Op/Ed II: The Devil we Know

A recent article by Bloomberg titled ‘Why some Nations are warming to technocracy’ gives interesting insight into how people view democracy, and what, if any alternatives to democracy people are willing to entertain. In a survey which included 41,953 respondents, spanning 38 nations, the Pew Research Center found: when asked to choose an alternative to democracy, the majority choice Technocracy. The survey also found that newer democracies, and poor nations view technocracy positively, whereas nations with long established democratic traditions view a technocratic tradition more negatively. Overall though, the idea of a technical or scientific based government is becoming more popular, and seems like a rational thing to consider.

Never before in human history have so many people had access to education, information, communications, and technology. It cannot be by chance that as the world becomes more educated, people are realizing that if we do not change how we govern ourselves we will not survive. What needs to change is current democratic institutions. Current political and legal systems are slow, and not advanced enough to face the range of problems human civilization will face in the coming decades.  If our current democratic institutions want to enjoy their continued influence, they will need to change and make choices based on the insight the scientific community can provide; if not, we will destroy this planet and all life on it, including us.

Climate change and ecological conservation, sustainable food and water security, renewable energy and sanitation, disease epidemiology, effective urban development, computers and automation, and infrastructure are all issues that we face which require specialized and technical leadership. Leadership the technocracy can provide. Canada seems to be moving towards having technocratic tendencies—is  that really a bad thing? Engineers supervise engineering, medical professionals supervise medical care, social workers supervise social welfare, and the government makes decisions based on statistical evidence and reason. This sounds like a very rational way to govern, yet people resist it still. There is a wave of unstoppable social, global, and technological development that is coming—why fight it? Current technological progress is totally unprecedented, and therefore will require unprecedented political change. We need to move towards a form of government that can effectively analyze, and incorporate ongoing technological change, and not simply stick with the devil we know.

The main argument cited against a technocracy is: there will emerge a new ruling class, and we will enter into some kind of dystopian future brought on by the unsupervised and vulgar use of technology and science. However, a lot of the resistance of technocracy seems to stem from people simply not understanding science, or not understanding how the scientific method works. We all have different strengths and talents that may not be based in science, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Not everyone has to be a particle physicist or study the mathematical underpinnings of quantum reality. However, we should make public policy based on the recommendations of the scientific community. We should elevate scientists, legal scholars, and prolific thinkers to the celebrity status of the Kardashians. If we did this, there would be absolutely nothing beyond the capacity of human potential and creativity.

In the meantime, more should be done to put technical and scientific experts in positions of authority, so they can solve scientific and technical issues they are experts in; issues that just so happen to the be critically affecting human civilization. In our increasingly globalized world, we all need to work together, support each other, and share with each other. Political decisions based on raw emotion, or cherry-picked evidence needs to stop. We need to make economic and policy based on what science or evidence tells us—not what popular opinion is at any given time. There is no reason why we, a scientific-based democracy, cannot peacefully coexist with the legal, civil, and human rights that should be enjoyed by all people. If human civilization is to survive we need to move away from the old system, and move towards a system that will better equip law makers and leaders with the information and technology needed to make informed policy; thus, we should move towards a technocracy.

Late first response-February 14th:

When I read the assigned articles I kept coming back to how all these topics are conceptual and therefore psychological in nature. This is best demonstrated when discussing human sexuality. Sexuality is difficult to define in a clinical context, and even more elusive in a systemic or social context. Historically, sexual behavior was interpreted though religious, or ‘moral’ institutions; the industrial revolution revealed the power of science, therefore, sexuality was discussed in terms of primitive mechanical devices (steam engines for example). During the advent of psychology in the late 1800’s sexuality was seen as a conflict between the impulsive but subconscious Id, the rational ego, and the punishing super ego, which placed a focus on female sexuality and male genitals. Ultimately Freud’s Psychodynamics would be challenged by Behaviorism, and later the cognitive revolution in the 1970’s. Until recently, academics had a tendency to medicalize everything, including sexuality and gender roles with social constructs.

Op/Ed I Desperate state of Affairs

What I see is people desperate for influence. The most dangerous thing in the world is desperation. The desperate will try anything. Desperation drives one to side with hate or fear; to ignore science, to ignore reason. The desperate will work together and make up their own narrative to justify a world view. The desperate will decide: immigrants are stealing our jobs, there is no consensus about climate change in the scientific community, and crime and gangs are epidemic. Unfortunately, for the desperate, the truth is not democratic. Current statistics strongly suggest immigrants are not taking the majority of jobs, climate change is accepted and occurring, and gangs and violent crimes are on a low trend—the state of the world is improving. The desperate, like the rest of us, are products of how our nervous system takes in, and processes information. The desperate, like the rest of us, are susceptible to errors in thinking which occur automatically, and almost beyond consciousness. Human cognition is adaptive, and well suited for what it does—finding patterns in the chaos. We take in large amounts of information, and search for narratives and structure amongst the otherwise meaningless universe. Despite the efficiency of human thought, the mind can be misled by how information is presented. Current cognitive-behavioral neuroscience is providing insight into cognitive mechanisms, conceptual limitations, how cognitive errors occur, and how cognitive errors can be overcome. The most obvious cognitive errors in our current political environment are: memory, serial order effect, and availability heuristics, among many other cognitive errors. Memory can be transient or changeable; memory has the ability to evolve. Reality as one may recall can be reconstructed along cognitive anchor points called ‘retrieval cues’. If asked “what did you do last week” you are retrieving information and constructing it alongside basic known information. It is important to note that new, conflicting, misleading information, and emotional salience can alter or influence memory. Serial order effect is the cognitive tendency to recall the first and last items in a series correctly, but being unable to recall information in the middle of the same series. Oftentimes, news networks will start and finish the a news cycle with extreme stories, but background and context is often presented in the middle, therefore, it is difficult to recall. This leads into availability heuristics. Availability heuristics are simple cognitive, or mental shortcut rules, which people use to form judgments and decisions. Although effective for simple information, or situations that only focus on one aspect of a complex problem, this results in displacement or omittance of other pertinent information. Availability heuristics are reinforced by our digital world.  For example, computer programs track online behavior, and by using statistical probability based on past content viewed, we are only shown consumer content that we are likely to approve of. Statistical models of probability increase the frequency of information we consume that will be tailored to us; a computer cherry-picking information for us. Therefore, by only seeing information that we agree with, we can develop a strong sense that our world view is correct, or obviously shared by others. If you follow news from ‘the alt-right’ or ‘fox and friends’ you will only be shown news and ads that relate to this.  Although almost all information processing occurs beyond consciousness, there is a way to defend ourselves from all the misinformation out there, and that is by simply being informed, and staying informed. By understanding the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of cognition, we are given more psychological tools that protect us from being taken advantage of. By being aware of cognitive processing we are protecting the only real freedom we have—how we choose to think and organize our internal thoughts and points of view. Sadly, the desperate, some of which who blindly support those such Donald Trump, have fallen prey with the loss of their cognitive freedom, fueled by desperation and perhaps learned helplessness. All is not lost however, we can study and learn from our current political situation. We are capable of moving towards a better way to govern ourselves, and becoming more informed consumers of information. We need to be open-up our minds, but remain vigilant, and critical of all information. Thus, this will allow us to meaningfully participate in the political process as informed citizens.

It can’t Happen Here:

Sinclair Lewis, like George Orwell, offers a cautionary tale for democracy. As the reader learns about Buzz and his very populist platform which he calls ‘the distinguished proclamation for the forgotten men,’ one should be overcome with a real sense of urgency and panic. Sinclair Lewis describes Donald Trump’s rise and populist movement in America, written a little under a century ago in his book. The title “It can’t happen here” speaks to the historical narrative that the United States has developed solely for themselves—they think they have a political and moral exceptionalism. The train of thought being: Fascism is European, communism is Russian, and American democracy is incorruptible because of its political and legal institutions.  All democracies are faced with challenges with no immediate or obvious answer: increased migrant displacement, increase in automation, drastic changes to post-industrial economies, climate change, and increasing complacency in political processes. What is to be done, or what can we do? Do we blame immigrants by cultivating racial nationalism, or give support when it’s most needed? Do we blame the decrease in industrial labour, but increased industrial output on immigrants, or do we advocate for ‘clean coal’ and invest in retraining and education programs? Do we elect people who divide us, or do we come together and develop a better society? Sinclair Lewis reminds us that even in a democracy, it is possible for the public to elect a fascist or authoritarian leader. To backtrack a little, it must be noted that populism is a very specific term which often gets thrown around and misused. This may seem harmless, but it desensitizes and distracts us from real populism, and the damage it can do. The Alt-right, and another social media have used populism to move the ‘overtone window’, which seems to be a ‘door-in-face’ approach; what was on the political fringe, now looks more reasonable in comparison.

First Response to Mussolini and Italian fascism

What was evident in the linear narrative of human history is there is always a social, or political version of Newton’s third law of thermodynamics, which states “for every action, there is an equal and opposing reaction”.  Mussolini was masterful at using this cause-and-effect to shape Italy’s social policies. This includes, however is not limited to, massive military spending, the development of a massive existential threat to the state, suppression of legal liberalism and core rights. Consequentially, Mussolini would provide others a working model of fascism which would be adapted to the unique cultural, political, and economic challenges of their respective nation states.

Mussolini and his political philosophies were in response to economic, human, moral, and national destruction following the end of the First World War. During the 1920’s and 1930’s England and France had the near impossible task of rebuilding themselves due to being devastated by shortages of manpower, stagnate economies, and were experiencing hyperinflation; resulting from territorial incorporation of Ottoman and other nation states/empires that had be disassembled following the treaty of Versailles.

In response to all this, there was massive political unrest, demonstrations, and worker strikes which paralyzed economies, and perpetuated ongoing systemic poverty that is inherent to the democratic-capitalist system of government and economics. With poverty, and massive political unrest, the democracies of England, France, and the United States must have seemed weak, when compared to the Fascist system which portrayed itself as strong, and purposeful.  Mussolini was confirmed in his belief that the supposed superpowers of Europe (England and France) lacked political will to resist Fascism when Italy invaded Ethiopia.

Intro:

I am in the last few classes of my degree, therefore, it seemed like an optimal time to take some classes that both are electives, and develop a personal curiosity.  I have been working in social work and social services for the last ten years, and currently have a management position managing several staffing teams in an emergency shelter. Working within addiction, mental health, various forms of abuse, and other destructive behaviors people routinely engage in, has definitely influenced my world view, and view on human nature in general. My academic background is psychology and its biological underpinnings, however, I like to think I am a diligent student of history and geography. It may be mundane to some, but I see history as a long, unbroken, historical narrative based on human action followed by social or systemic reaction.

I am currently engaged to a truly wonderful woman. I enjoy archery, shooting, being in the woods, Jeeps, and I am an avid collector of antiques.

I took this class because it spoke to the political, and legal conflict I see in the media every day, and to be honest, I do not fully understand. The nations that constitute the post-war order are portrayed to be under attack both externally, and internally. In the western media populist leaders seem to advocate not trusting judiciary, the press, other branches of government, and calling for the jailing of political dissent. All this is predicated on the premise that migration, legal liberalism, constitutional and human rights, are synonymous with terrorism (or crime), wasteful bureaucracy, and human rights no longer needed.

I am looking forward to learning more about this phenomena, as well as the many points of view this class will bring forth. I feel this plurality will add depth and understanding to the complex historical, legal, and political issues we will be discussing, because the truth always resists simplicity.