What would a Rationalist political party look like?

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Discussion by: This Is Not A Meme

What would the platform and agenda of a Rationalist party be? What systems would it favor?

The term Rationalist may appear loaded at first, or perhaps even so universal as to lack real meaning in a political sense. However, if fully embraced it would be a meaningful and new approach to politics. In terms of policy it would mean subjugating the role of tradition, ideology, emotion, and even popularity/consensus to logic and reason. There could be many drawbacks to such an approach, and thus it's not a vacuous term like The Truth Party, or The Always Right Do-Gooder Party.

I'm not saying I know what a platform would look like, or that these are perfect examples, but I think the application would look like this::

1) Mountains of data suggests prohibition is more harmful than any drug. Therefore, end prohibition.

2) Liberty and equality are utopian ideals which find themselves at odds in the prevailing dichotomy of capitalism and communism, which has nothing to do with the science of economics. Left and Right wing policies would be implemented towards the most productive, quantifiable ends. There would be no resentment of "moochers", nor any consideration for the philosophical implications of inequality.

3) Immigration would be determined by economic data, not national identity.

4) Of course gay people can get married… that is, if marriage should at all be a legal concern of the state.

Ideology and tradition are at least a basis for policy, but many laws are passed on imagination and ideology without real data. This allows for fear and manipulation.

"We must favor verifiable evidence over private feeling, otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth."- Richard Dawkins

While any and all discussion is most welcome and appreciated (including personal speculation or fantasies), my questions are: Would a Rationalist Party necessarily hold to the political ideals of The Enlightenment (capitalism, representative democracy, secularism, egalitarianism, free speech, etc)? Are there any platforms inevitable to a Rationalist party? Initial goal? Long term? When is logic and reason not the best path for policy (I'm assuming that's possible)? What issues are woefully lacking in logic and reason?

43 COMMENTS

  1. There are 2 main points that strike me as unavoidable,

    (1) Forget idealism: the ideals you mention (capitalism, democracy, egalitarianism, free speech), all have substantial utility, but rationally, they can not be axiomatic. To the extent that these are useful, they derive that usefulness from empirically testable facts of morality. Sure, in an interim period, pending a convincing analysis, we might say, ‘well, principle X is usually a good one, so lets stick with that here,’ but we must be aware that principle X derives from higher considerations, and should be expected to break down under some circumstances. Ultimately, if we are to be coherent, we must strive to attain our own goals (this is true by definition) – luckily, via the mechanism of the social contract (and probably older mechanisms also), we have extremely highly overlapping goals, so cooperative politics is appropriate.

    (2) Policy must be evidence based. There is a popular assumption that science can not investigate the matter of what is morally appropriate, and therefore can’t form the basis of a decision procedure. As a result, many politicians believe (or at least claim) that by virtue of their expertise in human affairs, they can choose when to follow and when to ignore scientific prescriptions. This is false. Anything meaningful can be investigated by empirical study (to anyone who doubts this: come up with a counter example, then explain how it derives its meaningfulness). This includes the issues of how best to behave and how best to organize society. Politicians do not have access to a higher source of knowledge than science, though many presently behave as if they do. The rational politician is the one who says, ‘I don’t know what is best, lets ask an expert.’

  2. Culture, society, the law, and justice are very complex things, and even rational people can have rational disagreements about what the best policies are.

    But to start, a rational party would be secular. A rational party would look at the policies implemented in various parts of the world and adopt those that are shown to work, and discard those that are shown to fail. What would a rational part mean by “work” and “fail”? A policy works when it improves the overall standard of living, freedom, and justice of its citizens and fails when it reduces these things.

    A rational party would want to have a few basic principals, and rights that they base some of the law on, but these would be chosen in a rational, secular fashion. No room for dogma here – things like the following need to be questioned: representative democracy is the best way to choose a government, free-market capitalism is the best economic system, suppressing some individual rights for the good of society should be done by government, all monopolies are bad, etc…

    Personally, I would want a government that doesn’t interfere with most private behaviour, ignores all religious beliefs, has some sort of democratic method of picking legislators, has a an independent judiciary, rule of law, a simple progressive tax system, and a “good” constitution.

    I would support laws that tax me, even heavily if I’m comparatively wealthy, to support: universal education, universal healthcare, affordable access to the courts, police, fire-fighters, courts, defence (a necessary evil) and various public infrastructure that supports most of the public (roads, bridges, electricity, water, etc…)

    I don’t want laws banning consensual actions between competent adults. I do want government regulation of food safety and drugs.

    Well, I could write a book about this, but time to stop!

    • In reply to #2 by canadian_right:

      But to start, a rational party would be secular…

      But, what if someone invented a religion that would lead to a much higher degree of well-being than anything we have experienced so far. Imagine that all the evidence would support this claim. Would it not be rational for a party that strives for the highest degree of well-being for as many people as possible to embrace that religion? My point is that no world-view (including secularism) is immune to logic and reason. As I pointed out in my other comment rationality by itself is a useless concept. You have to clearly define your goal in order for the term rational to make sense. To use the term rational as a general attribute is just absurd, which is why I despise labels like “rational thinker”. Goebbels was in many ways a rational man. So was Stalin and many other despicable people…

      • In reply to #9 by Nunbeliever:

        You have to clearly define your goal in order for the term rational to make sense.

        I feel that for important reasons this is not quite correct. (Several of your points are still good, though.)

        In my view, it is not necessary (nor, in fact, possible) to define one’s assignment of value to any set of circumstances, in order to perform rational decision making.

        It is only necessary to recognize that we have values and goals, and that the way to best estimate what they are and how to achieve them is through scientific enquiry. Of course, our inferences about what our goals are and how to achieve them may be mistaken, but the measure of rationality is not its ultimate success, but the procedure used – the success can not me known in advance, when the decision actually has to be made.

        I say that it is not possible to define one’s goals, as these are empirical facts of the universe – it would be like trying to define pi to be 3. Note an important distinction: It is true by definition that we have goals (as decision-making entities, it is true by definition that we are algorithms implementing certain decision criteria). We can not declare by definition what those goals are. Similarly, we can not arbitrarily change our top-level goals – where would the decision to change come from?

  3. It could not have any ideology. To adhere to an ideology means you are limited in your ability to make decisions based on evidence, which should the the underpinning of any rational party. An ideology is an example of backwards thinking. Think of socialism, Marx, or capitalism, Smith, Keynes etc, then try and shoe horn it on the world. The ideology came first, not the evidence. So a rational party should have no ideology or platform except that it would make decisions based on available evidence.

    I also dislike “parties” as they imply a hierarchy and disciplines. I would rather the wisdom of the elders, where any issue is put before the ruling body, discussed without reference to ideologies or politics, with a decision based on the consensus of the elders as to what had the support of evidence, with the proviso that the decision can be changed if the evidence changes. Democracy is not the ability of the people to vote every four years for a Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum choice between two parties. Democracy is the application consensus to every question that comes before the ruling body, exercised by our elected representatives, and completely independent of party discipline or politics.

    I can only talk about Australia, but I ask this question frequently. “What is the difference between the Chinese system of government and the democracy of Australia.” The only difference is that in Australia, we get to choose every 3 years which One Party State will govern us. Australia lives in a One Party state. That party once in power, through party discipline and the threat of expulsion against it’s members, implements an ideology, left or right with reference to evidence. This is not democracy. The only way a democracy can be achieved is if the elected representative can vote without fear or favour, for the proposition that is supported by evidence.

  4. Hi this is not a meme,
    first a quibble I’m not sure economics is a science but I agree with your overall point.

    It would be great to have Rationalist Parties. However I feel at least in Australia they’d have bugger chance of holding more than a couple of seats. The Green Party in Australia has fairly rational based policies (from what I have seen, more rational than either of the other parties) however their stances on the environment and Gay marriage, Euthanasia mean they are unlikely to every gain more than balance of power. Australians in general would never vote for them as to implement their policies for the environment our tax rates would have to climb significantly. Pity.

  5. I’m considering calling myself a realist and I think we should move from atheist to that as I feel it to be more descriptive . I wonder sometimes if we shouldn’t change the brand given to us…. Think about it. Rationalist seems to have an adverse effect on the otherwise inclined After all,being real shouldn’t be a problem ,should it????

  6. I assume that by a rational political party you mean a party who’s goal is to achieve as the highest level of well-being for as many people as possible (their rationale). That would mean that they would go to great lengths to ensure that their policies and actions actually achieve their goals. Concepts like personal convictions or ideologies would make no sense in such a party. Logic and reason would be the only things that mattered. It would be a very pragmatic political party. Policies would only be as good as the concrete results they get.

    But, you ask what such a party would look like in a corrupt and dysfunctional environment that constitutes our real world. This is a very interesting question. I think it’s interesting because it shows the problem with the term rational. The term is only useful if you can clearly define what your goal is. When you are dealing with broad concepts like well-being it’s very hard to define what we are actually talking about. Hence, the first task for such a rational party would be to define well-being in a meaningful and scientifically accurate way. This becomes very complicated when you try to form actual policies and act according to them. Let’s just look at your examples:

    1) It’s of course self-evident that a rational person should choose the alternative that is supported by the best evidence. The real question is what amount of data and evidence is enough to validate a decision. Is it always rational to choose the alternative that is best supported by evidence, regardless of how scarce that evidence might be? In real life, most issues are not black and white. Societies are very complex and it’s rare to find overwhelming evidence for any particular subject like Economics, health or well-being in general. You can of course try to calculate probabilities, but even this approach is problematic. Imagine that we have three exclusive ways to confront the future extinction of mankind. The first one will completely prevent the disaster but, the chance of success is very slim. The second one will kill a substantial part the population but the chance of success is much better. The third option will leave only a few humans alive, but the chance of success is pretty much guaranteed. What option should we choose? It all depends on what we prioritize, or in other words our values. From an objective perspective it’s not really possible to say that one of these options are more rational than the others.

    2) Again, who says that a rational approach should not take into account concepts like equality or liberty. In fact, I would say that they are crucial for most people and hence leaving them out of the equation is arguably very irrational. At least if you are striving for the highest level of well-being for as many people as possible. What you suggest, is only rational if your rationale is to make our societies as productive as possible in terms of data that are quantifiable for the time being. Your suggestion does not take into account if people would actually want to live in such a world. My point is once again, that the term rational only makes sense when you clearly define your goals.

    3) Again, you assume the rational thing to do is to only take into account quantifiable data of how productive a person is. There are of course many other considerations, such as compassion and regard for people in dire need of help.

    4) Once again we have to decide what our goals are. If the goal is to achieve the highest level of well-being for as many people as possible, it seems quite obvious that banning gay marriage is not rational.

    What I’m trying to say is that the term rationality is a term that I think is often used to describe a very mechanical and simplistic view of the world. That might be the reason why many religious people fear atheists who call themselves rational thinkers. They see us as emotionally callous people who make calculations without taking into account the complexity of societies and the human condition. This line of thinking is of course very useful to engineers or scientists who have clearly defined goals. How do we make this car consume as little fuel as possible, or how do we cure cancer? There’s no room for values or emotions, because the goal (or the rationale) is very clearly defined. We are trying to solve a very specific task. The problem arises when if try to adopt the concept of rationality as a view of life without taking into account the immense complexity. A good example of this was the discussion “Well-being is not enough” on this very site. The author was quite frustrated with the fact that many of us refused to acknowledge his quantifiable models of well-being. Not because we despise rationality. Quite the opposite. If you try to transform a very complex problem into a simplistic equation, you are actually the one who is irrational. Yes, simplifications are important and that is what science is all about. To make models of reality that are easier to understand than the real world. But, it’s of utter importance that we don’t forget that these models are not the real world and that the more we simplify the more simple our answers and explanations are. Or in other words, we can simplify very complex problems but it’s likely that the conclusions we reach are quite insipid.

  7. I do not think that there should be a such thing as a “rationalist” party. You can be a rational fiscal conservative, a rational libertarian, a rational economic liberal, or a rational socialist. While there are a couple beliefs that all rational people wold agree on, they would be mostly social beliefs (gay marriage and marijuana come to mind). I have talked to rational and irrational democrats, rational and irrational republicans. Because rational people from different parties would not agree, I do not think that a “rationalist”party is possible.

    • In reply to #10 by yumyumboib2:

      I do not think that there should be a such thing as a “rationalist” party. You can be a rational fiscal conservative,

      I think a good start is to point out to people (regardless of ideology) when their ideas are clearly irrational and inconsistent. “Fiscal conservatives” are a good place to start. At least in the US the “fiscal conservatives” are clearly irrational. They claim to value fiscal discipline as one of their most important goals but time and again they support policies and politicians who are the mirror opposite.

      Ronald Reagan is a darling of fiscal conservatives but he increased the US debt exponentially as did the other fiscal conservative favorite George W. Bush. Meanwhile, the presidents that the fiscal conservatives loathe: Clinton and Obama both drastically shrank the debt, Clinton even to the point of the first surplus in modern US history.

      If you know a bit about US history you can find other glaring examples. Before the Iraq and Afghanistan war it was just a given that when you had a war you had to increase taxes. It was rational because wars cost lots of money. The Iraq and Afghan wars were the first wars in US history, and the only wars in my memory except for examples of governments that were in the process of collapsing where a government borrowed significant sums of money from a foreign power (China among others) to pay for a major war.

      a rational libertarian,

      Libertarians in the US are another example. People like Rand Paul and Paul Ryan claim to be libertarians but they support policies that are extremely intrusive to women’s rights. Paul Ryan goes so far as supporting “personhood” laws for fetuses that would not only outlaw abortion but many forms of birth control as well. The idea that these people can call themselves “libertarians” and not get mocked mercilessly by the press is a sign of how distorted the US system is, certain irrationalities are just taken for granted and virtually never challenged.

      I have talked to rational and irrational democrats,

      There is plenty of irrationality on the democratic side as well. My favorite example is the XL Pipeline. There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about the pipeline, questions about how safe the pipeline is for example, but the opposition that the liberals usually use to the pipeline is IMO completely irrational. They say that the pipeline must be stopped in order to combat climate change. That is irrational. Stopping that pipeline will do next to nothing to slow climate change. It’s like trying to stop a junkie by putting his supplier in jail, he will just find another supplier. In the same sense stopping the XL pipeline won’t stop Tar Sands oil from making it to the market, it will just find some other route.

      I actually wish Dawkins would be more vocal on some of these issues. I think having people come out for rationality on both sides could go a long way toward improving the overall political process.

  8. As others have already pointed out, rationalism is a means to instrumentalising one’s ends, not an end in itself. A “rationalist political party” therefore sounds like a somewhat nonsensical proposition. I can make a perfectly rational case for restricting abortion and other “women’s rights” based on the larger interest of society in preventing a demographic death spiral of the sort we’re seeing in the world’s most “progressive” nations. Rational arguments can also be made for eugenics, tribalism, genocide, wars of conquest, social Darwinism and many other “regressive” practices that most culturally Christian atheists would no doubt decry. I’m always baffled by how constrained atheists are in their thinking; in a universe made of only atoms and the void, is something isn’t prevented by the laws of physics, one can make a rational case for it!

  9. Always honored to get my questions here. Great content. Much thanks,

    Pinker and Newberger recently made this animated Socratic Dialog, which raises many of the points of the contributors to this thread. Reason necessitates certain moral premises for policy. It also integrates the historical context of reason and moral/emotional maturity.

    I’m a little let down Pinker doesn’t drive bio-determinsm for why we become more gentle as a species (like the domesticated Siberian foxes who pee themselves with happiness every time they see a human), but he had another point to make.

    • In reply to #14 by This Is Not A Meme:

      I’m a little let down Pinker doesn’t drive bio-determinsm for why we become more gentle as a species (like the domesticated Siberian foxes who pee themselves with happiness every time they see a human), but he had another point to make.

      First of all, thanks for providing a link to that TED talk. I was familiar with the overarching point from the book Better Angels, but I had forgotten a few details, and I think they both (Goldstein and Pinker) added a few that weren’t originally included. Plus, it’s always fascinating viewing.

      Second of all, I don’t know what you mean by “bio-determinism”, exactly, but if you mean biological evolution leading to more altruistic individuals, then I think it’s irrelevant. Most of the change in the moral zeitgeist owes itself to actions that occurred only a few centuries or decades ago, cross-culturally and in ways that cannot be accounted for by, say, natural selection pressures. In any case, there’s a paucity of evidence for biological evolution directly playing a role in our reasoning towards more humane practices.

      • In reply to #16 by Zeuglodon:

        In reply to #14 by This Is Not A Meme:
        Second of all, I don’t know what you mean by “bio-determinism”, exactly, but if you mean biological evolution leading to more altruistic individuals, then I think it’s irrelevant. Most of the change in the moral zeitgeist owes itself to actions that occurred only a few centuries or decades ago, cross-culturally and in ways that cannot be accounted for by, say, natural selection pressures. In any case, there’s a paucity of evidence for biological evolution directly playing a role in our reasoning towards more humane practices.

        Exactly. Whatever are the causes for the decline of violence (assuming it’s real) it can’t be primarily a factor of “biodeterminism” if by “biotederminism” we mean the process of evolution by natural selection. As far as anyone knows we are genetically identical to the humans that Pinker writes about in the beginning of his book, the ones who took delight in figuring out all sorts of bizarre ways to torture people and viewed public executions and torture the way modern people think of reality TV. (Of course the more enlightened among us think reality TV is only a small step better than public executions ;-)

        And I did a quick lookup of Siberian foxes and it seems to me there is nothing “natural” about their evolution. They are example of UN-natural selection, they were bred explicitly to be timid and not to try to rip the flesh off the people who are raising them in order to do that to them.

        • In reply to #17 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #16 by Zeuglodon:

          They are example of UN-natural selection, they were bred explicitly to be timid and not to try to rip the flesh off the people who are raising them in order to do that to them.

          As I recall they bred two lots in parallel, super cuddly and uber vicious both within 7 generations. The rate of change and the extreme (non-natural) selection pressure points to gene expression as the mechanism rather than actual genetic change.

          This remains interesting though. These are caged animals with much reduced capacity for a cultural aspect to behaviour change, but a huge pre-cultural change to both extremes possible over a few generations. We very much breed ourselves with elaborate social conventions. Do we breed warriors when needed?

      • In reply to #16 by Zeuglodon:

        Second of all, I don’t know what you mean by “bio-determinism”, exactly, but if you mean biological evolution leading to more altruistic individuals, then I think it’s irrelevant. Most of the change in the moral zeitgeist owes itself to actions that occurred only a few centuries or decades ago, cross-culturally and in ways that cannot be accounted for by, say, natural selection pressures. In any case, there’s a paucity of evidence for biological evolution directly playing a role in our reasoning towards more humane practices.

        Bio-determinism, as is in biology can significantly explain our behavior, even cultural trends and norms.

        I see an unresolved area in Pinker’s observation that we are becoming more moral and kind, or at least less violent. I think a strong argument could be made for neoteny making us a gentler, less adrenal-driven sub-species. I agree there is a lack of evidence to push this argument into being a valid stance, but as a speculation, the ability of humans to promote neoteny in canine species has me wonder if sexual-selection within our own species hasn’t allowed for rapid changes in our endocrine system. Dmitri Belyaev killed the foxes that even growled at humans, and human society creates a similar selection process which is just as absolute. Not much room for the Warrior Gene in cities.

        There is a huge piece of data that puts this speculation at bay, for me personally. Robert Sapolsky was studying baboons, their hierarchical culture enforced through bullying, and cortisol levels. A fierce patriarchy, the alpha-males showed highest cortisol, which seemed like an argument for bio-determinism. The tribe he was studying got into a supply of TB infected meat, discarded by human. The alpha-males died, perhaps due to their stressful approach to life. With them out of the way, a new matriarchal baboon culture sprang forth, more similar to bonobos. When new adult males enter the tribe they adjust to the new culture. This cultural change occurred before breeding could account for it.

        Pinker is known for raising the most outrageous biodetermination arguments, and I’m waiting for this to combine with his observations on violence.

        • In reply to #21 by This Is Not A Meme:

          Bio-determinism, as is in biology can significantly explain our behavior, even cultural trends and norms.

          That statement is IMO one of those things that is obviously true and hence not all that interesting. Of course biology can significantly explain behavior, there are all sorts of examples from termites and bees up to humans where we can correlate behaviors and biology. The dance of bees for example is a complex and not completely understood yet mechanism used to communicate food sources to the hive. Even a cursory look at the behavior makes it obvious that it has to be primarily genetic, that bees aren’t teaching each other bee dances as part of their maturation but they have an understanding of how to do and interpret them hard coded into their genes.

          Or if you want to go to more complex animals, in humans there are all sorts of results from twin studies, where they look at identical twins raised apart, so I.e. two people who are identical as far as the genes go but have very different environmental learning experiences. Lots of results from these studies show that obviously ” biology can significantly explain our behavior” for example, IQ scores and other metrics for evaluating things like verbal skills are almost identical for twins raised apart. That alone shows that biology has a significant impact on human behavior.

          In any nature-nurture debate it’s almost always never a question of “is it nature OR nurture?” but rather “which part (and how much) is nature and which part nurture?”

        • In reply to #21 by This Is Not A Meme:

          There is a huge piece of data that puts this speculation at bay, for me personally. Robert Sapolsky was studying baboons, their hierarchical culture enforced through bullying, and cortisol levels. A fierce patriarchy, the alpha-males showed highest cortisol, which seemed like an argument for bio-determinism.

          While I think it’s a given that biology can determine behavior I think the model you are using for how biology determines behavior is far too simplistic. What you are doing is equivalent to a Martian who has never seen a computer taking the computer apart, weighing the various components and then trying to draw conclusions such as “does more silicon make a smarter computer?” or “how much electricity does it require for a computer to calculate square roots?” You wouldn’t get very far studying a computer that way because the model, that just one chemical or one physical parameter is directly correlated to one area of behavior is far, far too simplistic. So the same with models such as “empathy = hydrocodone” or “hostility = testosterone”, etc. Especially for human behavior such simplistic models are simply not going to take us very far.

          To study a computer you would need to eventually develop mathematical concepts like a Turing Machine and realize that every computer is an example of a Turing Machine. And to get that kind of understanding you can’t just look at the computer at a physical level, how much silicon, how much electricity, etc. You would have to turn the thing on and interact with it and understand it at a functional level. E.g., understand things like the difference between the OS and applications. I think that is the kind of analysis we need to do on human cognition and while the physical aspects are an important part of that analysis they are only one part.

  10. “(…)2) Liberty and equality are utopian ideals which find themselves at odds in the prevailing dichotomy of capitalism and communism, which has nothing to do with the science of economics. Left and Right wing policies would be implemented towards the most productive, quantifiable ends. There would be no resentment of “moochers”, nor any consideration for the philosophical implications of inequalit………………….”

    I wouldn´t feel comfortable discussing the issue, but I´ve find out that this author had been conferencing here in Portugal- in my Institute on 28th-

    The challenging question would rather be:

    As Karl Polanyi himself states in The Great Transformation:

    “To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment . . . would result in the demolition of society.”

    see Michael Burawoy

    Anyway, how could civil rights such as “liberty” or “equality-in law” harm economy?

    Challenges for Global Sociology

    I am so sorry I coudn´t attend.

    Michael Burawoy em Portugal: a ciência como interpelação construtiva da sociedade

  11. I’m an open-minded spectator of the way Jesse Ventura is shaping his presidential aspirations. It’s surely relevant to the topic to raise the nearest feasible, funded, extant example of one seeking a rationalistic overhaul of governance. Although open to ridicule (Ventura being not only a former governor, but a former film star, wrester, and navy seal), I was surprised and impressed by elements of his latest “Off the Grid” videos (I concede that as an observer, I’m an ill-informed, non-US citizen). I might also be influenced by my love of the film “Predator”.

  12. Interesting thread.

    The other thing you are doing here, This Is Not A Meme, is assuming that (a) society has to be “governed” which I dispute – at least to the extent we are governed today; and (b) that once having made some rational decisions, this future government would be able to implement them.

    Secondly, whilst I dislike politics and politicians as much as the next person – perhaps more – I think we generally do them a disservice. Firstly, the ideologies to which they claim to subscribe – socialism, free market capitalism or whatever are very rarely held without reference to the outside world or to other opposing ideologies – most politicians are simply leaning towards one set of principles which either puts them to the left or to the right. I believe the Punch n Judy politics is just to try and differentiate themselves in the market – on most things politicians have already worked out the best (or if you prefer, the most rational) answers and agree with each other.

    So whilst there may be plenty of work ahead to refine government policies and/or their delivery, I suspect, if we were to move there today, we may not notice too much difference.

  13. Hi This Is Not A Meme,

    What would the platform and agenda of a Rationalist party be? What systems would it favor?

    Rational: In accordance with reason or logic.

    But logic alone cannot decide policy. It is perfectly possible to conclude that different policies are called for from the same evidence. Evidence can be judged, rationally, from different philosophical starting points.

    1. Mountains of data suggests prohibition is more harmful than any drug. Therefore, end prohibition.

    The difficulty with any logical decision is that it’s validity, or utility, are constrained by the evidence used to produce it. More simply: What might seem to be a good idea at the time, later turns out to be not so clever.

    What may be missing here is evidence of what a free market in opiates would do at the level of the personal individual – and how common medically or psychologically vulnerable people ar. In turn this will have an effect at the level of wider society …

    The first thing a Rational Party would ask, therefore, is: What are the limits of reason and logic?
    The obvious answer, it seems to me, is that a Rationalist Party needs to decide how it might decide policy when evidence as absent, or limited.

    In the case of opiate prohibition, the status quo appears to be the best way of safeguarding the most individuals – and therefore of preserving the peace – is to support that, while asking the question at the next level up the chain: Why is it important that we make a policy change on opiate prohibition?

    The evidence is that all liberal western democracies, and many other regimes, have been drawn into a so-called war on drugs. This is proving to be phenomenally expensive while giving every appearance of delivering, at best, a very low level of achievement against the necessary goals.

    In addition, other, legal, drugs which are freely sold (e.g. alcohol) show every sign of at least paying for the downsides they produce through employment and taxes.

    Thus: being wholly-rational will tend to delay decisions in some areas and will not very likely change much overnight.

    Being rational is not a panacea. We are still left with two big questions:

    • How does the Rational Party decide in a pinch?
    • What constitutes evidence of suitable quality to use for policy decisions?
    1. Liberty and equality are utopian ideals …

    Being rational clearly doesn’t stop one from being emotional, or prone to outbursts.

    Liberty is a philosophical notion that naturally recommends itself to all human beings universally, until we become politicians.

    Equality is just an adult word used to dress up the childish cry of: “It’s not fair!”

    The World is not balanced. Fairness is something that most of us, most of the time, see as a simple way to express our belief that society (and therefore all of us as individuals) is better off when we try to at least tilt the World back towards a more even distribution of resources. That seems to me to be less idealistic, more practical egalitarianism.

    If the Rational Party were driven purely by rational considerations I can see no reason to believe that liberty and egalitarianism would result. It would depend entirely on what the members considered to be central. Even assuming that the philosophy of a Rational Party automatically included the long term goal of Utilitarianism (the maximum happiness and minimum suffering for all citizens – which is a bit of a stretch) this would not preclude, say, the Kims of North Korea from re-naming their party the Rational Party. After all; all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

    Liberty and equality are … ideals which find themselves at odds in the prevailing … dichotomy of capitalism and communism …

    This sentence does not describe the global politics of today (i.e. prevailing) – this is second-half 20thC politics.

    Liberty and equality are … ideals which find themselves at odds [with the] dichotomy of capitalism and communism, which has nothing to do with the science of economics.

    Economics certainly has the best claim to being a science – among the social ’sciences’ – as it works, by and large, with quantifiable data. The questions economists ask are not free of philosophical bias and the conclusions that they reach, by the same token, may not be impartial. Nevertheless, where data are verifiable and the interpretations are not too ambitious, economists can be said to be studying truth. Economists themselves, of course, recognize that as scientists they should report their findings in the most factual way, no matter how unpalatable. Not for nothing are they known in political circles as; the Dismal Science.

    Even so, once again, we return to the problem of tinted spectacles when reading reports. The philosophy of the reader will determine what weight is given to the data and, as very few politicians actually keep up with the developments within economics, many will discount or willfully misunderstand economic information – just as they ignore climate change reports.

    We would obviously expect better of Rational Party members. But, in the end, they will be human with human frailties.

    Left and Right wing policies would be implemented [by a Rational Party] towards the most productive, quantifiable ends …

    That would be the aim. But then isn’t that the aim, also, of avowed capitalists and communists?

    Again: Rational policy making does not only depend on evidence – it depends on the philosophical stance you take when reviewing that evidence. There is no lack of capitalists and communists claiming every day that they are making rational, evidence-based, decisions.

    1. Immigration would be determined by economic data, not national identity.

    Easier said than done. Item 3 brings up another probable cause to be skeptical about a purely Rational Party: Which evidence?

    The pat answer is that a Rational Party will claim to consider all the evidence all the time. But, they will say – and with good reason – they will not give all the evidence equal weight.

    The evidence is that, at a biological level, I may be more closely related to a woman from Sudan than I am to Pastor – my neighbor and friend for nearly 20 years, who’s children attended the same schools as my children, who shares the same county of birth with me, who I have frequently holidayed with, and, and, and …. At a social level, however, try telling that to Pastor. Pastor, a University graduate, will claim that it is right to resist immigration from Africa, and he will vigorously defend his political position as moral and rational, while claiming that economic data are irrelevant.

    I hope, by this stage, my main message is becoming clear. While it is surely preferable that our politicians seek out evidence, that they make qualitative judgments as often as possible, and that they use logic when weighing the evidence – this is insufficient.

    Many, but by no means all, politicians today would defend their decisions as rational even Anthony Blair and George W. Bush – who both claimed to use direct advice from God.

    1. Of course gay people can get married … that is, if marriage should at all be a legal concern of the state.

    This brings up another problem when considering a Rational Party. It is perfectly rational (philosophers have been doing it for many centuries – if not millennia) to conclude that the best of all possible worlds is an all-powerful Leviathan of a state or a vindication of natural society.

    Political decisions depend on your starting point, your philosophy (the thought-framework you naturally incline to) and the manner in which you conduct your research (gather evidence).

    A Rational Party – I would fervently hope – would be one where the first questions are not about ‘how do we decide a policy on X (where X, in this case, is gay marriage)’ but rather: Is this a useful question to ask – is it necessary that we have a policy at all?

    Note that, already, I have departed from rationalism. I have begun by asking what philosophy we should apply in order to guide our thinking and, therefore, what will drive our enquiries. Thus, our evidence-gathering, and all that comes after it, will be steered by this question like moving the tiller just a thumb’s width on a mighty ship. No-one notices at first, and everyone complains about a seemingly unimportant discussion, but a month later we find ourselves looking at a very different horizon.

    Ideology and tradition are at least a basis for policy …

    In the sense that the ’reason’ that permeates my definition of rational might mean ’reasonable’, I disagree.

    If a method has lasted 100, or 500, or a 1,000 years then it has earned the right to be given serious consideration before we change it. It must have had considerable value to last that long. But we must also be wary; traditions have a habit of outliving there value. A Rational Party would look anew at traditions, when they can justify the time spent and the possible gains from change – but would never hold tradition in awe.

    Ideology is the curse of all politics. I have yet to see – with my own eyes or within any historical text – a political ideology that did not descend, without apparent ceremony, into dogma. This is perennially true of nationalism.

    Politicians throughout my lifetime have squandered vast amounts of time (mine and my fellow citizens, just as much as their own) on in-fighting over what should be in dogma A or B, dogmatic interpretation and the conflicts between dogma A and dogma B and dogma C …

    Will a Rational Party deliver us from this evil? Dream on.

    Okay, let’s be a little more fair, a Rational Party could at least be expected to begin by asking: What is the right question to ask … or would they? A Rational Party might conclude that it is most rational to allow citizens to bring the questions of policy to them. Who, I wonder, would then set the agenda?

    … many laws are passed on imagination and ideology without real data. This allows for fear and manipulation.

    You mean that politicians are good at passing laws for their own good and to hell with the rest of us? The record is not encouraging. Makes you wonder about the truth of democracy …

    “We must favor verifiable evidence over private feeling, otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth.”- Richard Dawkins

    This is an excellent principle to live by – but is it rational? and if it is rational, under what conditions is it rational – should I apply this principle to myself first, to my neighborhood first, or to society at large first? It depends on your philosophy – something that we have no matter how hard we try to say we don’t. Anyone tempted to say “I refuse to have a philosophy” needs to stop and think for a moment. Are you saying you will base your judgment on poor thinking, or even no thinking? Even if your answer is yes – you have defined your philosophy, and it is one that the rest of us will simply ignore unless we happen to share your emotional attachments.

    Also; what evidence? Who gathers it and under what pretext? Who verifies the data, and how? Finally, something far too often forgot on this Site yet politically vital: Who reports it?

    The best response to Dawkins, it seems to me, is to say that his principle can be improved:

    **We must favor skepticism over private feeling … **

    I would add Richard Feynman’s advice:

    The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.

    Would a Rationalist Party necessarily hold to the political ideals of The Enlightenment (capitalism, representative democracy, secularism, egalitarianism, free speech, etc.)?

    As above (on the Kims) there is no direct link between rationalism and any particular form of government or social order. If, however, you live in a country where the philosophical underpinnings of the Enlightenment persist, and given that a central theme of Enlightenment thinking was that we must build institutions, particularly political institutions, on a rational basis I don’t see why these would change? The freedom of the press is something that a New Enlightenment ought to be considering – and the Net holds out options not available to the original Enlightenment – but that is another discussion which, perhaps, we should take elsewhere.

    Are there any platforms inevitable to a Rationalist party?

    Yes, wherever the question of policy is unambiguous, the basis of research widely agreed, the evidence clear, abundant and verifiable and the conclusion logical. No matter how unpalatable the result would be to voters, the Rationalist Party would be forced to defend the position.

    Initial goal?

    Re-visit Enlightenment principles – as you suggested.

    Long term?

    A rational discussion of global issues – like population migration, cultural friction and climate change.

    When is logic and reason not the best path for policy (I’m assuming that’s possible)?

    When it is an issue where data is difficult to quantify or qualify, when it is a question of philosophical difference and where vested interests are involved – particularly where such interests find sympathy in information dissemination.

    What issues are woefully lacking in logic and reason?

    The biggest single problem for a Rational Party is that most people are not rational. Where, above, I said that you have a philosophy whether you like it or not … it is a sad fact of life that in most countries a very large minority really do refuse to have a philosophy – they really do live their lives and base their judgments based on poor thinking, or even no thinking. The politicians love them – while, at the same time, frequently expressing the belief that being a politician is a “profession”. Go figure.

    Peace.

    • In reply to #22 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

      In the case of opiate prohibition, the status quo appears to be the best way of safeguarding the most individuals

      If you mean that heroin and cocaine should still be illegal I agree with that. That is not the same as saying we should keep the status quo. The status quo for drug crimes in the US is an abomination. We put an insane number of people in jail for what is or at least should be a medical problem. Putting someone in jail for being a user of any drug is insane. It’s a model of criminal behavior that is still influenced by religious thinking, that some behaviors are just inherently immoral and that part of society’s job is to punish bad people.

      Societies job is to prevent harm to innocent people not punish bad people. Preventing the legal sale of cocaine and heroin, at least I think you could make the case, that falls within a legitimate goal of society. But to do it by taking people who are users and throwing them in jail for years, that is barbaric. Especially since there is an incredible disparity in the way the poor and the rich are treated. A poor junkie goes to jail for what could be some of the most important years for them to get a job skill and education. A rich junkie gets a good lawyer and gets off with a warning.

      Thus: being wholly-rational will tend to delay decisions in some areas and will not very likely change much overnight.

      The examples you give don’t show that rationality is impossible or will slow down change. They just show that overly simplistic analysis will give you bad results. Looking at the current drug problem and then saying “gee this sucks” (it does) “the answer is to just make all drugs legal!” (no, it isn’t).

      What is needed is actual rationality, and that requires thoughtful analysis and hard decisions. And of course it’s not as if you can take a group of rational people, have them look at a problem, and in five minutes all come up with the same obvious rational answer. There will always be different ways to interpret data and arguments about how to interpret the data and what to do about it. But provide any example of social stupidity (e.g., the US Iraq war, the war on drugs) and I can guarantee you I can make a good argument that the problem is too much religion, emotions, etc. and not enough rationality.

      • Hi Red Dog,

        If you mean that heroin and cocaine should still be illegal I agree with that. That is not the same as saying we should keep the status quo.

        I wasn’t trying to comment on current policy, I was trying to use This Is No A Meme’s ‘model’ policy.

        Societies job is to prevent harm to innocent people not punish bad people.

        Is that right.

        My personal view is that the State has a role in protecting the People. But only to the extent that it protects our natural rights, our rights to free expression, self-determination, and so on. But, I remain to be convinced that the State has a role in keeping me safe from all harm. What is your supporting argument?

        I will admit, straight away, that I do see a role for the State in minimising risks for the vulnerable. But, for me, this means identifying the vulnerable and providing safety nets – not giving the State power over society or individuals. There is a balance here that politicians are failing to make. The so-called War on Terror has been abused by politicians using fear tactics to over-reach.

        Thus: being wholly-rational will tend to delay decisions in some areas and will not very likely change much overnight.

        The examples you give don’t show that rationality is impossible or will slow down change.

        We’ll my piece was 100s of words long, and I can’t monopolise the conversation. In any case I wasn’t trying to say that rationality is impossible – sorry if that was’t very clear – I was trying to say that rationalism, alone, cannot be the basis for a political party.

        I was also only suggesting that a wholly-rational political party would suffer, initially, from a probable delay in forming policies because there is a natural time-lag in any data-gathering and processing.

        [SW's examples] show that overly simplistic analysis will give you bad results.

        This is, indeed, a large part of my argument. Again, I apologise if that wasn’t clear.

        What is needed is actual rationality, and that requires thoughtful analysis and hard decisions.

        No argument here.

        And of course it’s not as if you can take a group of rational people, have them look at a problem, and in five minutes all come up with the same obvious rational answer. There will always be different ways to interpret data and arguments about how to interpret the data and what to do about it. But provide any example of social stupidity (e.g., the US Iraq war, the war on drugs) and I can guarantee you I can make a good argument that the problem is too much religion, emotions, etc. and not enough rationality.

        It seems to me that we can go one baby-step further. Religions are bad for our politics because they’re dogmatic. So too are some politicians, even when they’re not pretending to have a hotline to some god or other. The clearest example of this has been the way in which some politicians have approached the US Federal budget negotiations. How much political capital was wasted is anybody’s guess.

        It is political dogma that rational politics can defeat.

        Peace.

  14. I just find the OP a bit funny, did it really meant to be funny?Were you serious?
    Sentences as capitalism as an ideal of Enlightenmentt is obviously anachronic?!!???????????
    As Liberty and Equality can be related to communism or capitalism ?
    Obviously, I have many more doubts than answers what will be positive if I tryed to know more.
    I can confess that-in my fantasies- What does not seem to me rational is the extent of luxury in the hands of a few, to take a look on such luxurious mansions (worst than the Ucranian minister) is an absurd and harm economy, so I would of course rather be supportive of “Robin Hood” policies, I consider slavery that someone works so hardly when their wage cannot even feed them properly no matter their hard work.
    Revolutions such as russian and french ones would not happen if the inequality was not so high although they seem quite different.

  15. “While I think it’s a given that biology can determine behavior I think the model you are using for how biology determines behavior is far too simplistic”

    I assume you were in fact over simplistic when you assumed “our natural drives” go against human rights, or feminism or other social structure that not patriarchy as far as male and female interests-economy- are quite opposed, but you only assumed one part of it, what could be more simplistic than this even in mathematical terms?

    And let be even more “mean”: I have my own doubts of the skills of someone when it compares biologic organisms to cars etc (it can be obviously my prejudice).
    Weren´t you forgeting that female are also included in the term “species”?

    • In reply to #28 by maria melo:

      “While I think it’s a given that biology can determine behavior I think the model you are using for how biology determines behavior is far too simplistic”

      I assume you were in fact over simplistic when you assumed “our natural drives” go against human rights, or feminism or other social structure that not patriarchy as far as male and female interests-economy- are quite opposed, but you only assumed one part of it, what could be more simplistic than this even in mathematical terms?

      I don’t think what I said was overly simplistic although I do think the way you are describing it is. What I was saying is something that Pinker said in his book The Better Angels and he backed it up with lots of good evidence. That some of our natural drives, e.g. for men to assert dominance over the tribe and over women, go against modern concepts such as feminism. You seem to be implying that saying that somehow makes me evil or means I don’t support feminism which couldn’t be more wrong. In fact the kind of analysis Pinker does is the kind of thing I’m talking about that is sophisticated and I think can make actual progress toward understanding human behavior: trying to understand some of the various drives we have from our genes and the evolutionary reasons for those drives.

      Your reaction is typical of people on the left and it’s why so many people associate “left” with “emotional, impractical” You take some scientific claim I’m making and say it’s bad because it somehow supports ideas you don’t like. I don’t agree that my interpretation argues against feminism, on the contrary I think it supports feminism because it tells us why the human race has been so sexist for so long and understanding why you have a problem is the first step to addressing it. But even if I’m wrong the bigger point is you can’t use a political agenda to guide research. Doing that is one of the things that has held the social sciences back for so long.

      And let be even more “mean”: I have my own doubts of the skills of someone when it compares biologic organisms to cars etc (it can be obviously my prejudice). Weren´t you forgeting that female are also included in the term “species”?

      I don’t understand what that means. I don’t remember comparing biological organisms to cars and in any case I think that kind of criticim is vapid. “You can’t compare a human to a car” makes no sense, it’s not either right or wrong because, and this seems to be a theme today, it’s just ambiguous. A car may be a perfectly good metaphor (or it may be terrible in many cases I agree) it all depends on what kind of comparison you are making.

      I also don’t know what you are referring to when you say I forgot females are part of the species. What exactly did I say that makes you think that? In fact I think I’m more vocal than most people on this site about issues such as the assault on women’s reproductive and other rights being carried out by the right wing in the US.

  16. I would approach the lack of any rationalist political agenda via the independent route. Make a case for voting independent, then stack the field. You can spend as much as you want on a vote independent because your not promoting any one candidate. You are simply making a PSA about the benefits (if there are any) of voting independent; you are promoting an option not a person. The individual candidates would run their campaign as they usually would but with the added support of a”vote independent” campaign in the background.

    Building a Rational Party would have more haters than lovers. Atheists are like minded independents. Just hand pick who they will be.

  17. “Your reaction is typical of people on the left”

    (in reply to Red Dog´s previous comment)

    In Biology there is no such thing as left or right wing political parties (that would be the real anthropomorphism), although you can suppose nature as red in tooth and claw, it doesn´t mean that kindness is not natural, and once again, if there are people that love to harm and exploit others, it doesn´t mean “human rights” are against our natural drives, are you putting yourself in the place of the victim or the agressor (clearly on the place of the agressor, not the victim).Please weight your own words: “human rights are against our natural drives”.

    • In reply to #32 by maria melo:

      In Biology there is no such thing as left or right wing political parties (that would be the real anthropomorphism),

      I never said there was.

      although you can suppose nature as red in tooth and claw, it doesn´t mean that kindness is not natural, and once again, if there are people that love to harm and exploit others, it doesn´t mean “human rights” are against our natural drives, are you putting yourself in the place of the victim or the agressor (clearly on the place of the agressor, not the victim).Please weight your own words: “human rights are against our natural drives”.

      Again you are totally twisting what I said. You seem to be implying that I somehow think sexism or male dominance is good just because I’m claiming that there is evidence that such behavior may have a genetic influence. It’s as if I said “we have a natural tendency to crave sugar and fat” and you replied “but eating too much sugar and fat are bad for you”

      Saying that there is a genetic tendency to do X doesn’t mean it’s inevitable and certainly not that it’s desirable or moral to do X I’ve said that explicitly many times.

    • In reply to #32 by maria melo:

      Maria, I think you’re being a little too hard on Red Dog. I don’t remember any comment he’s made here that was sexist and I think he’s right when he says:

      trying to understand some of the various drives we have from our genes and the evolutionary reasons for those drives.

      Feminism and Evo-Bio/Psych have been at odds for some time now. I felt conflicted over this because I feel I owe everything to the feminists who came before me. It’s the first intellectual movement that I encountered as a teen in the 70′s. Feminism led me straight to Atheism, for which I’m grateful. However, once I had finished my degree, spent time living in the third world, did some reading on evo-bio/psych, and anthropology. I realized I was plunked right smack in the middle of two different viewpoints on women and our role in this species of ours in a long evolutionary perspective. It was disturbing to be in that place.

      Something that helped me was to realize that both sides of the matter have valuable truths but also that both sides have claims that on examination, were doomed. Feminism will have to come around to deal with the empirical truths that evo-bio/psych puts forth and science must acknowledge that women have been left out of the picture, leaving us with a male oriented, male dominated picture of- like Red Dog said, “evolutionary reasons for those drives”.

      So Maria, please don’t despair over this exasperating conflict. At this point in time I’m actually hopeful that a better understanding of the root causes of certain behaviors like rape for example, are being sorted out by both science and feminism and I hope you’ll agree that this is in everyone’s best interests. Using the example of rape, I am ever grateful to the feminists for their aggressive push for progress on that issue in this society. I also credit evo-bio/psych for the analysis of rape and the motivations men have to participate in rape. I have two daughters and in discussions of rape we favor an integrated approach.

      It’s not just men who have some nasty evolutionary imperatives. Some of the behaviors linked to our own human female reproductive strategy are also downright despicable. Infanticide is one of these very difficult topics that science has given us the space to discuss and come to terms with. What we need is to understand why these exist in our repertoire of behavior and then what can we do to reduce their frequency in that repertoire. From this perspective, I think we’re making acceptable progress, at least in the developed part of the world.

      For reading on this subject a good place to start is with the book, Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species, by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. This book presents the female side of the evo-bio story, finally!!! It was such a relief when I read this some years ago. Like putting a puzzle together and knowing that there is a whole handful of pieces missing and then someone just plops them right down in front of you and viola! They fit!

      Another book that I’m excited about is Evolution’s Empress which is a collection of writings that are dealing with the conflict of Feminism and evo-bio-psych. Unfortunately, it seems that this is classified as a text book and is priced so high that I couldn’t bring myself to pay that much for the book. I’m waiting for the price to come down but I’ve read all of the excerpts that Amazon allowed me to see and I’m excited to buy it when I can.

      I also agree with Red Dog that Pinker has made great contributions to this topic and I am, like RD, a great fan of his work, but for our purposes here, I encourage you to read what women are contributing to this attempt at reconciliation of these very tough topics.

      Consilience is happening :-) Hang in there!

      • In reply to #34 by LaurieB:

        In reply to #32 by maria melo:
        Maria, I think you’re being a little too hard on Red Dog. I don’t remember any comment he’s made here that was sexist

        Thanks. I think Maria is referring to a comment I made a long time ago on a different thread. I actually barely remember it, in fact I forgot the context, but I remember at one point I said something about how Pinker’s Better Angels book puts forward a hypothesis that a lot of violence through history can be attributed to the role human males had to play as hunter gatherers to be successful at reproduction.

        Essentially Pinker points out that women are the scarce resource that men have to compete for and that for a woman the most successful reproductive strategy is to foster things like cooperation because the women (and again I’M NOT SAYING THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE) ended up in hunter gatherer tribes getting stuck with most of the child rearing. For a male the the most successful strategy was more likely to be promiscuous. (I’m talking about strategies in a game theory sense here) Also, since the women tend to be the scarce resource that men have to compete for it is rational to believe that for men our genetic predispositions will be more likely to encourage us to dominate and to stand out as better from our peers where as for women the emphasis will be more on working with others because they need that to raise the kids. And again I’ll say what I’m putting forward — if it’s true — are just tendencies, drives, none of that means its inevitable or moral.

        That’s all just an hypothesis btw, I acknowledge that and Pinker says it much more clearly than I do but that’s the gist of it. As I’ve said before, I think this analysis actually supports feminism, just as understanding why we crave sugar and fat can help us control those urges so can understanding the root causes for sexism help us move beyond them.

        The problem is some people, and I probably shouldn’t have picked on just the left since I’m more or less on the left myself I tend to be more self critical certainly people on the right can be even more irrational, but the problem is that some people just take a specific statement of a scientific fact or hypothesis and if it in any way can seem to support something they don’t like automatically reject it. That is a sure way to do bad science.

    • In reply to #32 by maria melo:

      In Biology there is no such thing as left or right wing political parties (that would be the real anthropomorphism), although you can suppose nature as red in tooth and claw, it doesn´t mean that kindness is…

      I just want to say a bit more to explain what I mean when I say “there is a biological (genetic) drive to do X”. Let’s take something a bit less controversial. I think virtually everyone including Maria would agree that for obvious reasons parents have a genetic drive to care for their children.

      Now suppose some woman (or man) decides to leave their children to follow their dream and become a painter. Would that mean that there was no such thing as an innate drive to care for our children? Of course not. It just means that an innate drive is just a tendency, one drive among many conflicting and contradictory ones. BTW, on this specific example Trivers has done some very interesting work picking apart what the various evolutionary conflicts are within families and he shows just that, that it’s much more complicated than parents loving their children that all sorts of different priorities and other drives as well as competition make the relations quite complex.

      So in the same sense when I say men have an innate drive to dominate it’s not saying that is good or inevitable or that there still can’t be nice guys. Just as you can still have healthy and skinny people in a species with an innate drive to crave sugar and fat.

  18. In reply to #35 by Red Dog:

    a lot of violence through history can be attributed to the role human males had to play as hunter gatherers to be successful at reproduction.

    Right. I think that is firmly established. At this point, I am interested in the female side of this picture and how we (females) adapted in certain ways to maximize fitness.

    for a woman the most successful reproductive strategy is to foster things like cooperation because the women (and again I’M NOT SAYING THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE) ended up in hunter gatherer tribes getting stuck with most of the child rearing.

    Cooperation between women is such a fascinating topic these days. In the book I recommended to Maria, Evolution’s Empress, there is a good amount of material devoted to discussion of female aggression. As I said, I haven’t read it yet, just sections, but this will prove to be another uncomfortable truth that women will need to acknowledge: women have great capacity to work cooperatively in pursuit of a common goal, but women are aggressive in their own way and we also have the capacity to be devastatingly cruel in certain predictable situations. It’s not pretty, I can assure you.

    The phrase, “stuck with most of the child rearing” doesn’t sit well and I can’t see that it’s usable in any context except in our modern day nuclear family model. The time I spent living in N.Africa crushed my view of what “normal” family life for sapiens should be. I don’t think there was any such thing as “stuck with child rearing” in our evolutionary past. I also think it wasn’t just females rearing children then either. These matters aren’t so sharply divided by gender in traditional societies as they are in the classic nuclear family model. I appreciate Jared Diamond’s observations on this subject especially in his latest book.

    For a male the the most successful strategy was more likely to be promiscuous. (I’m talking about strategies in a game theory sense here)

    Yes, and again, it’s firmly established. But I’m so enjoying the uncomfortable squirming over the unsavory truths of female sexuality and our reproductive strategies that are finally seeing the light of day. Speaking of Pinker, I remember reading in-I think it was Blank Slate, that he proposes as an explanation of post-partum depression, the idea that in our present time it exists as a relic of what would have been a set up for infanticide then. (as you said, better explained by Pinker). Also the topic of female orgasm – adaptation or byproduct, has me snickering over the implications as well. I’m solidly on the side of byproduct but I was taken aback to see that Hrdy and Trivers were on the side of adaptation, at least last time I checked. If Trivers comes back to Boston for a public event I intend to take him to task on that. (won’t that be fun?!!)

    the problem is that some people just take a specific statement of a scientific fact or hypothesis and if it in any way can seem to support something they don’t like automatically reject it. That is a sure way to do bad science.

    Yes this is a problem on a society level and I have encountered roadblocks in discussions so many times with people who refuse to accept certain truths that they consider to be unflattering or downright ugly. In most cases this is the end of that discussion but I remember what it’s like to be presented with ideas that go against what I assumed to be true. My first response was always to think and/or say, “that can’t be true”. Since I’m aware of it in myself, I know now that I need to present ideas slowly and more subtly to people who are not in the field. But what a thrill it is to be able to discuss these ideas with people who are not hobbled by fear or religion or puritanical mindsets or other limiting factors. To be able to toss around ideas and talk about the ideas put forth by our best thinkers in this society is a great gift and Im always aware of how lucky I am to have access to that scene. For example: check out the lecture I’ll be attending at Harvard tomorrow evening-free and open to the public!!!

    http://www.hmnh.harvard.edu/lectures_and_special_events/index.php

    • In reply to #37 by LaurieB:

      Cooperation between women is such a fascinating topic these days.

      In my work experience, and I recognize this is totally biased anecdotal information, I noticed that on average women were more collaborative than men. There were exceptions, I can think of one or two women in particular that were highly unpleasant and also plenty of guys that were very collaborative but in general I found women to be more likely to be team players. It’s one of the reasons Pinker’s Better Angels book really resonated to me, as I read it and thought about my work place experiences I could definitely see that the model “men want to stand out women want to work together” was consistent with my experience.

      The phrase, “stuck with most of the child rearing” doesn’t sit well and I can’t see that it’s usable in any context except in our modern day nuclear family model.

      I’m not saying anything about how modern families do or should raise their children with that statement. I’m just expressing what I think is a basic fact of biology. Female humans have wombs and breasts. Human children need wombs and breasts to grow up. As a result the child rearing strategies that will be selected for for our primitive ancestors will be different for female humans than males.

      • In reply to #39 by Red Dog:

        In my work experience, and I recognize this is totally biased anecdotal information, I noticed that on average women were more collaborative than men.

        That is consistent with my observations as well.

        child rearing strategies that will be selected for for our primitive ancestors will be different for female humans than males.

        What I think you are referring to here is the conflict between what a male would consider to be an evolutionary “win” which is impregnation of as many females as he could manage and share his resources with them as long as he is as sure as possible that her offspring are also his. A “win” for a female is to control her own fertility including absolute control over who the father of her offspring will be and also timing the pregnancies for just the right interval between them. If this is what you are referring to then we have no argument.

        I was objecting to the phrase “stuck with most of the child rearing” which doesn’t add anything to this discussion because for one thing, it has a negative tone that I’m guessing would be met with puzzled expressions by people in traditional cultures and children in those cultures don’t spend their day “stuck” to their moms. Child rearing in tribal and h gatherer cultures is very collaborative and I will venture to say that those kids, as soon as they’re mobile, spend less time with their moms than do our modern nuclear family kids. When kids grow up in an extended family situation they form strong attachments to many of their close relatives who are in constant contact with them under the same roof. This includes males of all generations who are close genetic relatives.

        I realize that we are talking about “our primitive ancestors” and that’s why I rely on what I’ve read on the subject of Anthropology and also my own (anecdotal) observations and various other sources to try to get to the truth about our evolutionary past. Drawing from all of these sources is about the only way I can see that we can compile a reasonably accurate picture of these matters.

        Something that I like to ponder is: With all the benefits that the traditional extended family model offers to women, how did we end up with the nuclear family at all? It puts stress on women to raise their kids without help from close relatives. I’m also not convinced that it’s beneficial for kids to be raised without close ties to other relatives. Is it an extreme form of mate guarding that is sanctified by religion and enforced with legal documents signed by both with penalties for breach of contract? Maybe we have to give up a lot just to avoid the results of violent jealousy that would be part and parcel of “paleo romance”. Sounds like an enthralling reality show, doesn’t it? I’d watch that. :-)

        • In reply to #40 by LaurieB:

          What I think you are referring to here is the conflict between what a male would consider to be an evolutionary “win” which is impregnation of as many females as he could manage and share his resources with them as long as he is as sure as possible that her offspring are also his. A “win” for a female is to control her own fertility including absolute control over who the father of her offspring will be and also timing the pregnancies for just the right interval between them. If this is what you are referring to then we have no argument.

          Yes, exactly, that’s it.

  19. what would he look like? it would look like a mess like other parties. Don’t forget the main thing for a party is not to make sense but to gather votes. If you go full rational you get no vote, people can not understand you, than you get not elected than it makes no sense to be a party anymore.

    second: problems a party have to deal with are mostly economical, or social. And when you come to economy or society of course you can use models but there’s not one rational solution. there can be more rational solutions. So there will be currents and things.

    You talk for example about democracy. Don’t think democracy is the perfect solution myself. Giving power to the majority, if the majority are stupid than you give power to stupids. How can it be solved in a not dictatorial way? frankly don’t know. That would be a problem among the others that even a rational party would struggle to solve.

    • In reply to #38 by Andrea R:

      what would he look like? it would look like a mess like other parties. Don’t forget the main thing for a party is not to make sense but to gather votes. If you go full rational you get no vote, people can not understand you, than you get not elected than it makes no sense to be a party anymore.

      sec…

      Some policies are projects to keep in practise for decades until it reaches the expected results no matter the political parties governing, for instance, from one of the highest newborns mortality rates in Europe, following “long term” policies became within perhaps two decades one of the lowest. Political parties are elected in democracy but there are common long term goals that sometimes have the concensus of all parties and, of course, a basic political law that no party can violate, the Constitucional law, avoids, of course, tirany. I would agree however because parties with opposed policies can rotate to confuse a lot things.

      I would bet that Obama´s health care were decided much earlier (a Hillary Clinton´s project in fact-she visited Europe in the year 1999/2000? to know more about health care services across Europe. Obama was elected in the year 2009?) Although people may call it Obama Health Care, if it has the expected results, who´d care if it is called Hillary or Obama ?

      Are Americans too dumb for democracy?

  20. It would have to take evolutionary theory into account by setting up a system that selectively rewards altruistic behavior while still respecting the need for diversity (both genetic and memetic) and the benefits of creating an environment where new ideas can mutate and spread.

    This is what an example of evolutionary economics might look like. I made the following video to analyze the loss of purchasing power by the poor and middle class in the US relative to their productivity over the past 40+ years from two premises: that altruistic behavior must be rewarded with returned altruistic behavior in order to be sustainable, and that wealth in a capitalist society is meant to be a symbol of how much altruistic behavior a person deserves based on their previous altruism vs their consumption of others’ altruism (and if wealth isn’t distributed in that way, the system may have a problem). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPh2MgNPL5s

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