🦋 The butterfly effect: representation as fractal politics

‘As above, so below’

In launching the ‘Science of Democracy’ blog series, Jean-Paul Gagnon argues that democracy’s words require a new narrative. Agustín Goenaga credits Gagnon with a ‘living archive’ of stories. As I have argued previously, the best way of understanding narratives and stories — and their importance to democracy — is through their fractal nature.

Fractal politics?

Self-similarity — and recursion (the repetition of a structure with continual reference, at each stage, to the structure itself) — is applicable to politics in many ways. For example, some advocate ‘fractal democracy’ as a practical model of governance. Says Jasper Sky: ‘Groups of seven people each choose one representative, and those seven representatives then meet to choose a representative, and so on, up several levels of representation…[with] the person at the top of the fractal hierarchy to be held fully accountable at every level.’

A fractal reading of representation

Fractals can be read into theoretical works on representation, such as those of Derrida, who contends that ‘[e]verything begins by referring back (par le renvoi), that is to say, does not begin’. Derrida’s description centres around self-similarity and recursion (‘referring back’), as well as infinite replicability (‘does not begin’).

Effective (and ineffective) representative claims, in fractals

Consider Obama’s effective ‘yes we can’ 2008 slogan. People saw themselves within this slogan, at many (potentially infinite) scales:

Figure 1: An effective representative claim

Figure 2: An ineffective representative claim

Why fractals matter

The mathematician Edward Norton Lorenz is closely associated with chaos theory and the ‘butterfly effect’, by which small initial variations eventually yield drastic outcomes. For example — a person writes a short essay in Canberra; later, I see a broad and rich international academic debate. Fractals are a component of chaos, and a means of visualising it.



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The Science of Democracy

The Science of Democracy

Republished essays, in chronological order, from The Loop’s short essay series on the “science of democracy”