Wednesday, January 24, 2018

My Political Views

The political atmosphere in the U.S., you may have noticed, has become rather charged in recent years. One encounters political arguments of varying quality constantly, and, though I would prefer not to involve myself, I become concerned about the limited range of ideas that people hold, and how I get pigeonholed into descriptions that don't fit me well. Briefly, in the U.S., the thinking is that you are either on "the left" or "the right." These aren't very meaningful descriptions. If you are on the left, you are probably a Democrat and support equality, full government services, sufficient taxation to run the government properly, separation of church and state and abortion rights. If you are on the right, you are probably a Republican and support free enterprise, minimal government, lower taxation, the Christian religion and no abortion rights. When I engage in discussions with people who disagree with me, they usually lack the mental flexibility to characterize my views without resorting to these simplistic stereotypes. I thought I'd take a few minutes to clarify my political views.

Though, ostensibly, I fit better on the left end of the spectrum than the right, I actually don't fit either viewpoint very well, because both accept the current democratic process and a capitalism-based economy as givens. I fit the profile of the left mainly because I think that everyone should be treated equally under the law, and that a significant safety net ought to be in place, even when that requires financial sacrifices by the wealthy. My thinking is biological, starting with the fact that we are eusocial creatures who have cooperation built into our genes. Although the current situation, with overpopulation and strained interactions between historically segregated cultures, has to some extent been precipitating a reduction in cooperation, conceptually we have already reached a point where the simplest solution is to treat all people as members of one group, in which all are equal. This position comes naturally to those on the left, but those on the right tend to view other groups as inherently alien and therefore not meriting equal treatment. Specifically, Republicans who believe in the Puritan work ethic think that they alone are entitled to the fruits of their labor, and that they shouldn't have to share them with others. The Republican position lends itself to racism or other kinds of discrimination and has an ancient basis in the tribal instinct for survival in an environment inhabited by competing groups, hence, although it also has a biological basis, I consider it problematic as a solution to the ills facing mankind, because it encourages future conflict.

As I have said in previous posts, there is ample evidence that capitalism increases inequality, and that is only one of several of its disadvantages. Capitalism is also responsible for pollution, climate change, mass extinctions and the waste of natural resources. However, most people are prepared to overlook the problems associated with it, because they believe that it has brought about improvements in their standard of living. I have said less about the problems associated with democracy and will elaborate on that now. In the books I commented on by Daniel Kahneman, Steven Sloman, Philip Fernbach and Robert Sapolsky, it is readily apparent that the principles of democracy are in desperate need of reappraisal, despite the fact that none of these authors were willing to examine that problem. Specifically, if, as the evidence shows, people don't think clearly, are often irrational, and know far less than they think they do, why would one presume that collective decisions made in a democratic process would provide optimal solutions for a group? There is evidence that small groups of decision-makers make better decisions than individuals, but that applies primarily to problems of limited scale, in which the parameters are significantly restrictive. Time and again, I have witnessed political leaders make poor and uninformed decisions and promote policies whose consequences are not fully understood or are obviously detrimental to the long-term benefits of the citizenry. This may occur as a result of political expediency, ignorance or the desire for personal gain. The fact is that, in a democracy, the voters themselves often do not understand which policies would be to their greatest benefit, and, by electing candidates whose views they share, they are guaranteeing the enactment into law of flawed policy decisions. The top positions in the U.S. government increasingly require a level of competence that no human possesses.

My solution, as I've mentioned, is the gradual phasing out of traditional, hands-on, participatory democratic processes and the gradual phasing in of democratic algorithms, with the ultimate goal of replacing human voting. When AI advances to a sufficient level, it is conceivable that it will be possible to use it for better governance than we have thus far been able to provide for ourselves. At first glance, this kind of "wildlife management" model seems extremely unappealing, but if you imagine how people might actually live in it, it could be much better than what they are experiencing now. Conceivably, everyone could have sufficient food and shelter, a rich personal life and no worries about crime, war, servitude or environmental degradation. There might be reduced access to childbirth if the population became unmanageable, but most people would appreciate the benefits of certain restrictions on behavior, especially if they were administered fairly and equally; many of the current issues associated with partisanship reflect the unequal distribution of rights and restrictions. The need for a sense of self-determination could be satisfied by permitting small-scale decisions at the local level, with the larger, more complex issues falling under the aegis of AI. While, at this stage, this may still be a utopian idea, I have no difficulty imagining a population of happier, healthier people living without having to face their futures worrying about what the decisions made by their incompetent or corrupt leaders will bring. As you can see, this view hardly fits within the parameters of the Democratic or Republican parties.

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