Saturday, February 6, 2016

One year anniversary; A progress summary

The widely known and feared but respected Dissident Politics (DP) political juggernaut celebrates its one-year anniversary on February 10. What year it has has been! The DP project continued building on 10 years searching for answers with the search driven by discontent with the two-party system and curiosity about why American politics is so irrational and disconnected from reality. How to fix it was the other driving inquiry. Great strides in understanding were made (the epiphany). Progress on how to fix things hit a massive brick wall.

The rational politics epiphany
DP's early years of looking for answers eventually made it clear that if there were any answers, they were to be found in the social sciences. The biology and psychology of human cognition and, to a lesser extent, political science. After reading and thinking about the social science, it became clear in July of 2015 that a simple political ideology or set of morals can be stated that are designed to reduce the reality (fact) and common sense (logic) distorting power of normal subjective or intuitive human cognition.

The objective ideology or morals concept is simple: People can adopt a belief in reliance on (i) unbiased facts and (ii) unbiased logic to find and implement the political policies that best serve (iii) an objectively defined conception of the public interest. Based on current understanding of how the human mind sees and thinks about the world and issues it faces, there is no insurmountable biological or legal barrier that blocks adopting a political ideology that strives for greater objectivity and grounding in unbiased facts. Of course, perfect objectivity is impossible for most or all human to ever attain in politics. Humans are intrinsically intuitive-emotional and morally intolerant and judgmental creatures. The objective politics concept is described, e.g., here, here and here. Some of the supporting social science is described in DP book reviews here and here.

Humans are biologically incapable of perfect objectivity or rationality because that's just how we evolved. Nonetheless, there is no reason to believe that American society couldn't move in that direction if there was a will to do so. Of course, that assumes one believes that politics based at least somewhat more on reason and unspun reality would be an improvement over the current irrational, fantasy-based nonsense that passes for political thinking and rhetoric under our current two-party system. It all depends on how one sees these things.
The vicious and the civilized right
In the early years, DP's belief in the vacuous, reality-detached basis of American politics came from many hours of interaction with the fine folks who spend time at hard core conservative websites such as National Review Online, Breitbart, The Blaze, The Federalist and Washington Times. In that time, DP interacted with hundreds or maybe several thousands of different people in an exchange of views on dozens of different issues. Dealing with those playful conservatives was enlightening.

The fine folks at those websites tended to characterize DP personally, or DP's pragmatic, rational take on issues, with insightful observations such as stupid, liar, idiot, brain washed by the left, intentionally uninformed, anti-Semite, racist, communist, fool, heartless and, from one puzzlingly irate libertarian, Nazi. DP learned very little from those folks. There were some thoughtful conservatives who could rise above emotion and engage in a sustained civilized discussion. Despite the occasional civility and sometimes reasonable rationality, it was clear that for the civilized, facts and logic were both trapped by conservative, anti-government ideology or morals.

What about the uncivilized? Well, for that crowd, there's no point trying to discuss anything unless one agrees with what they know to be true and right. For them politics is akin to religion. It is infallible and not open to question or debate.

Overall, policy choices that were liberal or otherwise not considered conservative were simply unacceptable to essentially every conservative at every site for every issue. Non-conservative solutions to problems received little or no consideration whatever. The degree of lockstep uniformity among conservatives was astounding. Of course, that comes from an objective pragmatist and seeing a narrow ideology at work. To conservatives, there is nothing remarkable about it at all. DP stopped spending much time at conservative sites, having learned what there is to know and tiring of either getting kicked off of websites (National Review, twice) or being called really nasty names, usually for no particular reason (Breitbart was the clear winner in that hotly contested category).

All in all, no subset of conservatives would buy into the objective or rational politics concept. To the extent they understood the issue, they uniformly believe that they already were objective and fully grounded in facts and logic. The only issue from their point of view was the sheer irrationality and self-delusion of liberals and independents who disagreed with them. In other words, the intuitive biology of human cognition applied only to the political opposition, not themselves. In short, conservative ideology doesn't let most conservatives understand the concept.

Observations that American politics is ideologically narrow is not unique to DP. DP sees American political ideology (liberal, conservative, capitalist, socialist, Christian, etc) as generally too small to accommodate unbiased facts and unbiased logic, which are what they are without regard to anyone's ideology. Because of that American political ideology or morals are seriously logic- and reality-distorting. Again, that's just how the biology human cognition coupled with ideology and a morally judgmental nature works in the real world with real people. Its all about the biology.

The restrained independents
In August 2015, a few weeks after the July rational politics epiphany, DP began submitting articles for the online site IVN. IVN graciously accepted DP's essays for publication. IVN is focused on independent voters, voter registration and electoral reform. DP frequently comments there on articles by other authors and in response to reader's comments on DP essays, which IVN publishes under the clever pseudonym "Dissident Politics." Many of the folks at IVN are more familiar than most with the concept on rational politics and its biological basis.

The response to the concept has been polite but restrained. Many of the people there appear to be relatively open minded and seem to understand the subjective-intuitive nature of politics and undesirable aspects thereof. Nonetheless, they cannot see any way to make it work in practice, possibly because they understand at some level the difficulty of getting people to be more rational about politics. Despite their skepticism, they are a polite, informative bunch of folks and pleasant to deal with.

The liberals
In mid-2015 DP began spending serious time interacting with people at liberal websites such as Daily Kos, Salon, Mother Jones and Crooks and Liars. DP blogs on Daily Kos under the pseudonym pragmatic1, e.g., describing how to make politics objective and arguing that reason (logic) can be compatible with our inherently intuitive-irrational nature. So far, the liberal crowd has been much more polite than the conservatives, more or less like the independents, but harder to engage in sustained back and forth than civilized conservatives (one anarchist has been the exception so far). So far, the concept of objective politics isn't resonating with liberals any more than it is with independents.

The early going suggests that most liberals, like conservatives, see problems with ideologically-based fact and logic distortion as being confined to conservatives. Nonetheless, liberals are generally more open minded and a few seem to be concerned or puzzled about what it is that DP keeps going on about. For some, something seems to feel not quite right, but they just can't put a finger on it.

The brick wall
To complete the round up of DP's first year, DP's quest to fix politics hit a massive brick and concrete wall. First, fixing politics means convincing people to reject the ideology and/or morals of the left and right in favor the ideology and/or morals of objective politics. resistance to questioning one's own ideology or morals is no surprise, but it isn't encouraging either. This is an aspect of human cognitive biology - we dislike challenges to our deeply held beliefs and resist serious self-questioning.

Unfortunately, American society continues to drift away from reason and toward intuition, subjectivity and emotion-based moral judgment. Fear, anger, hate, distrust and misinformation continue to dominate calm, intelligent reason and cold, hard fact. That's good for both parties and the special interests who fund them. Unfortunately, it's a very bad thing for the public interest from an objective point of view. DP holds an objective point of view.

The brick wall consists of the bricks of human cognitive biology and the unconscious biases and unconscious, intolerant moralistic judgments that flow therefrom. The concrete that holds the bricks together is constitutionally protected free speech including the relentless pander and spin (as previously defined and analyzed) that dominates political world views and policy choices.

Thinking about this led to a surprising question about the net value of free speech in American politics.

The surprising question
The unexpected question that DP's inquiries led to was whether free speech in the two-party system is actually more harmful than helpful to the public interest. To DP's knowledge, no one has seriously asked that question of American politics in recent times. Everyone simply, especially the federal courts, assumes that free speech has to be more good than bad.

However, there is no evidence to prove that point is true. By contrast, there is evidence that spin in politics can be at least potentially more harmful than beneficial to the public interest, e.g., (i) fact check organizations suggest that there is a lot of untrue speech and shaded truth in two-party political rhetoric, and (ii) hundreds of millions of special interest anonymous money in political elections. Answering the relative harm vs. benefit question is beyond DP's capacity. The answer depends on how one defines the "public interest", which is currently a meaningless, purely subjective concept in American politics.

The year ahead
DP is aware of the adage, allegedly Einstein's: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Trying to convince people to reject subjective political ideology-morals in favor of objectivity may be insanity. Maybe DP is years or generations too early for the objective politics message to resonate. Maybe DP is the wrong messenger. Maybe American politics under the Constitution and free speech can never rise above its current overwhelmingly irrational basis. The arguments between the left and right today, or variants, do sound an awful lot like the arguments between (1) the Founding Fathers who never came close to resolving their differences in their lifetimes and (2) competing politicians, tribes, societies and nations from the beginning of recorded human history. In DP's opinion, that latter concern is unnecessarily defeatist or pessimistic. 

Despite the difficulties, it's worth another year of effort to float the objective politics concept to see if it resonates with any segment of American society. The religious community seems unpromising, but there's no sense prejudging everyone in a broad group. A few initial contacts with online atheist-agnostic communities have not been encouraging. One small but seemingly exceptionally open-minded and receptive group is at Something to Consider. Exploring those folks merits is on the agenda.

Well politics fans, that wraps up another (OK, the only) year in review for the explosive DP juggernaut.

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