There has never been a more exciting time to be alive.

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In 2015, the Australian Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, resigned from Cabinet and challenged for the leadership of the Australian Liberal party. The Liberal Party, in a Coalition with the National Party of Australia, was in government at the time. Taking this into account, Turnbull’s challenge was also, and indeed more primarily, for the position of Prime Minister of Australia.

The challenge was ultimately successful, whereby on 15 September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull became the twenty-ninth Prime Minister of Australia. Central to Turnbull’s challenge to Tony Abbott’s preceding leadership was his criticism of the Abbot government’s lack of economic strategy. Economies thrive, claimed Turnbull, in environments where ideas proliferate that are able to tie together the skills and desired outcomes of the business community, universities, and various research institutions.

In endeavouring to foster such an environment, Turnbull intended to give younger citizens the opportunity to become tech-engaged, and commercially participatory, earlier in life than they might otherwise have been. From this kind of impetus, Turnbull would proclaim that for Australians there has never been a more exciting time to be alive:

There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today and there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian (Malcolm Turnbull, 2015).

What is being quantified?

Turnbull’s suggestion is readily understandable; that the current era seems to be flush with not only technological developments, but also with opportunities for certain demographics within the population to be beneficially involved in such developments. Whilst such a policy direction might rudimentarily appear to offer only beneficial potentials, one danger it holds is its insensitivity to the differentiated ways that sectors of the population will be affected by the very changes that Turnbull celebrates. These differentiations are described in Joseph Schumpeter’s 1942 economic theory of creative destruction.

Schumpeter is receptive to the ramification that those who are skilled in certain fields and generally adaptable will thrive in periods of social innovation and change. Conversely, those who are not skilled in such fields, nor are adaptable, will not. According to this feature of such transition, in Turnbull’s new, “innovative Australia,” some individuals will reap certain advantages from any widespread social and vocational shift, whereas other individuals will not.

If Turnbull was to be primarily utilitarian in responding to this concern, he might reduce society purely to an aggregation of its individuals. In counting all individuals as single entities, his rebuttal could be that during a period of innovation, more individuals would be better off than they were before. Or in other words, society as a whole had a greater number of advantaged individuals.

The key parameter in Turnbull’s argument though is “excitement.” Where in the immediately preceding paragraph the individual is portrayed as being “better off,” or “advantaged,” Turnbull actually describes the individual as more “excited.” Even if advantage is implied, if we are careful to only address the terminology that Turnbull uses, excitement must be the critical focus. There has, according to Turnbull, never been a social environment that has engendered more excitement in citizens, in Australian citizens, than was occurring at the time he spoke.

But can a more, or a less, exciting time of being alive be suggested? Turnbull directs us to an argument based on quantifiable conditions, via his terminology of “more” excitement. If excitement is quantifiable, there must be measurable units of excitement which comprise its quantification. These units, in being counted, aggregated, and compared, condition there being a quantity of the thing or the experience in question. Measurable units of quantified excitement are not, however, identified by Turnbull.

How, then, might we consider whether Turnbull could possibly identify measurable units of excitement?

Can excitement be quantified?

Henri Bergson posits that the tendency to quantify things or experiences derives from social influence. This is because such quantification occurs through the measures and representations that have been installed by the institutions, perspectives, and languages, of human, collective existence. The sciences, and the social sciences, exemplify this quantifying tendency, in symbolising the world via calculable, comparable data. The integration of the sciences and the social sciences could therefore be helpful in determinations of Turnbull’s possible identification of measurable units of excitement.

What must also be taken into consideration, though, is Bergson’s complementary concern that from this tendency are said to emerge quantifiable constructions of features of the world and our experience of it that might not really be quantifiable. This speaks to the tension between (i) what is perceived to be the socially constructed quantification of a thing/experience, versus (ii) what is presumed to be the real-natural state of a thing/experience.

In terms of excitement, we can review four positions which operate from within this tension. This will allow us to appraise how Turnbull might identify the units which comprise an excitement that he assumes is quantifiable, and the responses that he would face. Click on each position below to expand/contract its supporting argument:

1. Extreme social constructionist. The social construction of excitement misrepresents what is real-natural about excitement.

i. Turnbull engages studies of excitement to evidence the measurable units of excitement.

ii. [Science study “y”] studies the physiological changes that are experienced when excitement is reported to be felt…or…[Social science study “z”] studies the behaviours that a society has defined as indicating excitement.

iii. Does [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] identify measurable units of these physiological changes or behavioural patterns that comprise excitement?

If no…

iv. Turnbull does not identify measurable units of quantified excitement.

If yes…

v. Turnbull identifies measurable units of quantified excitement.

The extreme social constructionist responds…

vi. The sciences are socially constructed institutions/perspectives.

vii. Socially constructed perspectives misrepresent what is real-natural about the world.

viii. [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] is a socially constructed perspective of excitement.

ix. Even if measurable units of quantified excitement are posited by [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”], such units misrepresent what is real-natural about excitement.

x. The excitement that Turnbull quantifies misrepresents what is real-natural about excitement.

This position is that scientific experimentation, techniques, perspectives, and theories, could have been developed in myriad ways, depending on relevant social influences. Consequently, the resulting scientific results must be dependent upon how society has shaped them. This contingently social factor in the production of scientific truths is contrasted from what are posited to be the necessarily timeless truths or realities of the world. By looking at excitement through a contingently socially constructed lens (the sciences are interpreted to be such lenses), the extreme social constructionist’s position demands that the measurable units that might be posited scientifically regarding excitement, never represent excitement as it really, naturally is.

2. Exclusive social constructionist. The social construction of excitement is all that excitement ever is.

i. – vi. as per position 1.

The exclusive social constructionist responds…

vii. Excitement is also a social construction.

viii. If excitement is a social construction, and the sciences are social constructions, the scientific study of excitement measures the only reality of excitement.

ix. Does [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] identify measurable units of this excitement?

If no…

x. Turnbull does not identify measurable units of quantified excitement.

If yes…

xi. Turnbull identifies measurable units of quantified excitement.

This position is that excitement is a concept that societies have created. Societies define the criteria for what comprises excitement accordingly. These criteria, either physiological, behavioural, or both, are the signs of excitement. If a society conceives of excitement by such signs, and excitement is considered to be nothing but its social conceptualisation, then the measurement of these signs is duly interpreted to measure excitement’s reality.

This differs from the extreme social constructionist position that is presented above in one key regard; the exclusive social constructionist avoids the supposition of a separate natural reality of excitement that the social construction of it must explain, access, or discover. Rather, for the exclusive social constructionist, excitement is a concept that is believed to only ever have a social reality.

This latter point presents the greatest issue with this position. Will it be adequate for Turnbull (or indeed for anyone), to state that excitement is only a contingent, social construction, with no other reality? If Turnbull wishes to argue that excitement has a reality beyond how a society has come to conceive of it, he then needs to tackle the contestation in position 1 from the extreme social constructionist.

3. Real-natural social constructionist. The social construction of excitement is a part of what is real-natural about excitement.

i. – vi. as per position 1.

vii. What is socially constructed is a part of what is real-natural.

viii. If what is socially constructed is a part of what is real-natural, [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] is a part of what is real-natural.

ix. Does [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] identify measurable units of excitement.

If no…

x. Turnbull does not identify measurable units of quantified excitement.

If yes…

xi. Turnbull identifies measurable units of quantified excitement.

This position is that what is real-natural expresses itself in social ways. Society, which is a part of what is real-natural, declares through its languages and customs (including its scientific studies), that this feature (excitement) of what is real-natural is quantifiable. The social construction of excitement in quantifiable terms is a part of what is real-natural about excitement. This interpretation resolves the problem of a real-natural world that social perspectives only misrepresent, as found in the extreme social constructionist’s position.

If what is social is real-natural, and vice-versa, then not only is the social construction of excitement a part of what is real-natural, but also, what is real-natural about excitement is a social reality. If the real-natural, as society, is said to conceive of excitement quantifiably, and to identify excitement’s measurable units, then what is real-natural about excitement is that it is quantified via measurable units.

Not incidentally, this position intersects most coherently with what might be referred to as the “realist” position. The realist would posit that our scientific impressions of what is real-natural do accurately represent what is real-natural. This point must be qualified with the observation that the realist might baulk at the definition of scientific production merely as a contingent, socially constructed, institution. Given that Counting sheep is occupied with Bergsonian-inspired concerns regarding the tendency to socially (mis)construct all features of the world quantifiably, this realist position, in avoiding themes of social constructionism, is not included in these considerations.

4. Incorrect real-natural social constructionist. The social construction of excitement is a part of what is real-natural about excitement, but is incorrect about excitement.

i. – vi. as per position 1.

vii. What is socially constructed is a part of what is real-natural.

viii. If what is socially constructed is a part of what is real-natural, [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] is a part of what is real-natural.

ix. Does [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] identify measurable units of excitement.

If no…

x. Turnbull does not identify measurable units of quantified excitement.

If yes…

xi. Turnbull identifies measurable units of quantified excitement.

The incorrect real-natural social constructionist responds…

v. [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] is a part of what is real-natural and is incorrect that excitement is quantifiable.

vi. Turnbull does not identify measurable units of quantified excitement.

Alternatively, the interpretation might be that what is real-natural, socially posits that excitement is quantifiable when actually it is not. The curiosity in this position is that what is real-natural is presenting as a social form of the real-natural, which in perceiving a feature (excitement) of what is real-natural, is incorrect about that feature (excitement) of what is real-natural.

What is forwarded in this position is not that incorrect socially constructed quantifications of excitement represent a mutual exclusion between (i) the social, scientific, perspective/construction of excitement, and (ii) what is real-natural about excitement. Instead, as per position 3, both the social construction of excitement, and what is real-natural about excitement, are simultaneously social and real-natural. Whilst units of measurement do not exist for this feature (excitement) of what is real-natural, what is socially constructed is not said to be excluded from what is real-natural when conceiving of excitement incorrectly (quantifiably).

Rather, what is being forwarded in this position is that what is real-natural comprises all possible social perspectives/constructions of this feature (excitement) of what is real-natural. Every social perspective/construction, according to this position, comes from nowhere but from what is real-natural, after all. One of these perspectives/constructions is that which posits that excitement is quantifiable, even when there are actually no measurable units comprising such quantification, and therefore no quantification of excitement whatsoever.

A reason that such units of measurement do not exist, and that the quantification of excitement is incorrect, could relate to the way in which excitement manifests. Turnbull perceives a shift in the degree or size of the excitement that manifests. However, for this position it could be stated that excitement emerges environmentally, structurally, and circumstantially. With each set of different circumstances comes a different kind, rather than a different magnitude, of excitement.

If the kind of excitement that manifests is contingent upon the environment in which it manifests, there can be no standardised units across differently manifested excitements. This problematises the possible quantification of, and comparison between, an individual’s manifestations of excitement over time. Similarly it contests the possibility of comparing the excitement between different individuals. Each instantiation of excitement is instead qualitatively incomparable, if it is deemed to manifest circumstantially.

It so follows that this prevents the possibility that a group of citizens exists in a more, or a less, excited state in any particular era. Each body of subjectivities is qualitatively, rather than quantitatively, differently excited over time. The condition on which Turnbull’s argument relies is seemingly refuted.

However, there is a reading of Turnbull in which we must, ironically, acknowledge that he is in agreement, seemingly unintentionally, with this final position presented above. If excitement is a qualitatively rather than a quantitatively differentiated phenomenon, if there are no measurable units via which we can standardise its experience, then no population’s excitement can be said to be more or less than another population’s. Turnbull inadvertently coheres with this position in stating that there has been no more exciting time to be alive than today. If no time is more nor less exciting than any other time, then it so eventuates that there has never been a more exciting time than today.



Categories: Politics

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