Monday, 17 October 2016

Sympathy for Barometers

In my last post I built on Neil MacDonald's observation that political "elitism" isn't about education or wealth, and suggesting that "elitism" about a culture where an important sign of status is making rational decisions without letting emotion get in the way. That doesn't mean that people with power really do this - the people who are best at this usually won't advance to very powerful positions - but it means that people with power make a show of doing this, and that making fun of people for not doing this is publicly acceptable.

I've also recently talked about how rationality is mostly just a fraud and a cover for emotional and egotistical decision making, and that you aren't really being rational unless you are ready to be wrong, maybe even disinterested in whether you are right.

I've even said that logic is basically a failed model for discussing reality.

So now let's talk about how rational, unemotional decision making is so much better than going with your gut.

It's a ton better. Almost all cognition is subconscious. When you go with your gut you get whatever power your brain was ready to invest in that decision brought to bear on the subject. You get some tangle of neurons that may or may not be well suited to the task brought to bear. The reason rationality is better is because it is a language that allows decision making processes to communicate with one another. But using rational decision making we get to bring together various resources in our brains, use parts of our brains that might not be natively inclined to weigh in on the decision. Then what's even better if we get to communicate with other brains.

If we had many worlds to work with and we could agree on an objective, we could ask various people to determine public policy with their gut instinct and then figure out who was the best at it. Someone out there is going to have instincts about how to set, say, criminal laws, that are simply amazing at creating desired policy results. But you take the person who is simply the best at it and compare them to 100 people who are able to effectively pool their thinking and it will look a lot like taking the strongest person in the world and comparing what they can lift to 100 people who are able to effectively pool their strength.

Effectively is an important word. People can't effectively pool their strength to lift a tennis-ball sized object. People aren't effectively pooling their thoughts when they know are more interesting in keeping their social status or in pleasing the highest paid person in the room than they are in being right. People can't effectively pool their thinking through a representative democracy if votes are mostly cast along tribal lines.

So the point of talking about "elites" and the negative culture of "elitism" that has gotten so many people angry enough to vote Sexual Predator for president isn't to say those people are right. It is to say that we can use their anger as a barometer for the health of society.

The old slogan, "No justice, no peace," is sometimes taken as a kind of threat, but it's more of a statement of causation. Peace is a consequence of justice. There is very little justice in America today.

Once upon a time we had the divine right of kings and the law of nature to justify inequality, but we've had a long time to absorb the fact that property is a set of human laws about who gets to own what. Inequality is a democratic decision, but the kind of inequality we keep in America is harmful to the majority for the benefit of the extreme minority.

Police officers are above the law and able to kill young black men with impunity. They are able to set up databases to track the movement of large amounts of cash so they can steal it to buy themselves toys for their offices. They operate much in the way organized criminals would - keeping things from devolving into unproductive chaos, but only for their own interests.

Sexual assault victims are left on their own to prove their own cases against their attackers; from courts that shift the burden of proof from the prosecutor to the victim, to places that actually expect victims to pay for the police investigation into the crime in the form of charges for rape kits. Even when someone is convicted, white skin and a good background mean they aren't taken seriously as offenders.

The federal government has an official murder-by-executive-whim program.

Most of this is true to a lesser extent in Canada as well. There is a lot less justice here than there ought to be in a society that has so much.

Of course Trump supporters would scoff at most of my examples of injustice. In fact, they'd have their own counters. In their minds they live in a world where black people and women who report sexual assaults are a protected class of people who can ruin someone's lives with a word. They cheer on police killings of black men. They support measures to bring in even greater inequality even though they will be on the losing end of it.

Trump's movement doesn't have the answers, it embodies the problem. People who make decisions with their guts are antennas that reflect the values of society. That a few people ought to rule the masses because the masses are stupid is a value of our society. In keeping with that, protecting police - representatives of those rulers - who murder is a value of our society. The the important people are white men - and therefore that those who are not white and those who are not men do not deserve consideration - is a value of our society.

But people making decisions with their guts are also our bulwark against being fooled by a corrupt elite who don't provide justice. We think of Trump supporters as being very easily taken in, but they are actually just taken in by a different kind of thing than the "elite" are. After all, the alt-right movement is an "elite" movement in the sense I'm using the term here. You can use rational arguments to justify anything, and you can get lots of people to believe you. The point of rational arguments is supposed to be that they can be fact checked and reviewed, but the quality of that review is dependent on the reviewers. While the angry Trump supporters may be easy to fool into accepting a non-solution that will actually harm them from a charismatic leader, they are much harder than the "elite" to fool about whether or not there is a problem that needs a solution in the first place.

Using actual objective decision making and setting aside emotional encroachment onto that is the best way to come up with solutions to these problems. But if the "elites" who ostensibly do that aren't creating justice, then they aren't the ones who are ultimately going to decide what the solutions are, instead it will be Donald Trump. This is a situation where if rational people want something done right, they are going to have to do it themselves. But, as I said, the people making the actual decisions aren't people who value rationality, they are people who value the appearance of rationality to maintain social status.

No comments:

Post a Comment