Monday, June 12, 2006

Politics as Usual

Most bloggers are extremely hard pressed to leave politics out of all their posts, and their opinions usually creep into the conversation once in a while - some more often than others.

The interesting thing is that I'm reading blogs whose writers are from every side of the political spectrum. That guy's a hardcore fundamentalist christian conservative, that girl's a socialist, that dude's a fiscal conservative, that girl's a libertarian. All bright people, but divided on the most fundamental topics. All write brilliantly in their field of expertise, but they can't agree on even a starting point for how to balance a national budget.

To sound wise, people who want to make peace between the camps say things like, "it's a matter of perspective" or "they have different priorities". I think this is a terrible thing to say. Look at science.

Real science, done by real scientists, results in everything from vaccines to airplanes to search engines. If you put these scientists in a room together and have them talk, they'll have a hundred different priorities and perspectives. That scientist is a money-grubber. That one is trying to make the world a better place. That one is simply curious. That one wants to fund his own "super-think-tank". Blah blah blah.

But these scientists don't disagree on fundamental issues in science. Excepting, of course, the <1% "crazed loon insisting he's a scientist".

Sure, they disagree on lesser issues (that may seem like core issues to the people involved). They can even disagree on the stability and importance of a given core issue. But you won't hear one of them saying, "well, I think it's most critical to take gravity into account when building a jet" and another saying "no, you're totally wrong, it's all about the atmosphere." They both know that both need to be taken into account.

In defending the massive variety of opinions in the political arena, you can say, "it's a burgeoning field, not as well known as other sciences" or similar. But even in a burgeoning field, there are obvious lines of discussion, even if there are disagreements as to the best simulation. Economics is a burgeoning field, and there are many opinions as to what the algorithm really is, and what the best approach is. But the people aren't arguing over whether money is something economics should be concerned about...

Of course, the best argument is "it's not a science!"

It's also the worst argument.

You're telling me that our political decisions shouldn't take science into consideration? Science has extended lives, connected billions of people, brought us into outer space, and given us digital watches. It has proven itself to be the most effective source for stable, reliable improvements in every industry and even in many religions and communities.

What else would you rather use? What else has a higher success rate? What else is more efficient?

Every time I see four people I respect posting from four radically differing political views, and seeing the comments field fill with people who deeply hate one side or another, I get angry. Political parties are more a matter of convenience than anything else, and the idea that someone's worthiness can be identified by their affiliation is a flawed idea.

It just stuns me that people who are good people, brilliant people, can hate each other because of a political affiliation. It stuns me just as much that these people have such radically differing political affiliations.

It's not just where they want our limited resources to go first: it's that they want them applied in literally the opposite way. They can't even agree that something is worth spending any money or laws on.

This seems bizarre to me. Really, deeply bizarre.

We have data. We have tools of analysis. But we don't use them. We refuse to acknowledge serious long-term problems with our favorite political decisions. Sure, the data is sometimes rough and sometimes flat out unreliable. Sure, you can't reproduce experiments or isolate variables. But in many situations, these bright people back decisions which have been flat out proven wrong.

I can see the general public backing asinine choices... but these are brilliant people. Scientists. Skeptics.

Why?

5 comments:

Textual Harassment said...

Nobody gets mad about science because you can always prove when someone is wrong and why. Either they made a mistake or they are making stuff up.

Political philosophies are almost never a result of logic but of bias and emotional responses. When talking to someone who thinks differently from us we can usually debate the issues calmly, but when we get down to the bias, it's hard to think about that person rationally. They become UNREASONABLE and just plain WRONG.

Bias is something that has to be recognized and eliminated internally, by the individual. No amount of outside pressure or proof will convince him to examine himself.

PS. I HATE the word verification thingy. I always get it wrong. Isn't there some script that can do it for me?

Craig Perko said...

My point is that these people will do scientific verification on things like what kind of coffee is best, or whether they should rent a movie on Thursdays or Fridays... but not on how they want the country to be run?

It just boggles my mind. Absolutely bugfuck.

Word verification sucks (especially with things like "rnmrn"), but the alternative is a hundred spam posts a day, sorry.

Word verify of the day: "dpbdqbb". If you weren't dyslexic before, you are now!

Mory said...

I don't understand how science is applicable to politics. Political opinions are almost never objective scientific facts. Everything you might want to do for your country comes with a down-side. For instance, there's only a limited budget to spend, so it's a matter of whether you personally think the trade-off is worth it. Science can't help out here. No people are rational creatures, so everyone has a (equally useful) different way of seeing the world. Factor this in, and the idea of approaching politics like science is a joke.

What would inevitably happen is that each person would claim that his opinion is based on rationality. (It never is; rationalization comes after the fact.) Because with science, there can only be one truth, and in politics this is simply not the case. So everyone would keep their opinions and just be even more convinced that everyone else is wrong. They would be even more annoyed when other people (with their own truths they think are rational) fail to understand the objective truth they present. Yay tolerance.

Jason O said...

What disturbs me the most is what appears to be a rise in binary thinking. That things must be one thing or another. Bush is either a great leader or a complete moron. The War in Iraq is something we should be all for and is completely justified or we should be totally against this illegal war. If you're a Christian you must vote Republican. If you're Gay you must vote Democrat. If you're a Gay Christian then members of either party will suddenly be sucked through a hole in the space time continuum.

It just drives me batshit looney insane because it makes the whole political process completely adversarial(sp?). Instead of having two parties trying to reach compromises for the good of the people, we have two parties duking it out to take complete power, only pausing long enough to make sure no one else is allowed in the game.

I have such a diverse set of friends with such an incredible range of opinions from the far right to the far left and I love these people dearly because they can justify their stances. When they start talking about their opinions by golly they can explain why they think what they do without resorting to cheap rhetoric. As soon as someone whips out "No blood for oil!" or "Liberal is another word for Commie" my ears turn off out of self-defense and my mental barriers slam shut.

What is worse though is that the second you say something everyone dogpiles on you. If I want to say something criticizing the President, suddenly I am a great guy to Liberals everywhere and the Conservatives hate me. Yet when the same people find out I voted for Bush the Liberals hate me and the Conservatives love me. I'm a Christian so it's assumed I'm a conservative republican, when in fact I feel like I have more in common with the traditional Democratic platform (that I wish they'd get back to)

People seem to chose their political affiliations as some sort of emotional response. What surprises me is the amount of loyalty people will show even when their party continues to misstep. I don't care if someone wants to have a political affiliation, but part of having that affiliation is being willing to hold your leaders accountable. We've gotten so good at binary thinking that people completely overlook their own party's evils while they criticize the other for doing much of the same thing.

I always thought America was large enough to shelter diverse points of view and healthy public debate. Yet it seems like the current trend is this country is to shout any other viewpoint into submission.

Or maybe I'm just getting bitter about politics these days.

Craig Perko said...

Mory: I don't understand how you can think that. If politics were a matter of deciding what priority to spend money on, I could see that.

But data shows that we're driving the countries into the ground because of our politics. Of course, this is hardly an America-only situation: Europe is also driving itself into the ground.

This isn't a matter someone having a different, useful way of seeing the world. It's a matter of people being totally blind.