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Joined: 07 Dec 2007
|Posted: Sat Dec 08, 2007 6:04 pm Post subject: We're NOT all Equal
|There are two great taboos in society today. Child-molestation (a complex issue, made more complex by the concatenation of numerous behaviours into the same category, all of which are then "tarred with the same brush") and the second is the suggestion that "Nature" might play at least as large a role in our make up as "Nurture".
Research into anything that even slightly smells of "eliteism" is discouraged, and permitted only on the strict understanding that only certain results are acceptable, and attempts to publicise research findings that contradict official received wisdom will be met with the kind of vilification usually reserved for child-molesters. I'd cite as an example the Chairman of Harvard University, driven from his post last year by a baying crowd for suggesting that "there are more brilliant men than there are brilliant women" (His replacement, by way of exculpation, is the first ever woman chairperson in Harvard's history)
Yet, is that suggestion so surprising? Men have - demonstrably and as a matter of known fact - brains that are larger than womens'. Brain capacity isn't - of itself - an indicator of intelligence; but think of it like an office switchboard. You can route more calls though a large switchboard than you can through a small one. Of course, "Can" isn't the same as "Will". A small switchboard MAY deal with more calls than a large one. But working flat-out, the large one can obviously handle more traffic.
If you look at graphs of how men and women score on IQ tests, two things are immediately apparent. Firstly, when it comes to it, mean, median AND mode. women are "on average" more intelligent than men. Second is that the "standard deviation" for men is WAY higher than it is for women: much wider spread of abilities, in BOTH directions. Conclusion, there are more very intelligent men than very intelligent women - and likewise more male morons. (the larger the "switchboard", the more there is to go wrong!) The theory predicts the shape of the curve... experimentation delivers a curve of that shape. What could possibly be objectionable in that? What? It propounds the TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE idea that were NOT ALL THE SAME. That some of us might be "better" than others. (Which isn't at all what the theory suggests. "Different" and "Superior" are not the same thing at all.
Women on average are more intelligent than men; the contentious part is the assertion that women on average ARE "more average" than men. I'm with Eysenk: the results are what they are. If you can't take the heat... then get out of the laboratory!
Eysenk's research suggested results similar to those of the male/female split - namely that Europeans (on average) are smarter than Africans, but less smart than Asians. (Somehow that "less smart than Asians" bit got ignored, as it's not easy to label someone a racist if they're claiming to be "inferior".) American college access, unlike the UK's A-levels, are often granted through "SAT's" - Standard Aptitude Tests. (Here, SAT stands for Standard ACHIEVEMENT Tests, which are quite different) they're a kind of IQ test. And... guess what?! Asians on average score higher than Europeans, who in turn score higher than Afro-Caribbeans. ("Carribeans" are a special case in the USA - immigration is limited, so only the smartest get in. On average, a person of Jamaican ancestry earns more than someone of English (or more commonly, German, ancestry. "Germans" are the USA's largest single ethnic group.)
Note what Eysenk' findings said: Note more specifically what he DIDN'T say but remains accused of "really meaning" (Eysenk's Jewish family fled to England from Nazi Germany. Not someone you'd immediately associate with the idea of "racism"!) Eysenk did NOT say "All Whites are smarter than all blacks. Nor did he imply it What he said was that whites are ON AVERAGE smarter than blacks. That's - in my eyes at least - as inoffensive as suggesting that "men are, on average, taller than women." Clearly they are. (But my FEMALE cousin is a clear 4" taller than me!) One side effect of Eysenk's "unacceptable" findings was to bring IQ tests into disrepute. If IQ tests don't actually measure intelligence, then it becomes acceptable to admit that one group might have higher average IQs than another. Otherwise, you have to find some other way to make this "elephant in the drawing room" go away. (And the ingenuity used to try and rubbish the experimental findings have been extraordinarily inventive!)
There are things you CAN acceptably say - like "Dutch people are, on average, taller than Congolese Pygmies". The Dutch are the world's tallest nation (and proud of it!) and the Pygmies are the shortest. But if you were to suggest that the Dutch have higher IQ's then the Congolese, there would be a furious outcry, the burning of effigies, and rallies in Trafalgar Square. You'd be called a "Nazi". This is "the acceptable face of Lysenkoism". Politicians interfering in science... for political reasons. - and scientists meekly allowing it.
Eysenk is a truly brilliant experimental designer. When he tries an experiment, the results he gets are generally clear and totally unambiguous. He designs-out irrelevancies. And he' also politically naive in the extreme: he performs experiments then emerges with a broad smile to tell you about the "interesting result" he'd just got, without for a moment considering whether it might be one of those results that's "not allowed to be true". He's also a critic of BAD experimental design and bad science, who the US tobacco lobby hired briefly to make their case.
He found that at the time, the anti-smoking propaganda, was very seldom science based. It was propaganda, pure and simple, based on clumsy observation of experimental data, with absolutely NO pretence to how: A causational link? Hell... people who've eaten ice cream are statistically far more likely to drown than people who haven't. That's not proof that "ice Cream causes drowning": people eat ice cream in the summer, and especially at times when they also immerse themselves voluntarily in large bodies of water... where some of them drown. The statistical linkage are drawn from both figures deriving from a third, unconsidered factor. (People eat ice cream AND THEY SWIM... in hot weather.)
"Equality" and a denial of "elitism" is hard wired into our political system, especially as Education is one of the government's biggest expenditures. Politically, throughout the western world, we hold the official view that Nurture is vitally more important than Nature. To suggest otherwise is just something you're not allowed to DO. Hence the switchover from the old grammar/secondary modern/technical school system - with the associated eleven plus exam - to "Comprehensive" education. Those who had previously been sent to "technical schools"were said to have "failed" their eleven-plus.
I know teachers who tell me that every job they apply for require them to pledge loyalty "to the comprehensive ideal". Not long after the Comprehensive system was forced onto the country (paradoxically by a Conservative government, who got on the train after it was already moving) a husband and wife team who comprised the country's leading educational experts asked permission to carry out tests to see how much improvement the new system had brought about. Now that everyone had an "equality of outcomes", things MUST have improved!
The secretary of state for education (Margaret Thatcher!) gave her permission.... and the tests showed very inconvenient results. Educational standards hadn't improved at all... they'd slumped. The Ministry of education was assigned the task of rubbishing the results and smearing the scientists' reputation - which they did very effectively. The results were confined to page 27 of the newspapers, and the husband and wife team took early retirement. It was made clear that such an experiment would NEVER be allowed again.
The idea that bright parents might, on average, produce inherently bright children just isn't acceptable. It denies the possibility of a magic wand that will make the short tall and the tall shorter. The children of bright parents are the SAME as the children of less bright parents. The only acceptable explanation for their relatively better performance was that they were raised in a "more beneficial environment", where it was (for example) more likely that their parents would do things like read books (thus setting a better example) I accept that it's a contributing factor... but I flatly (and angrily) deny that it tells the whole story.
Off subject? Perhaps. But remember Churchill's oft-quoted cliché "Democracy is the worst system of government... except for all the others"? If you're looking to design a better system, then (as I've suggested before) you need better raw material. Except that "quality control" of materials - or even the investigation of the possibility that there are different qualities is about as acceptable as child molestation. When you shoot or exile anyone who investigates the roundness of the earth... then when you claim "it's flat!" there's almost nobody who can raise an argument to suggest otherwise. There's no evidence to suggest otherwise... because it's all been suppressed. That's not science. "Lack of evidence isn't evidence of lack" (Who was it that said that?!)
I'm not talking about a "conspiracy" theory here... there IS no conspiracy. But there IS an unspoken agreement to accept that 2+2=3, and to destroy the careers of anyone who suggests that 4 is the correct answer. It's a "cultural" thing - like the moral at the heart of the Frankenstein story: "there are some things that we're just not MEANT to know! (Or be able to do)". The mechanism that glues people together into a "society" jut isn't well enough understood. We act collectively in some VERY strange ways.
I've long been interested in kinesics - "the science of body language.", which is very much still in its infancy. We communicate vast amounts of information to each other without ever being formally taught HOW, (or how to read it) but with an amazing literacy. But I'm pretty sure that the same underlying mechanism plays an important part in the "glue" that holds us together as a group. Democracy is, if you like, an attempt to ignore that mechanism and supplant it with something else.
If you think that's a good idea, take a look at how US Agriculture works - particularly the production of almonds (of which the USA has a near monopoly) Almonds grow in vast forests that are completely devoid of competitors - no weeds, no other plants at all. Thus no pollinators, because almonds don't bloom long enough to provide year round sustenance for insects (and other species which might fill the shortfall have all been eradicated) Bees have to be trucked in from hundreds of miles away specifically to pollinate the almonds. Trucking your hives to California and renting out their services to the Almond growers is significantly more lucrative than selling honey. 60% of US agriculture is dependent on pollination by "trucked-in bees". As an ecosystem... it's falling apart. The bees are dwindling in numbers. They weren't designed to be shipped around the country in lorry-bound hives.
There are gaps between our "model of nature"and the real thing... and important trace nutrients seem to have been overlooked in the construction of the "model". Sounds like "there are things that man isn't meant to know"? Far from it. More like "Leonardo's helicopter would never have worked because the design ran centuries ahead of the availability of appropriate materials and a power plant with the right power/weight ratio" Man WAS intended to fly around in helicopters... but not until he'd got the basic science right, first. And that's my point. If we're going to design a better political system... lets get the science right first. The problem is... we're not even TRYING to get it right, but we're vilifying the few people who are.
Joined: 29 May 2005
|Posted: Fri Dec 28, 2007 3:33 pm Post subject:
|I trust we've all had the festive season we needed or deserved and that your hangovers will be mercifully short if not sweet. The break has given me a chance to reply to The Prof, amongst other things, so here goes...
To start with, I should make it plain to readers that The Prof's contribution above is a follow on from the conversation we began in the comments attached to my blog on the Datastrophe so you may want to start by reading those comments in order to see the full context. However, it is possible to sum up his argument - that human beings aren't suited to democracy with his single line: "If you're looking to design a better system, then... you need better raw material."
I can't summarise my answer quite so briefly but I can do it in one paragraph.
The problems I am trying to address are "Rational Social Decision Making" and "Conflict Avoidance". I offer Consensual Democracy as the solution. The implications of the argument that humanity is not suited to the system I advocate is that alternative systems are better able to meet my objectives. However, the last two and a half thousand years of attempts at alternative systems have markedly failed to avoid conflict or to create a system which produces Rational Social Decisions. This constitutes considerable empirical evidence that those alternatives don't work. Against this we only have conjecture that Consensual Democracy would also fail. I argue that it is time to give it a try.
(It is, of course, conceivable that The Prof has in mind another alternative which has never been tried, but he hasn't mentioned it so far, so I feel justified in ignoring that option for the moment at least.)
There are reasons for the Hostility...
The Prof's objection is clearly valid and you'll all have your own favourite examples. Most recently DNA discovering Nobel Prize winner James Watson has lost his job over the suggestion that Africans are less intelligent than Europeans. This is particularly ironic in his case as we've learned recently that Watson has "16 times more genes of black origin than the average white European" which would suggest that he, at least, has escaped any genetic consequences of the inferior intellect - or perhaps not.
|The Prof wrote: |
|Research into anything that even slightly smells of "elitism" is discouraged, and permitted only on the strict understanding that only certain results are acceptable, and attempts to publicise research findings that contradict official received wisdom will be met with the kind of vilification usually reserved for child-molesters. I'd cite as an example the Chairman of Harvard University, driven from his post last year by a baying crowd for suggesting that "there are more brilliant men than there are brilliant women" |
But though his objection is entirely valid, we cannot ignore the fact that there are reasons for the hostility which The Prof is complaining about and they are just as worthy of analysis as the hostility itself. Furthermore I'm afraid The Prof is in danger of at least appearing to be guilty of precisely what drives that hostility.
The chief reason people are justifiably nervous of scientific research which investigates or illustrates "differences" (particularly intellectual differences) within the human species is that recent history contains egregious examples of how such findings can be - and have been - used to justify precisely the kind of elitism The Prof seems to endorse. In particular, the history of Utopian Socialism, fostered by some of our greatest literary "liberal" figures, like HG Wells and GB Shaw, and which led almost directly and inevitably through the Eugenics movement and on to the Stalinist Purges and Nazi Holocaust, were based on "scientific" notions of differences, sometimes in intelligence, sometimes in other attributes or aptitudes, which would "justify" anything from selective breeding to selective extermination.
Granted, it was generally "bad" science which wouldn't have passed the modern peer-review process, but the damage was done. Science was tainted and people have remained wary of repeats ever since. So The Prof is, at the very least, bravely stepping into very dangerous territory.
Fortunately, from other correspondence between us, I know he is not of that ilk. He is not about to advocate a new eugenics movement or mass extermination of the lower orders. He is, however, unashamedly committed to the view that "people are hard-wired to be sheep-like" and that the best we can do by way of creating a viable political system is to create one which permits good leaders (he uses Gladstone as a model) and blocks the bad ones (like Disraeli, or Bush). My views on "Leadership" and our sheep-like tendencies are spelled out in the relevant Chapter so I'll try not to repeat them here.
One issue I do want to take up is the apparent "hard wiring". I will be dealing with this in some detail in Part 4 of Chapter 7 which will be all about Trust and its fundamental importance in Empiricism, Social Cohesion, Commerce, Politics and Security. One significant element of the Trust matrix is the "herd response" which we see in flocks of birds, sheep, fish and humans. It is necessary, for example, in a shoal of fish. The shoal itself is necessary to provide "herd protection" against predators. But when you're a fish in a shoal, only the fish at the "leading edge" can see the threats or obstacles ahead. So if you're stuck behind one of the leaders, and they suddenly perform a sharp right turn, it pays to assume that they've done it for a damn good reason and your chances of survival are greater if you copy them than if you linger to investigate why the turn was necessary. Darwinian selection ensured that those fish whose brains are hard wired to react most instinctively to the motion and directional cues of a leader have survived to produce generations of fish all behaving the same way and making for very smooth flow control in shoals of fish.
The same logic applies to a greater or lesser extent throughout the animal kingdom. Even those animals - like cats - which are notoriously difficult to herd, nevertheless pay close attention to the cues of other cats and, particularly if they cannot assess the extent of a threat for themselves, will still follow or copy a "leader". Not only is this good direct survival conditioning, it is vital for the smooth operation of both animal and human society. If it didn't exist, crowds, whether in the Mall or on the Motorway would always create gridlock with each individual trying to go their own way regardless of what those around them are doing. In fact, although such gridlock is an ever increasing part of our lives because we now have too high a human population, in most crowd situations it is still the exception rather than the rule and that is entirely because the herd response - the hard wiring which enables us to co-ordinate our activities en masse - is still largely present and effective. [update 20090119: Looks like science is beginning to understand exactly how the brain is indeed hard wired for "conformity"]
[update 20090210 - check out this short clip from a Japanese Game Show in which they deliberately seek to "intimidate" individuals into following the crowd. My favourites are the second and fifth victims. Look how quickly that last victim drops to the ground just because the crowd around him does so on a pre-arranged signal. Only when he's down and (presumably) safe from whatever the crowd perceived as a threat, does he dare to look around to see the potential cause.]
[update 20090220 - thought I'd blogged this a couple of weeks ago, but obviously I forgot. This is the news that we've confirmed how organised dancing and marching increase the herd friendly loyalty to the group. This is why the Authoritarians of both right and left place such emphasis on military pageant.]
So I'm not about to deny the existence of hard wiring altogether. Furthermore I will concede that, as well as a benefit in situations such as those requiring mass mobility, there is a major cost to the herd response in that unscrupulous groups or leaders can fairly easily subvert it in order either to lay traps in the path of the herd, or to lead it in a direction which favours the interests of the subverting group. Humanity has used this as a weapon against herds for literally tens of thousands of years. (It's probably, for example, the main mechanism we used to wipe out the Mammoths) Humans have also used it, probably for almost as long, against other humans. So the hard wiring of the herd response definitely exists and is clearly routinely exploited by other humans.
The Platonists' mistake, however, is to assume that there are some humans who have the hard wiring and are subject to the herd response - and are, therefore, only fit to be treated as part of the herd - and some humans who have somehow evaded the hard wiring, are not subject to the herd response and are, therefore, fit to be leaders or shepherds. In fact - as we all know - we are ALL subject, without exception, to the herd response in certain - usually appropriate situations. Any new driver who has a genetic tendency to drive against rather than with the traffic will probably not survive for long enough to pass on their genetic aberration. Anyone trying to get into the crowded theatre just as everyone else is trying to get out quickly figures that they need to get out of the way and let the crowd pass. We all "go with the flow" in those situations where it is the sensible thing to do. So if ANYBODY is hard wired, then EVERYBODY is hard wired.
Clearly, however, some of us are capable of stepping out of the flow or even swimming against the stream in certain situations. The simplistic implication of the Platonist analysis (that some are fit to lead while most are only fit to follow) is that those capable of avoiding the herd response pressure are inherently leadership material. They're the ones who can make the herd change direction. But again, this is not an ability limited to an elite few. Watch any Parent (of any nurturing species - not just humans), separated from a young offspring in such a herd and even though they may fail to halt the herd, or change its direction, you will see them making herculean efforts to battle upstream to re-unite with their lost offspring. This illustrates that just as we ARE all hard wired we are ALL capable of over-riding the conditioning and making attempts at going our own way.
All that separates those who routinely swim across or up the stream from those who routinely float along with it is motivation. We are all capable of changing direction and swimming upstream, or even jumping out of the stream and either staying on dry land or looking for another stream flowing in a new direction, if and when we think there is a good enough reason to do so. The "only" problem for revolutionary thinkers, once they've had their revolutionary thoughts, is they have to persuade other members of the herd that there IS good enough reason to change direction.
One particularly bad reason to "change direction" is any argument based on scientifically validated difference in human aptitudes or achievements. The obvious risk of such research is the adoption of perverse and dangerous policies based on the results. On the other hand it is foolish to deny or block research into such differences. Although obviously dangerous destinations - like concentration camps - might be the evil intent of a handful of sociopaths, it is equally likely that highly beneficial proposals - like better nutrition for young children - will also result from valid science which appears to reveal "politically incorrect" (PI) conclusions.
Take for example the fascinating story of the recently rediscovered 1947 IQ test results for the entire cohort of Scottish 11 year olds. Research is well under way on following up as many of those who were tested then and can be found today. Findings are already emerging and some of them are definitely in the PI category. Most notably that
|Men of this generation tend to retain their faculties far better than women, showing an average IQ several points higher than their female peers. |
A "strong platonist" - like a meritocrat - might wish to use that as ammunition to argue, for example, that women (or, at least, the relevant aged Scottish women) should have less political voice than their male counterparts by virtue of their lower intelligence. This is a mistake on at least 4 different levels.
First a consistent merit based argument would be hinged on the intelligence level, not the gender. If I were inclined to support meritocracy as the basis for decision making I would argue that, for example, one way to tie voting power to intelligence would be give everybody one vote per IQ point. (We won't digress into the discussion of how you would arrive at an agreed basis for the test or we'll be here all day, so we'll just imagine there is an agreed test) Those with an IQ of 150 would have 150 votes, those with an IQ of 95 would have 95 votes and even George Bush would have half a dozen. If not "fair" it is at least consistent and not sexist. A woman with an IQ of 150 would have as much voting power as a man with the same IQ. As The Prof mentioned (and that Scottish study partially confirms) there are more men with higher IQs than women, so the overall spread of voting might still favour men but the gender imbalance would be partially, at least, offset by the fact that more men have lower IQs than women as well. (Though the Scottish study suggests that time works in men's favour in this regard)
Second, the contention that intelligent people make "better" political decisions is itself highly contentious for at least three reasons. First, should we, for example, regard the decisions of an highly intelligent psychopath as "better" than those of a mentally fit "average" intellect? Second, jokes about Dubya aside, no-one is suggesting that Rumsfeld, Cheney, Armitage, Perle, Kissinger, Bremer, Rice etc - the real decision makers for the Bush admin - are unintelligent or mentally ill. Far from it. They're all quite bright and apparently "well adjusted". Yet they've clearly made some of the worst decisions in human history. Clearly we can't take intelligence as our sole guide. If we were going down that path at all, we need also to have some means of measuring arbitrary aspects of mental health and "decision making fitness" - all of which would need to be measured, regularly, and factored into a fair "ability and fitness based" algorithm. Clearly impractical, but without such measures, equally clearly unfair or even dangerous.
Then there is the more fundamental philosophical objection which underlies our rejection of absolute morality. There is no objective means of establishing "right" or "better" answers and no amount of intelligence can surmount that obstacle. All we can objectively measure at the start of a policy is the level of support for alternative options and, after the policy has been implemented, we can begin to measure outcomes against intentions.
Third, you don't arrest a rape victim because she's improperly dressed. Similarly an attack on political status, on the basis of cognitive decline is an entirely inhumane and inappropriate response to the evidence. The appropriate response is to recognise that something in their environment or lifestyle might be the cause of the deterioration and research should urgently be commissioned to investigate the data further to see if we can tease out what the harmful factors may be, with the intent, if possible, of advising women, in general, to make appropriate changes to their lifestyles if they wish to avoid this particular gender related consequence. If, for example, it transpires that it's an additional effect of the menopause, and can be reversed with hormone treatment, then women should be advised of the risk and given the option to take preventative measures early enough to avoid the cognitive effects.
In other words, in a civilised society, one would expect problems to be recognised and addressed with solutions to the problems, not penalties resulting from being a victim of the problems.
Fourth, as well as unfair, irrational and inhumane, it is completely unnecessary.
The meritocratic hypothesis is that the quality of social decisions is reduced by the quality of the decision makers. On the face of it, that looks reasonable. And if we're looking at the management of a small company or a family, it is very easy to find examples to support the hypothesis. But the hypothesis doesn't scale. The problem for the low quality decision maker in the family or small business is that they don't have access to good advice. There is no-one with sufficient experience or intellect to offer constructive dissent or present higher quality alternatives.
But even though, by definition, the average electorate will have the same IQ as the average family, the wider electorate have a major advantage. Within their larger number there will almost certainly be citizens with a high level of relevant expertise or experience, or perhaps just superior intellect. These individuals will be in a position to offer that missing high quality advice. And sheep, being what they are, will follow the most convincing leader. So the electorate as a whole is far more likely to be exposed to and to follow the best advice available, and hence support the "better" policies.
The Real Problem with Democracy
The problem - which I'm sure you'll recognise immediately - is that what I've just described, though you might agree to be a reasonable ideal, clearly doesn't happen in practice. The voters frequently support the least intelligent policy or candidate. And this, comrades, I freely concede to be by far the single biggest weakness of the Democratic model. But the meritocratic approach of excluding poor quality voters is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done; which is to improve the quality of the debate, improve the quality and presentation of the options on offer and to make sure that as many voters as is reasonably possible fully understand all the arguments and the potential consequences of the alternative policies on offer.
This is where the revolution really needs to take place - in the forum, not the ballot box. Not that the voting system cannot be improved. With the combination of mobile phones and the web, there are enormous opportunities to make voting much more integrated into our lives. This in turn will allow democratic decision making to become a routine part of our lives and to become much more fine grained. It will allow us, for example, to determine not just what decisions should be made but whether, in the circumstances, any decision at all is required and, where one is required, to decide, separately, what level of support is required to endorse it; what degree of compliance is required; what measures are appropriate to ensure compliance; what compromises or compensation can be agreed with those who dissent and so on. All of which are revolutionary on their own account.
But the scope for improving the debate is vastly more important. This will be the focus of the final part of Chapter 7 so I'm not about to pre-empt it here but I can present a headline view with a brief summary of the arguments:
1 The primary location for any debate should be the web
The web location ensures that anyone with access (which, in some advanced nations is already approaching 75% to the web and 95% with mobile phone access) can not only read, watch or listen to the debate, they can contribute to it. Each proposition will have it's own dedicated forum where observation can be universal and participation can be restricted to those entitled to vote (those who can legitimately claim they will be affected by the proposition) plus those invited to participate in the debate (but not the vote) on the basis of relevant experience or trusted judgement.
2 Allow contributions in any form the contributor is comfortable with
The point of allowing contributions in any form is to provide another "great equaliser". One of the most obvious weaknesses in Athenian Democracy was the ease with which those with the "gift of the gab" regularly received all the attention. If eloquence correlated with wisdom and intelligence this would not be such a problem. Unfortunately, as history reveals all too often, gifted orators are often neither particularly intelligent nor wise. Despite which, their oratorial skills have made them very persuasive in the absence of opponents with similar skills. These "herd leaders" are the most dangerous feature of the freedom of public speech which Athens invented. We don't eliminate that danger by suppressing their speech. We can, however, dramatically dilute it by opening up the debating floor to those who may have valid and intelligent contributions but are unable to present them with the panache of Hitler, Churchill or JFK.
Nowadays, there are few true orators in the public arena. Instead, on the mass consumed media, we have slick quick (but shallow) thinking pundits challenging other quick thinking pundits between the commercial breaks. We have "performance politics" designed to obscure rather than illuminate issues and to prioritise personalities rather than policies. We have the "Manufacturing of Consent" rather than serious examination of serious questions. Well, we can allow the media to continue playing their games but there's nothing to stop us creating our own new space outside their control. (As, for example, we're about to try to do here - but look up "open source democracy" to find hundreds of thousands of references to other people moving in the same general direction)
3 Use forum based peer review processes and trust-scoring to determine the prominence of individual contributions
The forum based trust marking and peer review processes are evolving as we speak. For intelligent democratic debating we need to know not just what people are saying, but what other people think about what they are saying. This can be displayed in two ways, by allowing comment on their comments and by instituting the kind of trust marking systems which are already widespread. These can show both the reaction to current comments and the cumulative trust/distrust acquired by the contributors. The trust marking can also be used to "pass on" trust. So that, for example, a comment marked up by a well trusted contributor acquires more trust than one marked up by a novice or less trusted contributor.
Such processes will allow newcomers to any debate to prioritise or filter contributions based on acquired trust, cumulative trust, individual merit and so on. These act as intelligent directional cues for the "herd" and thus allow, if you like, "dynamic democratic meritocracy".
4 Adopt formal structures for propositions and counter-propositions
The formal structures for any democratic proposition need to be in the form of up to 7 sub propositions:-
1 There is a problem which needs a solution (evidence)
2 There is a potential solution (detail)
3 There are potential risks with the solution and ways to mitigate them (detail)
4 There are potential costs and ways to fund them (details)
5 There are interim and final outcomes we can measure to ensure that the benefits are being achieved and the risks avoided. (detail)
6 A level of compliance is required (detail)
7 Measures to ensure compliance are required (detail)
Each of these requires its own debate and decision in approximately the order they appear. For example there is no need to discuss potential solutions if we haven't already agreed that there is a problem which requires a solution.
However, as implied by "up to", not all the above sub propositions are going to be necessary in all cases. For example a proposition to permit certain behaviour may not require a debate on compliance, whereas a proposition to prohibit behaviour obviously would.
5 Prioritise Dissent
The Priority of Dissent is perhaps the most important single feature. The Manufacturing of Consent is based on exactly the opposite: the suppression or denigration of dissent. In a consensual democracy the primary aim of the debating process is to ensure that we hear all the potential objections to a proposal for the simple and practical reason that it only takes one person to spot the fatal weakness in a plan and if we bury that observation we may all suffer. So we don't just permit Dissent, we invite and promote it.
For equally practical reasons, however, we cannot permit minority Dissent to block the majority decision but it must be allowed full exposure and its objections must be answered to the satisfaction of the forum.
All of which implies a "Democratic Debating Algorithm" which I have begun to outline thus:
Are we Arguing About Evidence Or Principles?
One of the practical problems philosophers can, occasionally, disentangle is the widespread human tendency to confuse arguments about evidence with arguments about principles. I deal with one of the most dangerous examples of this in Chapter 10 Part 2 where I criticise Adam Curtis' conclusions to his "Power of Nightmares". In short, his argument boils down to an objection to the Police States being increasingly imposed in the name of the "War On Terror" on the grounds that the Terror is imagined, hyped up, exaggerated.
This is akin to objecting to Cannibalism on the grounds that human flesh might be poor nutrition or that it will put meat farmers out of business.
He may or may not turn out to be right about the exaggeration, but it is irrelevant. His argument implies that the only reason to object to the Police State is that the evidence of terrorism is not yet sufficient to justify it. If that evidence were now to emerge in some unequivocal fashion that he was forced to accept, he would have no other objection in his armoury (at least, not within "The Power of Nightmares") with which he could then oppose totalitarianism.
The debate over differences in human intellectual capabilities, and what should be done about them, is another prominent example of the same philosophical problem.
When it is proposed that, for example, we should accord greater status to those with greater intelligence or treat them in other ways more favourably than those with lesser intelligence, the kneejerk opposition is all too rarely on the basis of the obvious inequity implied by such favouritism, but rather tends to be focussed on the argument that we can't adequately define such intelligence in the first place. This is utterly irrelevant and implies that - if we could - then such favouritism would be acceptable. It is not and never will be.
And the reasoning you need to employ to arrive at this conclusion is not deeply philosophical requiring years of advanced study. It is common sense. If you're a parent, or a child, you'll be more than familiar with it. Quite simply, at some point we all have to take responsibility for ourselves or we don't grow up.
This is true however intelligent and better informed your parents may be. Even if it was desirable that you continued to let your parents take decisions on your behalf, the plain fact is that they're not going to be around forever and you will, eventually, be forced to make your own decisions. The earlier you start doing that, the better you will become at doing it (generally) and the advantage of early adoption of responsibility is that, when you screw up, there's a good chance that your parents will still be around to help you recover from the mess which has resulted from your immature attempts at decision making.
What the Police State and all other forms of Platonism are based on is the naive notion that humanity consists of a class of "Permanent Parents" and another class of Permanent Children (or, if you prefer, "hard-wired to be sheep-like"). Invariably, those who design any form of Platonism see themselves as being one of the Permanent Parents. Unfortunately, for the reasons we have touched on above, it is usually far too easy for them to attract the attention and support of large numbers of people who are only too happy to see themselves as Permanent Children. This would appear to support The Prof's view of society.
My disagreement is not on the basis that We The People do not act as he describes. On the contrary, I have made a similar point fairly stridently:
|One of the most disturbing aspects of the modern political landscape is the extent to which the "bewildered herd" still deserve that patronising description. Their committment to following "Leaders" is still deeply embedded. |
But I also make the point:
|Two and a half thousand years of Platonist conditioning have produced a near consensus. |
But it is only a "near consensus". Swimming upstream, or even getting out of the stream is bloody hard work. Yet it is obvious that a few million of us have managed to do just that. And if a few million can manage it, then there is no reason, in principle, why a few billion can't join us. Providing we give them good enough reason to do so. Clearly the scale of the conversion is enormous, but not beyond human capacity.
The danger with people like The Prof - which frankly I hope I can avert - is that as a self confessed ex-anarchist who has thus far failed to get the masses to open their eyes and minds, he has concluded, instead, that his fellow man is not capable of opening their minds to take on the full range and implications of the personal autonomy he once championed. In the process he is in danger of moving from being an enemy of the platonist control paradigm to being a supporter, albeit of one of the "liberal" versions.
This failure and transition from revolutionary to reactionary is so common that, it too, could be mistaken as "hard wired". It is captured most famously in the quote (which many have quoted and attributed but which I can't definitively source, so let me know if you know the original source):
|Anyone who is not a revolutionary by the age of 20 has no heart. Anyone who is still a revolutionary by the age of 40 has no brain. |
Like most aphorisms, it's bollocks and, itself, a classic example of precisely the defeatist conditioning we need to combat.
Why does this reversal happen, with such monotonous regularity? Because once a revolutionary has begun to be a beneficiary of the system he opposes, he gradually and, almost inevitably, becomes a supporter. And, because the vast majority of the true revolutionaries (i.e. the ones who have an intellectual understanding of the system they are opposing, rather than just a nihilistic desire to destroy) are somewhat more intelligent than the average sheep, they tend to become beneficiaries of the system they oppose at a somewhat higher rate than the sheep they've been trying to train not to be sheep. This results in a certain contempt for the sheep and, in the end, the resigned conclusion that the sheep are beyond help and will always be no more than sheep. The best we can do for them is to provide or become good shepherds.
The Prof sees himself as a pragmatist. There is no point arguing for the unachievable. Although he once saw Anarchism as "do-able". He no longer believes that. Well I too am a pragmatist. I am only interested in "what works". But my starting position is that - very obviously - the way Society is run today Doesn't Work - not even for the narrow elite who benefit most from it. They are in the position of being at the bow of the ship as it sinks stern first. They will be the last to drown, but they will still drown.
From that starting point I propose a democratic and anarchist solution not because it is inherently "nicer" (though I believe it will be) but because it is more likely to meet my primary objective of promoting the survival of our species - which, in turn, improves my own chances of survival and of those I love.
There are, however, two major reasons for the ongoing failure of revolutionary politics. First is that while they can generally all agree on the nature of the Problem, they can't agree on the nature of the solution. A divided opposition can never defeat the incumbents. But secondly and more seriously the biggest intellectual failure is that they have never really appreciated the scale of the task which confronts them. They hate the system, so fine, let's destroy the system.
They ignore the fact that most people - even the victims of it - don't hate the system and will, thus, be our opponents rather than our allies. They refuse to examine, by and large, why even its victims will often perceive a vested interest in maintaining the system. They refuse to examine how the system maintains itself, how its immune system will easily reject small irritants like revolutionary politics. They ignore the fact that we're involved in Evolution more than Revolution and will need to carry forward a lot of the infrastructure of the old system into the new and so on.
My own attempt at resolving the first difficulty - division over solutions - is to bypass the argument over "solutions" and, instead, concentrate not on what decisions we need to make, but how to make them rationally. My starting point in this endeavour is the creation of what I believe to be the first ethical system (Survival Based Ethics) which is logically consistent with the rational philosophy which underpins empiricism and the modern scientific method. It is intended to permit the objective analysis of ethical questions in a value free manner which can be used by anyone regardless of their moral prejudices. It doesn't, in other words, require people to give up their existing belief structures and adopt a new "religion" (be it political or theist).
Democracy falls out of that ethical system because it exposes the fact that a large part of the personal ethical decision making process - after all the evidence has been digested - is still subjective; and the only way we can "objectify" subjective opinion is to measure it. The only fair way to treat the results of such measurement is to give them equal weight, regardless of how each opinion was arrived at.
Platonists don't accept that basic premise. They don't argue the fairness point. They ignore that and move straight to an argument based on alleged utility. Equality is inefficient, they argue. It produces less effective decisions. So what Platonists consistently seek to do is increase the effect of their own vote. At the extreme end, the Philosopher King wants his to be the only vote that counts. Lesser Platonists will make the case for their class being the deciding class. Others will make a case for authority based on merit and so on. All such Platonist constructs are based on the belief that their opinion and judgement is inherently superior to lesser mortals. What they consistently fail to understand, however, is that even if this is demonstrably true in specific situations, it has no bearing on the validity of their decisions.
It is obvious that millionaires - like Rumsfeld and Cheney for example - are much better at making money than less wealthy citizens. But there's nothing inherently "right" or "good" about making money. (nor inherently "wrong" or "evil") And clearly nothing about a person's ability to acquire personal wealth endows them with a gift for making better decisions about increasing or sharing social wealth. Someone who can perform well in an IQ test cannot - as a result of their intellect - bypass the limits of perception and perceive absolute truths. Nor can they deduce better solutions to ethical problems, because, by definition, there are no right answers. Even the consensus I advocate doesn't detect "right answers". All we can detect is agreement.
By definition, Democracy produces greater levels of agreement than the alternatives and the Consensual Democracy I'm advocating will produce the highest achievable levels of agreement. And agreement is MUCH more important than being "correct". The absence of agreement is, after all, what produces Conflict.
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