Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book "Black Swan" is an expansion of the ideas that he put forward in his book "Fooled by Randomness- The Scandal of Prediction" . As regular readers will know, I think that the philosophical ideas that Taleb puts forward have profound political implications. In particular ideology as a Grand Theory- that is a systematised explanation of everything- falls to pieces in the face of the uncertainty that is the basis of empiricism.
Intuitively I have always distrusted grand theories, and as an undergrad and as a research student I proceeded from the basis of a partial theorist- in other words that most human activities, especially socially interactive disciplines like politics, are not closed systems, isolated from their context, but open ones. Marxists, by making a statement such as "All history is the history of class struggle" show that they believe that history proceeds from the basis of an ideological driver and thus is, by definition, fundamentally a closed system.
Liberal philosophers, such as Mill, Hayek and Popper, are far more interested in the problems of uncertainty. Their empiricism implies limits to human theorising and therefore Liberalism is by definition a partial theory, and by the implied acceptance of human activities being within an open system also accept that their ideas incorporate structurally the idea of uncertainty.
Taleb by describing the fundamental uncertainties of how humans perceive and interact, has mirrored the work of his friend and collaborator Benoit Mandelbrot, whose work on fractal geometry has pointed out mathematically the fundamental uncertainties at the very root of maths. The "fuzziness" of fractals is mirrored across the entire structure of the Universe- including the Big Bang, where it becomes clear that that the precise beginning of the Universe breaks down into the fractal fuzziness of quantum mechanics.
Even more critically, Taleb talks about the high impact of what the US military inelegantly call "unknown unknowns". These "Black Swan events", are often so transformational that they require a complete alteration to are pre-existing world view, which again carries a lightly inelegant moniker: "the paradigm shift". In fact, humans shift their perceptions to try to rationalise the random.
So what, you may say, has this piece of esoterica got to do with political ideology?
The fact is that our politicians do not understand why they are being dishonest with their electorates. They do not understand that any given policy has little direct effect that can be predicted, but may have a large number of unpredicted effects- not all positive. Of course when politicians talk about unpopular or nasty things they call it "making hard choices", little understanding that the effects were, from their point of view, more or less random- no choice involved.
Even more fundamentally, the question of closed political ideology forces political leaders to respond to events in inflexible, pre-determined and usually wrong ways.
The only intellectually honest response is to focus not on political policies and planning, but on the political mechanism itself. The question then becomes not one of desired policy outcomes, but rather the high themes of political process. Simple goals, based on the knowledge that politics is indeed an open system. It is only by working on establishing open societies that we can establish a political structure that is robust enough to maintain the Liberal idea of freedom.
That requires political leaders to admit what they do not know.
It probably requires the reversal of the increasing separation of politicians into a separate, and increasingly professional cadre, as lamented by Peter Oborne in his book "The Triumph of the Political Class". It will also require the deconstruction and simplification of what he state chooses to do. In order to be robust enough to face the periodic crises of the unexpected, if it is to retain the values of freedom and openness, democratic society will need to focus on the uncertain reality, rather than the comforting myths.
This is a challenge that few understand- but our government and society will need to get a whole lot smarter, if it is to survive at all.