The Lonely Shepherd

One thing that perhaps a number of us learned from the Afghanistan experience of the 21st century is that if herd mentality is heading towards one direction, it is perhaps best to head towards the opposite direction, even if it means standing alone. Moreover, when all is said and done, standing alone but having been vindicated for standing alone is far better than joining in on the herd mentality and then ending up being humiliated, as has been the case for many people as of late.

Also, given that the political dysfunction stemming from the failure to uphold global order over the course of the last three decades inhibits ‘analogous reasoning’ in Washington — along with the fact that Washington ‘groupthink’ and bureaucratic politics always seem to prevail over common sense and reason — a grim outlook on socioeconomic and sociopolitical conditions in many places over the course of the next few years is not outside of the bounds of reason. And with a renewed ‘Cold War Context’ in international affairs, a grim outlook seems more reasonable than at any point thus far in the 21st century.

One of Max Weber’s important arguments was that bureaucratization and bureaucratic politics occur in Western societies in order to predict things. Thus, big bureaucracy has proven to be pointless to a large extent because prediction is largely a futile enterprise. As Yogi Berra famously said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

The pointlessness of big bureaucracy also stems from the fact that the veneer of objectivity and science that is given to big bureaucracy in the United States actually conceals what is at the heart of the whole situation, namely, bias, irrationality, and sheer subjectivity. As Max Weber wrote:

“There is no absolutely “objective” scientific analysis of culture…All knowledge of cultural reality…is always knowledge from particular points of view…An “objective” analysis of cultural events, which proceeds according to the thesis that the ideal of science is the reduction of empirical reality to “laws,” is meaningless [because] the knowledge of social laws is not knowledge of social reality but is rather one of the various aids used by our minds for attaining this end.”

In turn, the social world — which is the object of study for social scientists, whereas the natural world is the object of study for natural scientists — is best explained by ‘social actors’ who view social outcomes as stemming from historical processes, rather than predicting outcomes in the social world through empirical or “objective” analysis. As Max Weber wrote:

“We know of no scientifically ascertainable ideals. To be sure, that makes our efforts more arduous than in the past, since we are expected to create our ideals from within our breast in the very age of subjectivist culture.”

Thus, experience and history are the best guides for decision-making, strategy formation, and the explanation of current circumstances and social outcomes in the social world. In turn, there is perhaps little use in seeking to reduce a highly complex social world to “objective laws” and so forth, which seems to be the basic impulse of Western academia and discourse.

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