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Democracy, technocracy, the free market or the scientific method for social concern?

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One of the most misunderstood topics among the people I encounter is the application of the scientific method for social concern. There is an old belief that was propagated throughout the centuries, possibly due to an evolutionary cultural baggage that our species has, apparently very difficult to drop, according to which you can’t use science or the scientific method to figure out how to run a society. If you are not familiar with the scientific method, and you don’t have time to read the scientific literature, go to a laboratory, talk to industry professionals and researchers at universities. You can find a very good 9-minute introduction called “the scientific method made easy” by YouTuber potholer54, link in the video description. The topics of strategic resource management and ethics are closely interrelated, and have been the subject of study by politicians, philosophers, and economists in the past. More recently, it became really an interest of lawyers, bankers and lobbyists. Here’s an interesting fact: out of the 535 members of the U.S. Congress, only 22 have science or engineering backgrounds, and of these only two might be considered experienced scientists or engineers. Most politicians are lawyers or bankers who work for corporations, and there should be no surprise that most of the laws that are passed are advantageous to the higher class. One could say that this is of little or no importance: why should the people who manage society know how it actually operates on a technical level? And, would we solve our problems if the people in power were all scientists? Some advocate a democratic system, others believe that a technocracy is the only way to successfully manage a society, and then of course you have the free market advocates, who hold a strong belief that the invisible hand and the power of competition is the driving force to make people happier and more productive. I will explain why all of these approaches are fallacious and display very obvious problems. Democracy is a word that has been used and misused for centuries, so before I go into the details let’s clarify a few concepts. The term comes from the Greek: dēmokratía "rule of the people", which was coined from the words dêmos "people" and Kratos "power", in the middle of the 5th-4th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, such as Athens. To cut short, democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. It is important to point out that no country in the world uses, or has ever used such a system. In the past it was due to problems related to logistics, a small city of a few hundred citizens might have been able to use it but as numbers grew larger it became increasingly more difficult. With today’s technology it would be, in principle, possible, through systems of e-voting on the Internet, but when one looks at the matter more deeply, serious problems arise. There are literally hundreds of things that require a decision to be made, are we to vote all together as a nation on each of these issues? Supposing that was the case, how can we be sure that we took the best choice available at the moment? To understand why this isn’t such a good idea, let’s use an analogy. Suppose you suddenly discover that you have a rash on your skin. What do you do? Would you call up all of your friends for a democratic vote on what actions should you take next? Most people would go to a qualified medical doctor, who will redirect them to a dermatologist, an allergist or any other specialist who might be knowledgeable about the subject. The reason for this is that specialists use well established scientific practices that can be studied, tested, checked and improved constantly. It is very clear to people when it comes to medicine what the course of action should be, and that’s because it has a direct effect on their lives and they can see the results in a relatively short time. Yet, when it comes to the management of society at large, they reject the idea that science has anything to say on this regard, having the illusion that the scientific method is oblivious to the inner workings of society. At this point one might think that a technocracy, a form of government in which engineers, scientists, health professionals and other technical experts are in control of decision making in their respective fields, would be desirable. While, in principle, this is partly true, a technocratic government has other, more insidious problems than a democracy. Simply having experts taking decisions does not ensure in any way that they will not be influenced by some powerful groups to act in a certain way, at the expenses of the unaware majority. Humans are not born corrupt, but when the conditions for corruption arise, history shows us that they will tend to become corrupted. In the end, a ruling elite that makes all the decisions has no obligation to take into account the needs of all the people, and has no interest in sharing this body of knowledge with the rest of society: an institution composed of a small minority, self-sustaining and self-perpetrating. Social systems, up until now, have largely been based on ideologies and then imposed on the population, with pretty much disastrous results. The rules were fairly simple: if you obeyed and agreed with the current ideology you were OK. If not, you were likely to imprisoned, killed, or in the best cases called a terrorist or a fanatic. The most commonly employed strategy for those who have power, to keep their power, is to maintain the population either ignorant, fearful, distracted, or a combination of those. A technocratic system, in and of itself is no better than any other form of government, if certain conditions do not precede the newly created system of governance. So, what exactly are these conditions? Number one: no form of government should be put in place against the will of the people. Often I get asked: "what would you do if most people don’t want to participate in this system, of if they don’t like it?" This is non existent problem, since the new system will only be used if it becomes emergent from the zeitgeist of society, the general cultural trend that underlies the basic values at a given time. If the values don’t change, then nothing will happen, billions of people will continue to starve and have their access to the necessities of life refused, while the richest 1% keeps accumulating more and more wealth. Or, in other words, business as usual. Number two: everybody should get free access to relevant education. The only way to ensure that a small elite does not take advantage of the situation is for all to be scientifically literate. This does not mean that everybody should be a scientist, but rather that everybody should be able to understand how the processes of decision making work, and they should be given all the tools to be able to give a contribution, if they want to. The more people checking and cross-checking each others activities, the more likely you are to have a fair and balanced social system. The more people are ignorant to the inner workings of society, the more likely you end up with a corrupt aristocracy. Most rational people would agree that if such conditions apply, then the fear of a ruling elite or an institution imposing a way of living is nonsensical. But the Internet is also house of all sorts of misconceptions, twisted words and meaningless projections, as we will see. Of all the false dichotomies that people are enslaved to, this has to be one of my favourites: "There's no scientific theory on whether you should use nuclear power or solar panels. You are comparing science with politics and morality and that's absurd. Science, and the scientific method, does NOT tell you which option to choose." Of course, science will tell you which option to choose from, according to data provided and your initial intentions. If you don’t know how the process works, I will attempt to explain it for you in very simple terms. You start by asking yourself what is the desired result, that is, what is your end goal and which conditions need to be satisfied to reach it. Yes, you do have to start from somewhere, and that is what we call the “basic values” of a society, something that we all have to agree on that is beneficial for us. Generally speaking, you want to maximise the well being of everybody, and that needs to be adapted according to the situation. For example, the Zeitgeist Movement is a sustainability advocacy organization and recognizes that all countries must disarm and learn to share resources and ideas if we expect to survive in the long run. Hence the solutions arrived at and promoted are in the interest to help everyone on the planet, not a select group. One could always argue that peace, sustainability and prosperity are not desirable conditions, and that they prefer poverty, corruption, pollution, war and mass starvation. If you do, I don’t know what are you talking about. Let’s go back to our example. In this particular case, the desired result is to produce the maximum amount of energy in the most sustainable, efficient and responsible way possible. Now, let’s compare the two approaches that are at stake: the scientific method and the current socio-political system. This method is fairly straightforward and simple to describe, but for some reason very hard for the general public to understand. First, you collect all the data available: studies, peer-reviewed papers, projections, analysis of currently working technologies, anything that you can find. Of course it has to be reliable and as objective as possible. It is utterly futile to pretend that you can achieve absolute objectivity, errors may always creep in: that is why we use the process of peer review and large samples. Next, you simulate all the possible scenarios according to the data available: what are the environmental impacts of extraction, production, usage and disposal of a particular technology, what are the raw costs or productions in terms of energy, materials, what is the availability of each energy source over time and so on. The end result will be a list of desired values and coefficients, which will tell you what particular technology you want to use. It may be that for a particular geographical area one will be favored over another, due to the topology of the place, the involvement of the local communities and many other factors: what is sure is that it won’t be a one-size-fits-all answer, but rather a personalized result that changes according to the initial conditions. Now, let’s see how things are decided in the current socio-political structure. First, you start by getting yourself elected. It matters not whether you have any technical expertise, understanding or even knowledge of how to solve the problem at hand: this is a popularity contest. As such, the following rules of the game apply: the greater the amount of money at your disposal for your campaign, the greater the probability of success. Of course, in the process you are going to have to accept compromises and donations, the great majority of which will come from multinational corporations and banks, who will ask for your obedient cooperation when the time comes. You gather a group of scientists and technicians for a report on the particular topic, of which you have no technical understanding, and cannot evaluate the validity of the results provided. Most of these scientists and specialists are inside men and woman from the corporations who financed your very political campaign, and who act on the direct interest of their stockholders, not to the solid scientific evidence in the interest of all the people and of the planet. In the end, what matters most is that the expected profits from banks and corporations are stable and solid, the stockholders will generously repay you for your efforts, while a media campaign paid by your investors will secure you a sure victory on the next elections. The reality is that the current infinite economic growth paradigm is not only mathematically unsustainable, but it is ecologically detrimental. While people can debate the theoretical nature of capitalism and how it is supposed to function, one thing is historically clear. It perpetuates and requires constant growth and consumption. The entire basis of the Market System is not the intelligent management of our mostly finite resources on the planet, but rather the perpetual extraction and consumption of them for the sake of profit and “economic growth”. There are, of course, other issues that need to be addressed, with this video I merely wanted to show the basic reasoning behind the use of the scientific method for social concern. In the next videos I shall go into the details and try to resolve some of the doubts that might emerge. Please keep in mind a few facts: this, like science, is an emergent process. Mistakes can always happen, and as they do, they will be corrected and the theory will be upgraded. This is not a search for perfection. Understanding science means understanding that perfect systems, when talking about the natural world, are an oxymoron. All we can do is to strive for a better theory, which can be tested and changed accordingly. This is why the word “proof” is relegated to the fields of mathematics and logic, in science we have theories, models that are consistent with the body of observational knowledge available. I am a human being, and as such I can be wrong. For that reason, I am open for discussion and clarification of any of the points I make. It may be that I miss something, misinterpret some data, have a logical fallacy in the reasoning, or anything else. So, if you do see any of these things occurring, please do point them out in a coherent argument that I can check and verify. "Maybe you will disagree on this subject, but then I must conclude that your reasoning is blocked by your sect/cult" No, this does not count as a coherent argument. Let’s see if I can find something else: "You say you can understand the scientific method, but you sound more like a brainwashed cult follower, than a scientist." No, that’s not that either. If this is such a hard thing to grasp, I will make a video on what a cult is, so that you might stop embarrassing yourself in the future by showing your lack of understanding of what the word cult means and how it should be used. In the meantime I invite everyone to post their comments and preferably the video responses in a concise and clear manner, hopefully we can get a genuine discussion started. Until next time, peace.

Video Details

Duration: 15 minutes and 13 seconds
Country: Portugal
Language: English
Views: 116
Posted by: zeitgeistportugal on Aug 14, 2011

This video is an attempt to show how the various forms of government and decision making work, what are their advantages and their problems.

Translations already available here: http://www.universalsubtitles.org/en/videos/QEFU2Eh3YXrY/info

Sources cited in the video
The scientific method made easy http://goo.gl/v9SZi
Scientists and engineers in the 111th U.S. Congress http://goo.gl/a5uOO
Only two scientists among the 535 member of the U.S. Congress http://goo.gl/Ak8np
BitCoin Forum quote #1 http://goo.gl/JWzes
BitCoin Forum quote #2 http://goo.gl/j24IO
BitCoin Forum quote #3 http://goo.gl/nzDNz

More info on sustainability and social action
http://thezeitgeistmovement.com

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