Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Political principles for objective politics

Dissident Politics published an article at Daily Kos on the ideology needed to make politics more objective than it now is. The article is here and reproduced below.

Incoherent politics
At one time, politics and political rhetoric more or less made sense most of the time. Or, at least it that’s what it seemed. In the 1990’s, that was true less often and by the early 2000’s politics and political rhetoric appeared to be incoherent nearly all the time. That was from a mostly objective, open-minded point of view.

From subjective liberal democrat and conservative republican contemporary viewpoints, their own side mostly makes sense, while the opposition sounds more and more incoherent at best, and stupid, lunatic and/or treasonous at worst. How independents, about 43% of Americans according to one poll, see both sides today is unclear. Since independents self-identify as independent it probably isn’t much different than how the two sides see each other.

Casting about in liberal, conservative, socialist, capitalist and religious theory or ideology for insight shed no light why politics seemed so incoherent. Other factors, such as corruption of politics by special interest money, or sacrifice of the public interest in service to the two-party system (the press-media included) didn’t really explain the situation either. All of those factors seemed to be secondary to something else. In other words, neither political, economic or religious theory nor a subverted political system offered a convincing basis for an explanation.

Failed ideologies
The sources of mainstream theory completely contradict each other despite being held in the highest esteem by their supporters. In addition, different partisan factions looking at the same issue usually see vastly different facts and their common sense usually arrives at opposite or incompatible policy choices. Simply dismissing the two-party system, including the press-media, as corrupt and/or inept does not explain that situation. What passes for acceptable facts, rhetoric and logic among the partisans in some factions but not others has to be based on inexplicable hysteria/dementia or something else.

The biology of being human
Looking outside the authoritative sources that drive mainstream political opinion provides the answer. Over the last 40 years or so, social and biological sciences have figured out enough of the biology of human cognition to reasonably explain the situation. It turns out that humans are mostly irrational or subjective about how they see reality and apply logic or common sense to what they see. Reasoning or objectivity is much less influential and usually not involved. When humans do apply reason to issues or situations, the point of the exercise is to find the best reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment, not to critically assess the accuracy or logical coherence of our own perceptions of reality and beliefs.

In addition to intuitive-subjective dominance, human intuition in politics operates in a personal moral framework. Politics and policy choices are constrained by morality based on the values of conservative and liberal ideology and how those moral frameworks affect reasoning and perceptions of reality or facts. Social science research indicates that personal ideology is a key driver of false fact beliefs and presenting ideologues real facts has limited capacity to affect personal opinions. When faced with facts or logic that undermines personal belief, humans tend to look for support, while rejecting or ignoring disconfirming evidence. It all happens fast and unconsciously.

This happens all the time in politics and real life. People who deny that anthropogenic climate change is real or caused by humans reject the science and/or scientists who support it. People who distrust vaccines as dangerous and refuse to get their kids vaccinated do the about the same thing. Facts and logic that undercuts personal morals or beliefs are routinely downplayed or rejected.

Given the way the human mind works as a spin machine, it raises two fundamental questions. First, is it better to rationally understand the way the world really is or how we want it to be? Second, is there a better way to approach politics despite our innate unconscious biological urges to distort fact and logic in the name of personal ideology or morals?

Fact and logic is better than fantasy and illogic
Most ideologues of any political, economic or religious persuasion would argue that they do base their politics on facts and logic. There is an implied, if not explicit, consensus that fact- and logic-based politics is better than false fact- and biased logic-based politics. Even without the implicit consensus, the first question’s answer is that fact- and logic-based politics is better. People who disagree are wrong from an objective point of view.

An affirmative answer to the second question becomes apparent if one (i) accepts the foregoing description of the biology of subjective politics and (ii) prefers reality over fantasy. Political beliefs are common sense and unconscious intuitive moral judgments that come with standard political ideologies. Since ideological morals or values bend fact and logic to their dictates, objective politics necessarily has to be based on political ideology or morals that are designed to minimize unconscious distortion of facts and logic.

Three morals for objectivity 
The simplest set of objective morals or political principle that accomplishes the goal of minimizing distortion is to accept the ideology of (1) fidelity to unbiased fact and (2) fidelity to unbiased logic, (3) in service to a broadly but objectively defined public interest. The broad public interest definition is needed to minimize the inevitable fact and logic distortion that narrow ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, capitalism or socialism generates. No existing political, economic or religious theory is based on the modern understanding of the biology of human cognition and that, coupled with ideologies not based on that understanding, serve to make politics incoherent, inefficient and relatively corrupt. No prior theory of politics could be based on modern cognitive science because that knowledge did not exist until now.

Obviously, asking people to switch to a political ideology or moral framework based on fact, logic and serving the public interest asks a quite a lot. Conservatives will reject it as creeping socialism or worse and defend the conservative values, e.g., anti-government, low regulation sentiment, that made America great. Liberals would similarly reject it and defend the liberal values, e.g., the social safety net, that made America great.

However, for people who see the two-party system and its business as usual as incoherent, inept or corrupt, this proposal to base politics on the reality of human biology should be of some interest. If nothing else, it represents the first fundamentally new approach to politics in at least the last millennium or two. Think of the proposal as objective politics v. 2.0, with everything that has gone before as subjective politics v. 1.0.

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