Electile Dysfunction: Bungling Science pt. 3

In my post on the Entitlement Mentality I quoted Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who once said “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” The last several election cycles in America have made it shockingly clear that Americans no longer know the difference between opinion and facts – or, if they do, they don’t care about it. A thinking person should form her opinions on facts, carefully considered and prioritized according to her value system. A very carefully thinking person should also subject her values to scrutiny and criticism from those she disagrees with, given that human nature is incapable of seeing facts uncolored by values.

Scientific knowledge has progressed astoundingly fast since most of the current party political alliances were formed seventy years ago, and that pace has accelerated since the last medium-sized realignment thirty years ago. The lessons of history in that same period of time are also momentous – if anyone actually cares to look at them. And most don’t. This creates a problem.

I’ve had a lot of fun this election year tweaking my left-wing and right-wing friends by telling them I’m voting ‘No’ for President this year. “It’s the most important election of the last fifty years!” they tell me “You must participate.” They may be right – it could be a hugely important election, which is precisely why I’m not voting for either major party candidate of for either of the two big minor party candidates.

You see, I’m sick to the teeth of Democrats claiming the mantle of science while ignoring economics any time the findings of that discipline contradict the New Deal Keynsianism that infects the party. I’m sick of Republicans being in favor of “free markets” when they bail out failing businesses. I’m sick of both parties claiming that they are forward looking when their major alliances are built on late-1960s political expediency. I’m sick of the Libertarians pretending that anarchy and liberty can co-exist in a meaningful way, and I’m sick of the Greens claiming that opposing GMO crops and technological advance while embracing pseudo-Marxist economic policies are the key to an environmentally viable future.

In 1862, in his address before Congress, Abraham Lincoln called “Bullshit” on the way partisan politics were polarizing the north on the issues surrounding the Civil War. He said: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” The same is true today. Thirty years ago, “left-winger” David Brin and “right-winger” Ronald Bailey could never be seen as allies, and yet now, while they have some minor quibbling disagreements on taxation policy and public research funding and other minor points here and there, both are in fundamental agreement on issues of science, technology, trade policy, environmental concerns, human morality, reproductive technology, and civil rights. The same kind of shift has occurred everywhere, as the facts of the world have shifted beneath the complacent, religious devotion of people to their political parties.

It used to be that you could marry theocrats to conservatives who loved traditional freedoms, because both were opposed to social change that seemed too rapid for the country to handle. That kind of alliance doesn’t work anymore, because the country has adapted to the rapid rate of change while preserving its heritage of individualism.

It used to be that you could bring Left-wing Malthusians together with humanist scientists over environmental concerns. But as science shows that the only way towards responsible environmental stewardship is technological innovation on a grand scale rather than a scaling back of industry, that alliance becomes just as inviable.

There is a political divide in America. But it’s not between the “left” and the “right.” It’s not even between the Keynsians and the Hayekians, although that argument will remain very important for decades to come. No, the divide is fundamentally between those who see humans as a legitimate part of the natural world and those who do not.

Those who do not see humans as a viable part of nature tend to see them instead as either a blight upon nature or the rulers of nature, but they agree that science and technology are fundamentally tools by which humans exercise dominion over nature. They may not agree on abortion, but they do agree about genetic engineering. They may not agree about tax policies, but they do agree that taxation should be a tool of social engineering. They may not agree on the ultimate destiny of humanity, but they do agree that a peaceful society must be fairly ideologically uniform. And, militarist or peacenik, they also tend towards cultural and economic isolationism.

Meanwhile, those who do see humans as a legitimate part of nature form a group that is generally favorable towards both technological advance and environmental stewardship. Favorable towards both a peaceful world and economic freedom. Opposed towards both the enforced repression of minorities and towards the prescriptive Newspeak that comes from the New Right and the New Left. And, militarist or peacenik, this group tends towards a policy of active international engagement on cultural and economic levels. This natural alliance might find internal division over issues such as gun rights, or minimum wage, but those differences are minor compared to the differences in parties of the past.

This political realignment has been in progress for some time now, and it may take quite a while for it to conclude. But personally, I’m sick of participating in a quadripolar political game that is fifty years out of step with the fundamental facts of the world. Since I live in California I have the luxury of my vote not counting no matter what I do, so this year I’m taking advantage of it to make my point.

Whichever way you vote, take time to consider the fundamentals of your political philosophy. Dig down below your policy positions, figure out what really matters to you. Examine your positions and values critically, and see if they really line up. See if they line up with the candidate you support. Don’t just vote out of habit.

As for me, this year I really am voting “No.” On everything.

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