Is regime change like a paradigm shift

Regime Change Az Theatre

Having focused for some years on projects with an international dimension, I decided earlier this year (2016) to turn my attention to what was happening in the UK. A lot of talk during the Iraq invasion and the 2011 popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere was about the idea of ‘regime change’. I set out to see what this might mean here. What was the story of the UK regime? My research took me back to what I considered to be its founding moments in the revolutionary movements of the English Civil War (1641-1660) whose final act might be considered to be the constitutional settlement of 1688. I was setting out to create theatre but I knew it might take a long time. I have started writing drama but also I am accompanying this work with a blog that would outline my thinking as the project moved forward.


Is regime change like a paradigm shift?

The human being’s desire for justice seems unquestionable. It is an aspect of our behaviour at the earliest stages of our lives. We assert on our own part and on the part of others the need for things to be fair and for nobody to be left out. It’s only later that we recognise that there are limits to what is available, that sufficiency is acceptable, and that the world’s resources have, to some extent, already been allocated.

You never know what is really going on inside other people’s heads. The most deceptive thoughts, those that arise from objective observation, are those that appear to be obvious. It is difficult to believe that people really do have a different way of thinking about themselves, though, of course, this is evident in clear differences of behaviour and preferences.

One is never quite sure whether human differences come from different life circumstances or whether there are what might be described as deeper more essential characteristics that determine how we are in the world. The estimation of the impress on the human being of early experience, from the moment of birth or before, is a matter of conjecture but has to be taken into account, an account that adds to the issue of nature versus nurture that of the unconscious and repression.

Given this complexity, it is easy to see how difficult it is likely to be for human beings to come up with social structures that accord with those early aspirations for justice. The observation that human beings are characteristically rational and political is met almost simultaneously by the observation that they are mimetic (1) and that this latter quality is more powerful because it is unconscious and irrational.

Human groups are more likely to gain cohesion due to the deliberate or spontaneous occurrence of fear than loving rational agreement. This would seem to suggest that fear makes more sense. It resonates at many different levels of experience. For example, the experience of our own deep vulnerability as infants, our dependence on our immediate kin relations, the contradiction between the encouragement given to be self-sufficient and the constant affirmation of our dependence on others, the rivalry that is engendered by the needs of survival, the development of splitting between good and bad, edible and inedible, friend and enemy all contribute to the effectiveness of fear.

Although there have been attempts to form groups and institutions that have strategies to countervail this ‘fear’ tendency, at a certain moment of their development they can be successfully influenced by rivalrous structures and become, through various defensive/protective and conformist impulses, thoroughly infected by ‘fear’. This is generally evidenced by the growth of hierarchy.

The problem of human organisation touched on here becomes exacerbated by the size of the human group. For relatively short periods of time, selfless, loving behaviour can be sustained by small human groups. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the size of the group and the prolongation of cohesion brought about by feelings other than fear.

In the recent period of human history, there have been examples of mass participation in social transformation in France, Russia and China. But the problem has been that in the last instance the liberation from oppression has been militarised and the new arising social forms have been displaced by older ‘fear-based’ structures.

The general pattern of movement in human social construction has been determined by human productivity. Capitalism, the accumulation and investment of social surplus according to private ownership, has been technologically expeditious and massively productive but the social structures, for which it has successively laid the basis, have been problematic. This is to do with the contradiction between private benefit and public good.

The very large units of production and distribution that have begun to dwarf human political organisation have placed it in a position of dangerous subservience. Political states have themselves come to resemble corporate entities whose role in the human system is to supply cheap labour and to provide consumption services.

The danger to human life mainly lies in the inability of human governmental organisation to react responsibly to the ecological consequences of the activities of corporate entities.

There has never been a prolonged process of political control that has regulated and limited economic activity.

Usually, the ruling group are the richest sector of society and they find themselves unable or unwilling to limit their own wealth. More often they are building institutions to communicate how their enrichment is good for everybody.

The world faces unprecedented problems due to the development of productivity and it may be an act of faith to suppose that humanity will come up with an, as yet unimaginable, solution. The signs are not encouraging.

Human beings can comprehend very large social units but they are not able to easily imagine them creatively nor find ways of working coherently with them.

There are theories that reckon the number (150) of human beings with whom a human being can maintain a stable relationship (2). Also, there are credible ideas about how larger human groups are held together because they are ‘imagined’ (3). There are people who have studied smaller non-family groups who have postulated ‘basic assumption’ as the determining structure (4).

Although in our daily lives we constantly project onto larger group from observation of individuals and small group behaviour, there is no reason to be sure that humans in large groups are substantially different from humans in small groups.

There are ways of looking at the particular biology and physiology of human beings and coming up with ideas about our social development. Physiology can tell us about the high complexity of the interrelationship between our brain and our activity making us creatures who are ‘intentional’.(5) Also, our vulnerability during the first years of our life exacts protective social structures.

Wisdom seems to lie in the view that human society is itself a manifestation of what human beings indeed are, in all its variety and difference. There is no theoretical formulation or set of ideas that can be generally true of human beings. This view doesn’t really help to understand change or to offer any helpful hints to those who think change may be a good idea.

It is very difficult to escape the observation that, in the last instance, the forms of human society derive from the ways in which human beings come into relationship with one another in the course of producing those things or circumstances that they deem to be desirable and necessary.

This basic thinking influenced and supported the only real alternative to capitalism that has ever been offered.

Our problems lie in our inability to institute a way of distributing wealth and resources that accords with justice. Capitalist organisation pushes for the reduction of cost of the production of all goods. This goes for the products that make up the productive infrastructure itself. The cheap production of human labour (or labour power) is balanced only by the generation of demand for goods amongst the masses of people. The state’s role in this provision under globalised, financialised, predatory capitalism is clear. It is for this reason that the modernisation project of capitalism has genocidal tendencies (6). In other words, it can only hold itself together by creating a ‘war’ against ‘the other’. This is a transposition of the competitive impulse. At the same time, the state must conceal this process in order to maintain its credibility.

This means that the modern state constantly appears to offer something that it cannot deliver. It thus absorbs social energy and in so doing protects the system which gives it its structures. The state is a transitional human structure which in the current period is a conduit for social change and an obstacle to it.

Movements and institutions that are not completely absorbed into the state structures may unblock the contradictory situation of the state. Social movements cannot be totally separate from state institutions so there may be hybrid organisations that maintain their tone as social movements and do not become completely organised into the political party structure.

What seems to be needed is something similar to a paradigm shift. (7) However, this phrase has been used in a very restricted meaning for revolutions in science. The idea of paradigm has two aspects. One is a sense of the interconnectedness of a whole system or world. Two is the particular ‘example’ that has a prevalence in a given system or world. In Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolution, the idea of paradigm is connected to the idea of ‘anomaly’. Credibility deteriorating because of the accumulation of anomalies in the political scene, at one level, has a very different feel than the process that happens in the scientific community. For a paradigm shift to gather momentum and become a new ‘common sense’ might happen as a consequence of the mimesis that holds traditional social structures in place.

It’s very difficult to predict. The oncoming human revolution will take a different form from previous revolutions. It is really no longer possible to envisage change happening in one country and then being ‘spread’ by means of various strategies, mostly military, as has been experienced so far in recent human history. Also, it is no longer possible to see change being delivered through a single electoral system.

This is what makes what is happening in the Labour Party so emblematic. It is a crisis in the identity and functioning of a political party.(8)

I have set out to understand a story of the development of a regime and tried to follow this logic through as if the end of this regime would in some way be ‘like’ its beginning. In other words, we would see the elements that came into being at the beginning of the regime there in a deteriorating condition at the end.

This would be as if this political entity had a kind of life-cycle rather like that of an individual animal. This cannot be the case. It is a metaphor. Likewise the idea that a particularly population, a species, may undergo extinction because the ecosystem of which it is a component no longer provides the material support, the carrying capacity, for its continued existence is another similar case, a metaphor.

These metaphors have provisional truths. The particular circumstances, geographical position, soil quality, river systems, raw materials (wood, tin, iron, coal), particular beneficiary productive impact of migratory regimes (Romans, Saxons et al., Normans) that led eventually to the basis for the current regime here in the UK were brought together by a political form that could unite various nations within one state and create a unique form of imaginary national identity (9), would not necessarily reveal themselves in a critical condition as this regime comes to an end. However, it has to be said that some of these initial features do show up.

The instance of human development on these islands is a complex and interconnected version of human development in general. Particularly in this instance where so many productive, military and political forms have been exported there has been an almost unfathomably complex interaction between the development here and human development globally. So what will happen here will not be isolated, though ironically it may be for short periods (10). This will not be an even process. This is because it will be influenced by external as well as internal movements.


(1) Mimesis. The idea that human beings are mimetic beings belngs to Aristotle but the development of this theory in the modern period has been at the centre of the work of Philosophical Anthropologist, Rene Girard see his Violence and the Sacred (Grasset Paris 1972: John Hopkins University Press 1977)

(2) 150 is known as Dunbar’s Number. Robin Dunbar was an evolutionary anthropologist. see Dunbar, R.I.M. (June 1992). “Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates“. Journal of Human Evolution. 22 (6): 469–493. doi:10.1016/0047-2484(92)90081-J

(3) See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso (1983).

(4) See Experiences in Groups and other papers W. R. Bion Tavistock London 1961)

(5) See Man on his Nature Charles Sherrington Penguin London 1940. Sherrington was a professor of Physiology at University of Oxford

(6) See Genocide as Social Practice by Daniel Feierstein Rutgers 2014. Feierstein is an Argentinian social scientist and is Director of the Centre for Genocide Studies in Argentina. He asserts: ‘Genocide is endemic to modernity’

(7) See The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S.Kuhn University of Chicago 1962.

(8) This refers to the struggle over the leadership of British Labour Party current at the time of writing.

(9) See The Enchanted Glass by Tom Nairn Radius London 1988.

(10) This refers to the Brexit vote recent to the time of writing