Architecture is not simply the mastery of space…it is also the mastery of time.
It is the composition of a painting or a photograph, the structure of a novel or symphony, that creates the experience of beauty or tragedy in the minds of the viewer. It is the logical organization of an argument that underlies our experience of rationality and reasonability; the formal arrangement of the individual terms in a deductive system where claims of necessity will be evaluated. In politics, it is not the generosity of our elected representatives that guarantees our freedoms, but the design of our institutions and the semantics of our legal code that provide this gravely important function. Even as the domain of expression differs for each of these disparate practices, the same basic idea underlies them all: higher order concepts emerge from lower level elements and it is only when the constituent members of a hierarchy are in a specific arrangement that the full potential for higher order emergence can be realized. I call this specific arrangement of elements ‘architecture’ and it is fundamental to the realization of any system or structure.
A statement has a sense only in reference to a context in which the sense can be realized, thus, we simply cannot discuss something so abstract as ‘freedom’ without a clear idea of how the sense of the word could emerge from our political system…
These ideas are second nature to many artists and designers, but the importance of developing an architectural framework of politics is either lost on our policy makers and opinion leaders or willfully manipulated out of the discussion at hand. As has been written about to death, contemporary politics has been reduced to the practice of slogans and sound bytes and whomever controls the state of the discussion does so through superior messaging, not superior ideas—the validity of the messages themselves are secondary to the continual restatement of the (possibly invalid) premises of entrenched political constituencies. It strikes me as nearly impossible to advance the practice of democracy if we’re unable to have a mature discussion of the serious structural problems endemic to our times and such a discussion can only be conducted with a view towards the institutional arrangements where political ideals such as Freedom or Justice or Rights emerge from.
Take, for example, the sound byte “Freedom Isn’t Free”, as deployed by the Left in the case of the ACLU and by the Right in the case of the run-up to the Iraq War (or, really, any recent conflict that the Warring Class has decided is ‘necessary’). At a surface level it’s a nice statement and possesses a certain linguistic pleasure that emerges from its formal construction and the way in which it seems to link the concepts of freedom and sacrifice (surely two of the most loaded terms in our politics). The same statement has been deployed by both sides in a number of discussions—even deployed by the different sides about the same conflict at the same time. It functions perfectly as a statement of political sloganeering, however, precisely because it desperately fails the test of political philosophy. What does the statement actually mean? What does freedom mean in that case? Does the predicate ‘isn’t free’ refer to a conceptual freedom, such as “free as in speech”, or an economic freedom, such as “free as in beer”? Is it a commodity to be bought and sold? Is it a gift to be given? Is it a structural feature of political system? Is it some kind of universal right that we fighting for?
The truth is there’s no indication towards any real answer to these questions and its genius as a slogan is precisely that there cannot be an indication towards a real answer: the sense of the construction is referentially opaque and it is so necessarily. The only manner in which that statement could have meaning is through an analysis of the other claims made in parallel to this particular claim.
The difficulty of this process is predicated on politics being a blood sport that admits neither panacea nor Providence.
It is here that the importance of an architectural analysis must be made and it is here that the contemporary structure of our politics fails so miserably, with the bullshit sound bytes spoken by the bullshit members of the political classes. It is exactly at this point that not only must our concepts be precisely defined against the relevant domain in which they are being deployed, but the domain itself must be brought into question as well. A statement has a sense only in reference to a context in which the sense can be realized, thus, we simply cannot discuss something so abstract as ‘freedom’ without a clear idea of how the sense of the word could emerge from our political system, with its highly individual political histories and machinations. There are radical differences—even necessary disjuncts—between freedoms of and freedoms to and freedoms from, and the manner in which each of these conceptions of freedom could be articulated and instantiated within our contemporary institutional arrangements is something that desperately needs discussion.
One needn’t posit a set of universal political principles to note that the ‘politics of the now’ are necessarily limited by the particular historical episodes that characterize the times. An effective politics requires one to have one foot rooted firmly in today and another rooted in an historical (again, an architectural) viewpoint that tries to understand the way in which the past has shaped the discussions of both yesterday and today and those who can augur the shape of things to come will have a hand up on those who are merely fighting today’s battles from within an arena they don’t realize is neither complete nor necessary.
The difficulty of this process is predicated on politics being a blood sport that admits neither panacea nor Providence. If we are to evolve our society towards a greater expression of fundamental rights, i.e., if we are to succeed in the creation of a politics where we secure to the people an ever larger domain of expressiveness free from the interference of the State and the constraints of merely traditional ideas, we must do so by forcing our ideas into the contemporary discussion with a logic as sound as the scope of our understanding is wide. The way to achieve this is to focus on our systems’ architectural features and historical battles, to locate the structurally unsound points in our politics and to attempt to alter the makeup and the functional aspects of the institutions where our ideals either emerge from or are constrained within. Simply arguing over terms and definitions and beliefs gets us nowhere. It is the structure of the system that desperately needs reform.