Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why non-ideological fact and reason trump ideology

Like religions, there are probably hundreds of political ideologies with various levels of public support. Those ideologies compete against each other. They espouse and rationalize everything from mainstream conservatism, Libertarianism and evangelical Christianity to anarchy and Fascism to socialism, communism and mainstream liberalism. One could argue that if all possible points of view are already represented, then why even consider yet another? Existing ideologies provide the basis on which all political debate and policies are perceived and assessed. According to that perception of reality and logic, anything calling itself new is actually old and falls within one or more of the existing ideologies.

Fortunately, both the perception of reality and the logic are wrong. There is something different in politics. There is no constitutional authority that demands politics to be based on a traditional, commonly accepted or any other political or religious ideology. Politics under America's two-party system is portrayed and perceived to be a competition between competing ideologies, mainly conservative vs. liberal vs. religious vs. secular. Essentially everyone among the public more or less sees it that way. Despite that overwhelming vision of U.S. politics, there is another vision of politics that very few people, if any, have overtly espoused.

And, it is profoundly different. Facts and logic that conservative sees is usually very different from facts and logic that liberals see. That is a fact, not an opinion.

Dissident Politics posits politics as a competition, not between ideologies, but between competing special interests and the public interest. According to that point of view or framework, special interests argue for influence, advantage, power and money among themselves. Special interest arguments are typically grounded in an ideological rationale and, usually, rhetoric asserting that the special interest favors serves the public interest better than the alternatives. That ideological grounding masks the real nature of politics and the fact that the competition is one or more special interests against the public interest. Special interests can and do compete against each other, but some or all of them can still be competing against the public interest. Often the competition is special interest vs. special interest vs. the public interest.

If that doesn't seem to make sense, consider an example based on real politics. A conservative state governor can assert that when he and the legislature takes away most collective bargaining rights for unionized state employees, that best serves the public interest. Obviously, most liberals and the state employees would argue that that harms the public interest. The fact of the matter is that the new law could, on balance, help, harm or be neutral toward the public interest. That fight is framed in ideological terms. Assuming anyone asks the question, a rare event, and that the people involved are willing to give an honest answer, even rarer, both sides would vehemently assert that their vision serves the public interest while the opposition's position harms it. Both sides can't be right, but one or both could be wrong. How could both be wrong? It could be the case that instead of wiping out bargaining rights, a compromise would in fact have worked better for the public interest than what either side wanted.[1]

It if fair to ask why anyone should care if politics is grounded in ideology since ideologies frame and represent all possible points of view and rationales? That is the best that can be done, right? The simple answer to that is that those assertions supporting ideologies are all wrong. One can argue that the role of standard ideology in politics is harmful, maybe even lethally toxic. Although most, maybe 98%, of people with strongly held ideological beliefs will reject that this aspect of human nature applies to themselves, it is scientific fact, not opinion, that strongly held ideology of any kind can and usually does subtly but powerfully distort both facts (perceptions of reality) and logic. The evidence of that aspect of innate human nature is overwhelming and painfully obvious.[2]

Unfortunately, many or most Americans would reject that fact because the ramifications are very uncomfortable, to say the least. When someone or some thing, e.g., modern social science, discovers  a biological basis to question the nature and adverse real world impacts of ideology, that is usually tantamount to questioning their personal values and identity. That kind of inquiry, backed by science or not, doesn't sit well with hardly anyone, ideologue or not. Regardless of discomfort, it is fair and defensible to argue that ideology in politics causes more harm than good. That is one reason that the core validity of two-party politics as usual is open to question and critical analysis.

One key question that Dissident Politics is raising is whether there is a segment of the U.S. public willing to consider the possibility that two-party politics primarily serves the two-parties and the system they built at the expense of the public interest. That system arguable imposes adverse effects or costs on most average Americans. It is probably the case that at least some of those costs are unnecessary and detrimental to the public interest. The rise of independents (43%) over democrats (30%) and republicans (26%) suggests that there could be a slice of independents in the U.S. population who is willing to at least consider a new way of thinking about politics and who or what it actually works for.

Independents are just beginning to fight for their rights against the two political parties, so there may be some sympathy there for rethinking politics. It is unlikely that more than a small few, maybe 0.5%, who are hard core liberal or conservative ideologues would even accept the possibility that their ideology and its impacts on their views could possibly be detrimental to the public interest in any way. It is hard to know how most average or moderate supporters of the two parties would feel about these questions. Of course, partisans on both sides would assert that the other side's ideology does, on balance, harm the public interest and both sides could very well be right about that. The opinion here is that they are both right about it.

1. That argument can be validly criticized as too squishy since the "public interest" is defined to mean what each side wants it to mean, i.e., getting what they want. For the argument be be meaningful, the public interest has to be defined. That definition is the topic for a later post. Not everything asserted here can be explained in one post.

2. Ramifications of ideological impacts (innate biases), i.e., distortion of facts and logic, have been studied for decades. Some groups, mainly independents, are beginning to raise questions about adverse impacts of ideology (bias) on politics. What is raised here, while maybe rare, is not unique. The science has matured to the point that it is time to raise direct questions about every aspect of the two-party system. There is even solid evidence that science-driven politics in at least some arenas is effective in serving the public interest. The questions this raises include who or what the two-party system, i.e., both parties and their politicians, pundits, major campaign contributors and most or all of the mainstream press or media, is primarily working for. Itself or the rest of us?

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