This is sub-chapter #10, of Chapter #3, Politics, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World.
Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.
A question I’ve pondered for many years and still cannot find a definitive answer for: Why is politics still relevant? Democracy was invented thousands of years ago in Athens. It was created at a time when humans didn’t understand a fraction of what we do today, in relation to what was happening around them. So philosophy was used to arrive at the most rational answer, and while that was great for the Hellenic epoch, it isn’t so adept at arriving at final and conclusive answers today, where the well-being of our societies often rests precipitously at the confluence of resource management, health, economic stability, and vibrance.
Stephen Hawking said in his latest book, The Grand Design, “Philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in Science…” And well, in a small way, he’s right. Traditional philosophies and science are no longer comparable in terms of their tangible contributions to society. Though philosophy is a useful and oft-times beautiful endeavor in thought, it is less meaningful (by meaningful, I mean practical) today than at any other time in history on hard-issues such as climate-change, pollution, population, food-production, and so forth. We must design or engineer ourselves out of these problems using the scientific method (not that philosophy cannot be involved in the thinking stage). In the same line of thinking, politics, invented in the time of philosophy, should be of waning relevance, as it is based on the same intuitions: namely, the human mind, which neuroscience has shown to be inherently biased, though more importantly, unable to impartially view and act upon information presented to one’s self, no matter the circumstance.
Yet its relevance seems to be in recent years rising. In 2012 we had elections going on around the world; most noteworthy being the recent American presidential election, which concluded months upon months of agonizing Republican posturing, talking points, ads, backstabbing, news coverage, debates, and the usual nonsense that accompanies the two-horse cacophony.
Talking point after talking point is endlessly thrown back and forth, with the candidates incessantly arguing which is the best way to do this and that—political whims and soundbites, little of which is based on fact or empirical evidence, but only designed to increase a politician’s popularity.
The same debate recently raged on in France during the 2012 election, where the new—now president—candidate Francais Hollande was campaigning on a platform to enact seventy-five percent taxes on millionaires, and when pressed on the futility of such a measure, even if passed, brushed those concerns aside, effectively saying it is a moral measure to tax a productive member of society ever more so, like a milk cow. And if you missed it, the futility of such a measure still made him want to do it because his mind was already made up. You’d have better luck teaching Germ Theory to a monkey, and luckily the measure was shot down in the closing weeks of 2012.
But the question remains, why is politics, as we know it today, still relevant in this modern society?
Politics is run on the whims and opinions of people, which can be and often are wrong and always are, at the very least, biased. It’s just as easy to believe in a lie as it is to believe in the truth, and it’s always easier to tell an easy lie than a hard truth, like the aforementioned French president, and almost every Republican frontrunner in the 2012 Republican convention, and maybe even Obama a few times. For the simple reason that lies stick easier than truths. Just look at the climate change debacle. The science has been settled for a while now, and all the new models and supercomputers dedicated to it, just refines and increases the accuracy. Yet, since the first Rio summit in 92, our politicians have accomplished next to nothing. There have been little stopgap measures here and there but nothing even close to substantive. We’veve elevated a position of power to almost mythical heights despite the majority of us almost expecting them to lie, and everywhere I go, people do nothing but complain about their leaders and representatives, yet are continually fooled into voting for another politico who happens to end up doing the same stuff, and if not the same stuff, different stuff that somehow wind up having the same outcomes.
Furthermore, on matters of the economy, health, education, and all things relevant to the modern world, the scientific method provides the means to answer these concerns without the inherent bias (at least significantly reduced bias). We can come to the best, most efficient conclusions using statistical analysis, experimentation, and peer-review using the scientific method to arrive at a suitable, efficient, and humane solution to today’s problems, so what’s with the pandering? Why so much politicking? Why such radically different solutions to the same problem that society has faced time and time again? Why aren’t they solved by now? And why are most of these solutions horrible to begin with?
It’s almost comical that in this modern age, we are using social tools invented thousands of years ago to discuss modern problems. Especially given the distrust of the people in charge by so many, whom we all suspect of lying in one way or another—especially when we have better more open tools and methods to solve it ourselves with greater effectiveness, more humanity, and zero bias thereby removing the favoritism so inherent in politics that contributes to so many social ills, which I’ll address in the next chapter.
The problem is two-fold, a misinformed populace, and the second, politicians live inside their own little bubbles, and you can’t evolve and update a system from within. It’s hard to think outside the box when you’ve spent years inside the box, and disconnected from the reality of those you are supposed to serve.
“The problem with always being a conformist is that when you try to change the system from within, it’s not you who changes the system; it’s the system that will eventually change you.” ~ Immortal Technique (Artist)
The first problem is far greater than the second. Politicians derive their power from us. There is a balance of power between the government and the people. Much like Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market, there is an invisible hand of power.
Governments, time and time again, in all manner of differing governmental models, always end up doing everything in their power to distract the people they govern. Usually by way of freebies that the people themselves demand, while they diligently work behind the scenes to tip the balance of power in their favor. Maybe it’s by accident and they truly are shortsighted goldfish, but it doesn’t really matter why. It happens regardless, and it affects everyone.
On the other hand, people are usually so concerned with surviving the nine-to-five and enjoying the entertainment in their downtime whether it be feeding Christians to the lions or watching Honey Boo Boo and American Idol that there is no available idle brainpower to ponder the why for’s and the WTFs on the doings of their governments. I exclude no one from that second point, including myself.
Who takes the time these days to really research how their country is run? How many people actually want to? Who knows that much of the democratic process has been usurped, and how much of the power lies with the state? A few do, most don’t care. Perhaps they presume safety in numbers, and that this time is different; this time democracy will remain uncorrupted.
If this sounds like I’m complaining about you, you’re right. But I’m also complaining about myself. I am as much susceptible to this corrupting influence as you are, I just have more free time and have been lucky enough to have been raised to be curious, even on subjects I dislike, i.e., politics. There are few things I have more disdain for than politics—genocide, war, rape, and murder, though I think they are rooted in the misapplication of politics, so six in one, half-dozen in the other. We are so caught up in the hype of politics every few years. The media blitz, the promises, the demagoguery, and the activism, that we continually forget to ask the question, why is a politician so relevant in the modern world? I implore you to burden yourself with this question and those around you, when the subject of politics comes up.
“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” ~ Emma Goldman (Anarchist)