Portland and Closed Systems

The attempted terrorist attack in Portland was thwarted by the FBI. Ironically, in 2005 the Portland city council voted (by 4 to 1) to withdraw their city’s police officers from participation in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Now, Portland’s mayor says he might ask the council to reconsider the decision about participation in this task force. Is it because he realizes that the threat of terrorism is real, and that anti-terrorism efforts like those being conducted by the Joint Task Force were indeed justified?…ie, that Portland was wrong in its initial decision? Not at all:

“[Adams] stressed that he has much more faith in the Obama administration and the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s office now than he did in 2005”

I was reminded of something Arthur Koestler wrote about closed systems and the people who believe in them.

A closed sysem has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of causistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you ourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history…In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emoional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself.

Himself a former Communist, Koestler had considerable experience with closed-system thinking. The quote is from the essay Woe to the Shepherds in the collection Bricks to Babel.

Related post at Neptunus Lex.

5 thoughts on “Portland and Closed Systems”

  1. The 4th peculiarity of the closed loop system involves “cranio-rectal marsupialization” complete with its own form of highly charged sensory stimulation. And, it includes the bonus of having a self-feeding ability. Although this system can, if left to its own devices ignore the outside world, use of a cattle prod or other form of electrical delivery will get the system operator’s attention.

    And oh yeah… Just sayin’

  2. A key feature of this way of thinking is a belief that there is a body of knowledge which is possessed by the initiated that is not known to the masses, and that the masses are therefore ignorant and incapable of knowing what is good for themselves or acting in a way that is good for anyone. This elitism is a sham, but it is an intoxicating feeling for the initiates. America, the country that has democratized everything else, has even democtratized elitism, to the extent that we have millions of people who possess this way of thinking and feel themselves to be superior in intellect and in moral worth to millions of other people.

    Eric Voegelin wrote about this sort of thing, too, taking this sort of closed-system thinking from a religious rather than a psychological perspective, seeing it as a form of gnosticism.

  3. … and a wondering-out-loud question about Koestler.

    Here was a guy who was extremely insightful, a friend of George Orwell and Whittaker Chambers and others, who was a very good writer, yet he flitted from one fad to another, and he was wretched to the people who loved him. You would think a person of such gifts would have a little more intellectual consistency and moral character. A strange case, Koestler. Fortunately, what remains is his work, and what will live on is the best of that work.

  4. “A key feature of this way of thinking is a belief that there is a body of knowledge which is possessed by the initiated that is not known to the masses,… ”

    Or which the masses have already considered and rejected as being irrational BS, e.g., 9/11 Trutherism. I note that the participation in similar closed systems has a lot of overlap and often forms a meta-system; for instance, a 9/11 Truther is also likely to believe that the CIA murdered JFK, that the Air Force is hiding alien weapons at Roswell, that the HIV virus was engineered by KKK-loyal biologists to kill blacks, and so forth.

  5. This ‘closed system’ concept seems pretty obvious. But the simplicity of Koestler’s summation (and Lex Green’s and cous Dave’s comments) conceals something even more interesting. No system of thinking is not closed.

    Put another way: the question is not whether a paradigm, a worldview is closed (aka presuppositional). The question is what assumptions, suppositions, assertions does it rely upon.

Comments are closed.