Piecemeal Social engineering and the politics of the critical rationalist attack on holism

If one wants a brief political introduction to the confused mind of this conservative thinker, then look no further than his essay on piecemeal and holistic social engineering. This essay, written in 1944 is tragically bad, it shows the depths of his technocratic understanding of politics (as engineers buiding and modifying institutions), the perculiar conservative motivations behind his confidence in the fundamental similarity of the natural and social sciences and the principles of experimentation, test and falsification therein and the lengths he will go to to misrepresent the ultimate target of his scientific scepticism, namely Marxism, or any utopian or holistics (much of the same thing in Popper's book)and their pretensions towards total critique and total transformation of the prevailing order.

There are fundamental incongruities in Popper's argument. Many stem from the idea that social processes can be observed like natural laws as there are certain features of social organisation that act in a law like limiting way upon what can arise. Popper constantly conflates what is proper to the domain of scientifc inquiry with conclusions about the possiblities of change in social and political life. In his mind-set piecemeal social reform is the only form of 'social engineering' that is in actually practiced. This involves adaption of institutions and the creation of new ones (examples given include the decision of a monopoly to reduce prices). In Poppers view holistic social transformations only really ever effect piecemeal change, yet they do so in a manner that negates the benefits of such change, as the prejudice of total critique circumscribes a proper estimation of the effects of such practices. In fact, for Popper, the perculair human problem of social engineering lies in that it can never fully predict its effects on social behaviour, given such factors as the variability of outcomes and reactions. Because Holistic transformations can not be tested (as a total transofrmation is necessary for the experiemnt to have effectiveity) this precludes the possiblity of there being a proper scientifc basis to such meta-adjustment. In fact, Popper draws this conclusion: 'The holistics approach is incompatbile with a truly scientific attitude'.

Yet we are lead immediately to question in what sense piecemeal social engineering (that is to say minor reforms) are compatible with a truly scientifc atittude. They are unfortuantely, at least in the manner that Popper construes the question, wholely inadequate. What Popper provides as evidence of the possiblity of minor social reform lies in the practical experience of the individuals involved. He confesses this is not properly scientific (as in the example of someone who knows when to queue for a cinema ticket in order to ensure a reservation), but pre-scientifc - nevertheless, the practical experience forms the basis on which social engineers can make measured calculations as to technologically based social intervention. Yet because of his perculiar technocratic construction of politics, he only judges the more holsitc total transformation on the basis of such a conception of politics. All of a sudden experience is lost from the equation, Popper simply does not see how a holistic change could be based in mass collective experience and shared interests - he sees the aritculation of these as being utopian excesses of his type of constructed political agency. He needs to posit an especially scientific character to his enemy inorder to discredit it, he can only view social experiementation and knowledge production in his own narrow way, within his own blinkered bourgeois mentatily of isolated individuals. Hence projects that claim the necessity of a total transformation, for popper do not derive this from the more quotidian pre-scientific experiences, but from a pre-established schema that is beyond question: hence a political project is reduced to a validity claim in science, and they never meet Poppers standards. Yet it has long been an argument within Marxism that the possiblity of a different society lies very much within the existing configuration of soceity, that the social forms characteristic of the contemporary world and the experiene of the social agents within it, allow for the possiblity of their overcoming, and in some cases are posited as a necessary overcoming. Popper conflates very different conceptions of holistic social change implicitly judging them by his own, unstated totalisations. Whole states and whole histories of determinative, creative social agency are ignored here.