionism. During the 20th Century, the holy grail of modern physics was to formulate a single set of equations that would adequately describe the behaviour of both the very largest and very smallest things in the Universe, up till now described fairly adequately by the predictions of General Relativity (at the big end) and Quantum Mechanics / Field Theory (at the little end). The problem comes when you try to combine the two, and to cut a long story short, almost a hundred years of hard maths and conceptual dead-endery has left the world of theoretical physics pretty much none the wiser. Although we have quaffed a lot of coffee, and in the long run, that’s all that counts.
The upshot of all of this is that scientists, particularly in the hard physical sciences, tend to get reductionism beaten into them as a matter of course. It is what we do as a profession – try to take things apart and come up with simple rules as to how the components work. If we can describe and predict the behaviour of the components, we can often extrapolate the behaviour of the whole (not always true in practice, but theoretically fairly sound…).
This is why political blogging in particular is incredibly frustrating at times, because all political blogging ends up at the old scientific conundrum, in a metaphorical sense:
What happens when an irresistable force meets with an immovable body?
What I mean by that is that I can state a fundamental viewpoint, argue a rock-solid logical case from that, and come up with something that confirms my worldview, only for the other side of the political fence to start throwing rocks at my axiom. The irresistable force of my argument (and they all are, Andrew fans…) meets with the immovable force of your fundamental beliefs. So how do we ever get anything done? How do we ever decide anything, reach a compromise, agree a consensus, or God help us all, form a coalition?
I guess at some point we just have to state our political axioms – those fundamental self-evident beliefs that you can’t prove from anything else, that you can’t derive from more fundamental principles – and just defend them to the death. After all, there’s nothing worse in the blogosphere than being proven wrong, arrogant lot that we are. So, to get the ball rolling, and to kick off a political reductionism of Hilbertian proportions, I thought I’d declare one of my axioms, and invite commenters to do the same. Maybe we can find some common ground. Here it is:
1. People are basically selfish bastards. They follow a code in a broad hierarchy that goes something like Self > Immediate Family > Neighbouring Community > City > Country > God, although there is flexibility between levels. Any political act that requires a person or group of people to deviate from this code for any serious length of time is doomed to failure.
Who’s up next?
Disclaimer: Any scientific inaccuracy in the above is not ignorance or forgetfulness on my part. Rather, it is an elaborate in-joke, designed to confuse and bewilder you, but which the rest of us are secretly chuckling at you for not getting.
Disclaimer 2: The bit about God above is a ruse, secularist types, designed to provoke you into fits of spluttering rage. Go ahead punks, make my day.