February 21, 2008 - Issue 265
Barack Obama, Fractals and Momentum in Politics
By Dr. Horace Campbell, PhD
Introduction and the force of Ubuntu
The new force of the youth has now
made itself felt in US presidential politics in 2008. This force is
manifest in the tremendous outpouring of the collectivities of different
races, classes, genders, sexual orientation and ages coming forward
to support the candidacy of Barack Obama. Barack Obama was born of an
African father from
At the British Labor party conference
in 2006, the former President of the
Ubuntu and Recursion are at the heart of fractals and at the core of recursion is the concept of memory. What memories are being unearthed in this campaign? How can these memories create a new reference point for the politics of the 21st century? How can a new movement inspire the peoples to tap into their creative energies to build a new peace movement, a new movement to make a break with the destruction of the planet earth and to make a break with the plunder of the present mode of petroleum production? This short statement will argue that after nearly thirty years of traditional republican and democrat politics, there is a desire for hope. It is hope that goes beyond the audacity of the campaign of Obama or the kind of balancing which is inscribed in his book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.
This hope cannot be quantified and this absence of quantification bears positive and negative possibilities. The positive possibilities can emerge from the intentionality of those forces who can build on the new self organizing tools for self emancipation and for moving the politics of this society to a new level. Without the involvement of a new constituency in politics, the Barack Obama campaign can only go so far to ignite the imagination of the youth but this fire will burn out if there are no self similar processes being developed in spaces of peace, spaces of hope and non-racialized spaces.
Even if Obama were to be elected
President of the
Politics of change challenges Newtonian mechanics
Barack Obama is campaigning on the basis of change. In this campaign, his ideas may not be totally formed in relation to the fundamental questions facing the society, but what is clear is that his movement has tapped into a force, energy force that at this moment is unstoppable. The same youths who have grown up in the era of the information revolution and the platforms such as Face Book and My Space are using new social networking techniques that baffle the political pundits, reared in the universities that taught the physics of Isaac Newton and the derivative mechanical concepts of Adam Smith and John Locke. Polling and the laws of predictability that emanate from this mechanical era have fallen short of grasping the new energy as thousands of new actors and actresses surge on to the stage of politics to identify with the break from the old politics of fear and so called War on Terror. Millions are no longer deterred by the fearmongering of the Bush/Cheney leadership or the imagery of Islamic peoples as terrorists. Decent Christians are now seeking the gospel of peace and love instead of hate and religious fundamentalism.
Barack Obama is opposed to the hierarchies
of the whites over blacks and browns and uses his own life as a metaphor
for calling on citizens to come together to save the planet earth. Obama
has gone on record to register his opposition to the structured existence
that places humans as atomized individuals without responsibility to
family or society. Atomized individuals are open to manipulation by
the media and are open to the Hobbesian thinking that society must be
based on conflict and confrontation or ‘war of every man against every
man.’ This manipulation is one form of psychological warfare against
the citizens of the
Mechanistic thinking, whether predicated
in its conflictual radical form of class struggles as dialectical materialism
or in its crude form as ‘winner takes all democracy,’ stresses materialism
along with the predictable and unchanging nature of society. This kind
of thinking encourages the certainty and correctness of one point of
view. According to one scholar who has written on Quantum Society, “Mechanistic
thinking stresses the absolute center, with power radiating outwards,
it stresses fixed role playing and rigid bureaucratic organization.”
In this world view,
Scholars and activists from outside the mainstream of power extensively document the origins and consequences of such philosophies in Quantum Society, emphasizing the need for a “society firmly rooted in … the nature of physical reality itself- a society drawing its laws and principles, its self images and its metaphors from the same laws and principles underlying all else that is the universe”. The consequences of the influence of mechanistic physics to become “the central paradigm of the modern world” will be at the forefront of political, social, and economic issues for present and future generations - manifested in our current ecological crises  . It is for this reason that although Al Gore has been able to present the brilliant expose of global warming in the An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming, he has been incapable of inspiring a new environmental movement to challenge the corporations that are in the forefront of the destruction of the planet earth. To make this leap, Gore would need to go one step further and challenge the certainties of the founding fathers on the United States Constitution and the principles of the enlightenment philosophies. Environmental justice would demand that the energy companies responsible for the crimes against nature be charged for the crimes while our schools would retreat from the wrong headedness of teaching about dominion, whether over other human beings, over other societies or domination over nature.
Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon, leaders of the Enlightenment, “drew nearly every influential social, political, and economic thinker of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries” into a “distorted perception” of nature as an other, “only to be conquered and used”.  As a result of mechanistic physics, which stress the absolute, hierarchies, and atomism (which “encourages a model of relationship based on conflict and confrontation on part against part”), the development of society during the Industrial Revolution further “extended this alienation to our very understanding of human beings and the nature of our labor”.  Binary concepts of race, gender, nationalities and sexuality have become interwoven with the concepts of supremacy and linear ideas of development. Quantum Society embodies central tenets of radical feminist thinking and fractal theory, particularly in the concluding proposal for a plural, holistic society that abolishes the individual/collective dichotomy. Feminist geopolitics seeks to forge a more inclusive mode of politics, one grounded in the local context and therefore honoring multiplicity of meaning in scholarly discourse. 
This kind of feminism enables the thinking citizen to distinguish between Hilary Clinton as a Sexual Decoy and the real questions of millions of women who want a society that challenges sexism, misogyny, rape and violence against women.
Apart from capturing the ideas of the politics and economics of caring that is central to any new economic dispensation in the 21st century, the new revolutionary thinking of the 21st century seeks to transcend the determinism and predictability that was based on the linear road to socialism. This revolutionary thinking seeks to draw from a new reference point for human society and it is in this tradition that F. Capra has called for a The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture. It is an attempt to capture major beliefs of traditional knowledge systems, such as sustainability (related to fractal conceptions of life), the honoring of all peoples’ voices, and an honoring of the spiritual: one which advocates the discovery of one’s purpose and direction in life, deepening our understanding of the “ultimate sanction and meaning of our actions and projects”.  It is this call for a change from the dichotomy between spirit and matter that is coming through from the millions that throng to the rallies of Barack Obama.
Quantum leap and fractals
The idea of change that echoes from
the Obama campaign has been calling for citizens to place themselves
at the center and to empower themselves, firstly with their positive
thinking, “Yes we can,” and more importantly by organizing to intervene
in the political process. In response to this call, a cross section
of the citizens of the
Can the old media and the old ideas
blunt the quantum leap in the consciousness of the youth that is taking
place at the moment? This is the question that emerges from the discourse
of the political talking heads on the same television stations that
were enthusiastic cheer leaders for the illegal war against the peoples
The political pundits of the mainstream
media have been, in the main, brought up within the context of the hierarchies
of Newtonian physics, have been confounded by the bottom up, responsive,
plural and holistic message of the Yes we can campaign. These
hierarchies have been at the base of the faulty democratic traditions
In the novel, Kindred
(Bluestreak Black Women Writers),
the now deceased author, Octavia Butler, sought to capture the fractal
relationship between humans in the
In the most basic sense, fractals are defined as small parts that represent the whole while displaying the same level of complexity at any scale. One other definition of fractals is that they are mathematical models that mimic nature. Shorelines, mountains, snowflakes are fractals in shape and humans in the past have sought to develop ideas and principles that emanate from their link to nature. This is very different from the Cartesian ideas of rationality and the Baconian view of domination over nature. Ron Eglash describes five “essential components” to fractals: recursion (a process wherein the output of one stage becomes the input for the next stage), scaling (shapes which have similar patterns at different ranges), self-similarity (a measurement of just how similar shapes are at different scales), infinity (essential to the connection between fractals and dimension) and fractional dimension (dimensions are not just limited to numbers but could in fact be fractals themselves). 
While there has been ample discussion of fractal theory in numerous disciplines- including astronomy, computer science, medicine, anthropology, and mathematics, on the whole, these disciplines are as of yet underdeveloped, lacking an all-inclusive model for fractal theory.  In the tradition of radical and revolutionary politics, it is the Zapatistas of Mexico (EZLN), who have been propagating a fractal, bottom up theory of politics and change. For our understanding of the Barack Obama phenomenon we want to draw on the ideas of recursion. And in particular the self referencing that is at the heart of the concept of memory.
Is it possible that the political practice of Obama is opening up new possibilities for the understanding of fractal theory as the society begins the break from the old to unleash the new?
Self Organizing and pedantic organization
The unique experiences that Obama
learnt when he was an organizer on the South Side of Chicago taught
him the humility to listen to the ordinary person and it is this methodical
organizing like the repetition of self similarity that one can discern
in the organizational skills of Obama. The political victories in
After these victories, the momentum
began to build and citizens in
Fractal Theory and a new Peace movement
New experiences are being created
in the midst of a new kind of political campaign that builds on these
networks. The traditional media (newspapers, radio and Television stations)
and the campaign of the
Without fresh ideas when
The application of fractal theory
introduces a concept known as politics of recursion, which emphasizes
the nesting loops of iteration, wherein recursion processes produce
an output which then becomes the input for the next process, as is exemplified
by the political feedback loop of militarism, torture, Guantanamo Bay,
private contracting (translate mercenary) companies and the lobbyists
who would like to see the occupation of Iraq for another generation.
The iterations of war and bluster from Bush to
It was the noted physicist, Albert
Einstein, who stated that peace was not just the absence of war but
involves the presence of justice. Militarism, war, genocide and overseas
occupation have produced the feedback loop for the celebration of the
The Obama campaign has been able to draw on the organizational capacities of those who want to turn truth into a political force so that the society can turn from war to peace. This is the basic force behind the momentum of Barrack Obama and his experiences of Chicago has been able to translate this (peace thrust) in order to build up the electoral profile, bringing new teams in every part of the country and creating new training spaces for the energetic to donate, participate and learn the possibilities for change. Yet, because of the limitations of the electoral system that mitigates against direct participation of the citizen beyond voting, it is urgent that those who have understood the need for a new politics build new organizations at new sites of politics.
This new urgency is especially the
case in the peace movement that has been unable to build on to the aspirations
of the masses of the people for justice. Five years after the illegal
Because of the intricate relationship between the US politics and the politics of the Middle East, there were elements of the US peace movement who have been constrained because they have failed to oppose all forms of occupation, whether in Palestine or in Iraq. One of the byproducts of the Obama campaign outside the realm of electoral politics will be for the thinkers and organizers of a new peace and justice movement to build a constituency for a thorough challenge to US militarism so that there can be a downsizing of the military and a conversion of the military industrial complex.
Conversion of the military industrial complex and expenditures for reconstruction and transformation.
To draw from the ideas of Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. on peace and new possibilities makes a fundamental
break with the ideas of the ‘thing-oriented society.’ It was forty years
ago in the midst of the
In this speech made at the
The machines and computer technology of the time of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have been dwarfed by the exponential changes in technology since the information revolution and the biotechnical advances. Millions of citizens are living in a society that is in the midst of a scientific and technological revolution but where the ideas around which politics are organized are the ideas of the industrial revolution. And, even though the industrial revolution brought about the destruction of the planet and millions are now rendered unemployable because of the new forms of economic relations, the economists are still wedded to the ideas of unlimited profit for a few (otherwise called trickle down economics). The promises of the convergence of biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and cognitive technology could open room for tremendous changes in the organization of society. But these changes are only possible if there is a break with the old ways of teaching and the old ways of doing business.
It is in this area of the new mode of economics where the advisors of Obama and Obama himself have exposed their subservience to old thinking about economic recovery. The speeches about recovering manufacturing jobs from all of the candidates do not reflect a real understanding of the depth of the current economic recession. Economic liberalization along with the casino type transactions on Wall Street that had lifted most forms of regulation led to the ‘scandals’ of Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom and many others. Financialization of the economy had created its own recursive process to the point where the banks, investment houses and the insurance companies could not really explain the complex hoax that had been woven without oversight by democratic forces. This was the real nested loop of speculators.
Yet, it is this loop of hedge fund managers and speculators that influenced government policies and young people were called on to make sacrifices for these forces along with the top executives of the oil companies. The military expansion under the Bush administration has reached the point that in the proposed 2009 budget of US $3.1 trillion, about a third of this budget is being directed toward the military and security sectors at the moment when there are tax cuts for the wealthy and reduced spending on health, education and anti-poverty programs.
In the spirit of the old which is
dying and the new which is to be born, these speculators have unleashed
their thinkers into the campaign of Barrack Obama so that the ideas
about economic restructuring falls woefully short of the vision for
change. As in the old politics, the hedge fund managers and war profiteers
are financing all campaigns so that whoever wins, they will continue
to influence the politics of
From all corners there are demands
for a fundamental restructuring of the society in order to repair the
human spirit. It is the escape from spiritual death and the repair of
the human spirit which is driving the youth of today. This repair and
healing of humans will inspire the repair of the spaces they inhabit
so that bridges are built to connect humans and for cleaning up the
Creativity and new potentials
The exciting possibilities from the
new technologies being mobilized for solar energies can in the very
short term break the destructive hold of the petroleum companies over
the politics and the military of the society. Oil companies and other
corporations have a vested interest in the old forms of economic relations.
In the last year, one company, Exxon Mobil, posted profits of over US$
40 billion when millions of citizens lost their jobs and millions of
home owners lost their homes. Democratizing control over these corporations
requires an informed population that is not diverted into day dreaming
by the same corporations that control the old media. For fundamental
democratic change to be realized, the insurgent political campaign that
is now emerging needs to go beyond the political campaign to new areas
of engagement. Lawrence Lessig, the noted scholar of
Because of the importance of the
creative commons in the arena over the struggles for information freedom
and cyber democracy the concepts, ideas and organizational forms of
the new politics will have to open up the appetite of the youth for
self discovery. There will have to be new schools for political change.
These schools will challenge the promise to turn humans into cyborgs,
robots and unthinking consumers. It is this mindless consumption that
is driving the so called stimulus package that is before the citizens
The ideas of white supremacy promise to mobilize this scientific knowledge for a few at the top. These eugenic conceptions also inform and inspire some of the scientists who are researching the future use of cognitive technologies to develop super-humans in the era of technological Singularity.  Apartheid Medicine follows the apartheid conditions of the city and the so called health care plans of the candidates cannot deal with the fundamental change required to turn around the cancer epidemic in the society.
It is on the question of health for all (physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health) where the ideas of quantum society and fractals require a true democratization of information and democratization of knowledge. This democracy calls on citizens to be engaged in the struggles to reverse global warming and is far from the democracy of voting once every four years. Democratic control over the mobilization of the converging technologies will deepen the break and set a new recursive process where the creative commons and the democratic playing field will unleash new possibilities for human creativity.
Spirits of Peace and Spirits of Change
Enlightenment philosophies have undoubtedly shaped world history, and have remarkably excluded the Spirit, the driving force of human beings. One can point to the unprecedented scientific and technological changes since the dawn of the era of mechanics. However, the mechanical era has now brought humanity to the point of possible extinction or in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., close to spiritual death. It is this extinction that is also calling for a radical break with the old forms of economic organization. In many ways, the revolutionary ideas of the information revolution remain far ahead of the ideas of political organizing. This new organizing can, in the short run, draw on the will to peace and the spiritual energies mobilized for peace and justice.
This will to peace further underscores
discrepancies between the vaunted Western ideation system and the rationality
of the First Nation peoples: the former relies heavily on domination
over nature and the latter relies on the nested linkages between humans
and nature. In
Ubuntu and energizing millions
This short statement seeks to introduce
a unified emancipatory approach: liberating humanity from the mechanical,
competitive, and individualistic constraints of Enlightenment philosophy,
and re-unifying humans with each other, the Earth, and spirituality.
In tandem with much of the current discourse on fractal theory, this
intervention calls for a revolutionary paradigmatic transformation -
but one that is intrinsic to human knowledge and human capacity to intervene
to stop the destruction of the planet. Is it possible that Barack Obama
is drawing from a spiritual and intellectual force that is far more
profound than his Ivy League training at
Obama and his political team cannot bring about the change needed for peace and justice. Neo-liberalism has run its course and the chaos and ruin has forced citizens in all parts of the world to desire change. Obama is, however, correct to point to the need for citizens to get involved. Another fractal principle is here important, that of self organization.
The interconnections between momentum,
fractal theory and the Einstein insights have created an unprecedented
change in the politics of the
One writer has used the equation, Obama equals momentum. This principle of momentum has taken root in the politics. Under this concept of momentum the faster the campaigning is gaining traction among all sections of the society, the harder it will be to stop the campaign. This momentum is generating positive vibrations among the youth. It is the kind of energy force that cannot be quantified hence difficult to verbalize with the mental tools inherited from the mechanical era.
Momentum means that when a person or object is moving, regardless of what it is... the harder it is to stop that person or object. When one consider "momentum" in terms of politics, this means that if a presidential candidate, such as Obama, sees and/or experiences a gain and/or surge in his message of peace, hope and change with millions singing, Yes we can, there could be nothing, not even bullets that can intervene in this momentum. This is the basis for a possible quantum leap in US politics to bring a new mode of politics for the 21st Century.
Obama is not a revolutionary but
he has been caught up in a revolutionary moment in world history. The
electoral campaign of Obama is riding on a wave of peace and change
desired by ordinary Americans. There are limitations to the electoral
project insofar as the task of restructuring
A clear understanding of the nature of US politics and the limitations of the structures of the in-built conservatism of the system means that Barrack Obama would only be trapped by this social system if those who are being drawn into the audacity of hope do not build their own political movement and political organization. It is only a bottom up movement that can prevent Barack Obama from becoming a tool for the Wall Street forces. Self mobilization, self organization and emancipatory ideas will create new spaces so that the political space will be expanded beyond the media, the lobbyists and the ritual spaces of the White House, Congress and the Senate Chambers. Safe and clean neighborhoods, children who are reared to respect all human beings and a society that support repair of the planet earth awaits these new self organizing forces.
The campaign of Barack Obama is the story of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. These are the people who are participating because they believe that politics can mean something again. It is apt to conclude with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
For more on feminist geopolitics please see Gillian Rose’s
and Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge
Eglash, R. (1999). African
Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design.
 Connell, B. & Zeitlyn, D. (2003). Ethnogenesis and fractal history on an African frontier: Mambila-Njerep-Mandulu. Journal of African History, 44, 117-138.
Singularity is the era of super humans propped up by artificial
intelligence. For one version of this technological singularity see,
Raymond Kurzweil, The
Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Dr. Horace Campbell, PhD, is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University in Syracuse New York. His book, Rasta and Resistance From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney is going through its fifth edition. He had contributed to many other edited books, most recently, "From Regional Military de-stabilization to Military Cooperation and Peace in South Africa" in Peace and Security in Southern Africa (State and Democracy Series), edited by Ibbo Mandaza. He has published numerous articles in scholarly journals and is currently writing a book on the Wars against the Angolan peoples. Click here to contact Dr. Campbell.