Politics, Ideological Disciplines, and Factual Inquiry

Over at our sister site, Econlog, Bryan Caplan has a post explaining why he hates politics.  The problem is the way politics brings out the worst in us.  He writes:

I hate the way people think about politics, independent of the ultimate outcome.

I hate the hyperbole of politics.  People should speak literal, measured truth or be silent.

I hate the Social Desirability Bias of politics.  People should describe reality as it is, not pander to wishful thinking.

I hate the innumeracy of politics.  People should focus on what’s quantitatively important, not what thrills the masses.

I hate the overconfidence of politics.  People shouldn’t make claims they won’t bet on, and shouldn’t assert certainty unless they’re willing to bet everything they own against a penny.

I hate the myside bias of politics.  People should strive to be fair to out-groups, and scrupulously monitor in-groups, to counteract our natural human inclination to do the opposite.

I hate the “winning proves I’m right” mentality of politics.  Winning only proves your views are popular, and popular views are often wrong.

I agree with quite of bit of this.  Moreover, one can often extend this criticism of politics to ideological disputes within academic disciplines.  If one’s academic discipline is based on political values rather than facts, then it will often operate in a similar manner.  The values of the group will substitute for strong arguments.  This is certainly the case in constitutional law, where much of the scholarship simply explores what constitutional rules would further the author’s values.

This is part of the reason that I enjoy originalism.  There is a fact of the matter about most originalist questions.  Especially among those who take originalism seriously and agree on a methodology, the questions are open to the evidence.  I have often found myself changing my mind about the original meaning of questions, even where I have strong political views about what the normatively best answer is.

At times, this has led me to imagine what it would be like to work in an area that was focused on the facts – on science or even a social science.  Yet, I suppose the grass is always greener.  As is well known, both natural science and social science have been undergoing a great crisis these days.  A large percentage of studies cannot be replicated in various fields including biomedicine (link no longer available) and social psychology.  If one restricted oneself to discovering the facts and lived in a field where there were massive problems with such factual inquiry, that would be extremely disheartening.

Reader Discussion

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on September 30, 2016 at 11:22:22 am

Uh Oh!

This seems like a unique opportunity for Phil to enter the fray with a monologue about "Physics"

Careful, Mike he may attempt to enlist you in his cause.

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on September 30, 2016 at 15:40:03 pm

Borrowing from gabe’s generosity, I indeed would enlist Mike’s interest.

My urgency persists yet does not stand still, and the recent focus is private-integrity as private-liberty-with-civic-morality.

The dash is employed to connect words into a singular thought, a writing liberty I fell into, but request the reader to allow. Above, the two dashed-words express one thought that is defined by the five dashed-words. Once each thought is understood in context, they seem to be synonymous.

For the longest time, in this forum and elsewhere, I have asked readers to accept “civic,” meaning mutually-human-connections so as to conduct willing transactions there and then rather than “social,” which entails association in conformity to an established civilization, group, or other cultural entity. For example, the customer who discovers a proposed vendor does not want to provide the specified product or service seeks a willing vendor rather than contending or attempting force.

Further, I have sought to separate each willing person's work to establish broadly-defined-civic-safety-and-security from private pursuits rather than with monopolies on force and coercion that are imposed by governments. For example, a church collaborates with other churches and none to assure civic morality so that 1) believers can pursue the religious morality they prefer and 2) the civic culture suffers no impositions by the religious culture. In other words, the overarching civic culture provides safety and security within which real-no-harm religious cultures flourish.

The people in their states proposed the rule of law in the USA, but democracy emerged: The-50%-plus-one-vote’s opinion dominates for an election cycle the citizens who are one-vote-short. The inhabitants are in continuous, divergent conflict. Overturning the rule of law emerged from integrity-collapse by each of the three branches (perhaps another timely topic).

We think a historically grounded 65% of citizens would like a civic culture with bedrock rule of law rather than opinion-based law, such as 5:4 Supreme Court opinion or Congressional legislation based on majority opinion with the administration operating to rule by regulation. (Of the people’s representatives in 1787, the vote for the draft constitution for the USA with its preamble was 65%.) This seems like a version of originalism.

If humans were merely animals, arrogant authority might suffice, but citizens are persons, and they will not accept opinion as bedrock civic morality. However, perhaps uniquely in the world (see Foner, below), US citizens ultimately practice the-indisputable-facts-of-civic-morality, which can be discovered from physics (defined below). For example, slavery was practiced before history was recorded and is taken for granted in the Code of Hammurabi, as well as in the Bible, whether Hebrew or Christian. But the physics—chains, whips, brutality and rape to slaves with both physical and psychological burdens to slave-masters--makes slavery plainly opposed to civic morality. No master would swap with the slave, and a civic person would be neither slave nor master (borrowing from Abraham Lincoln).

I have long asked readers to accept for iterative collaboration the definition of "physics" as energy, mass, and space-time rather than the study referred to as “science.” We understand this definition from both evolution since the big bang 13.8 billion years ago and Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity, made a law of physics at LIGO, 100 years later. Physics exists without crisis, and humankind discovers reality when focus remains on the-indisputable-facts rather than imagination, reason, belief, coercion and other constructs.

Friend gabe may recall my bold assertion that Einstein would have done us a favor by thinking and speaking about the laws of physics and the laws of civics rather than “The Laws of Science and The Laws of Ethics.” See samharris.org/blog/item/my-friend-einstein. Now, I’m thinking Plato could have reported Socrates saying, “The life without private integrity is not worthy.” Private integrity seems the Socratic method without the competitiveness--more iterative collaboration, because the other party's viewpoint is appreciated as a means to a civic idea.

Further regarding originalism, we stumbled into the thought private-integrity while reporting on research of literature that might have used “private liberty” as civic morality. We found that Eric Foner uses the phrase “private liberty” in explaining the first two hundred years of settlement of this land. He describes colonists who were loyal to their mother lands yet lands from which they fled oppression. As colonists in America, they discovered, through freedom from oppression, the liberty to pursue the life they wanted rather than the life their government would impose. They survived against hardships they also could not have imagined in their homelands, and thereby established the will to face the-indisputable-facts-of-reality. When England threatened to enslave them, they declared independence, again against unbelievable odds, finally relieved by France in a battle to them part of their war against England: Yorktown, VA. In the conclusion of my essay, I used the phrase “private integrity,” looking for a short title. I cannot tell that the phrase did not come from Foner’s description of the American legacy from the first 200 years. I would not have tried to constrain the patriotic colonists with originalism.

These thoughts are only the latest in iterative collaboration to identify ideas for a better future. Our appeal on this forum has always been for collaboration from, I perceive, the most likely sympathizers. Like gabe, I feel Mike offered collaboration and am grateful. I want a better future and think at least 65% of citizens want safety and security, a 1690 John Locke goal with more discovery-mature 2016 practices.

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Phil Beaver
on October 05, 2016 at 17:14:52 pm

I appreciate Professor Rappaport calling attention to the "I hate . . ." catalogue without mimicking. He wrote, " I enjoy . . . "

I spent five decades trying to convince myself that the Protestant Bible is true. Among the literal ideas I stopped struggling with was that the following words convey Jesus' love: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple."

In my privacy, there is no excuse for anyone to express hate. Even the most offensive person may be appreciated for his or her hope to live in peace, including the person who unconditionally loves the persons in his or her family and appreciates the civic persons beyond family.

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Phil Beaver

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