Sunday, October 24, 2010

Complex Issues Demand More than Outrage and Dogma; Mid-Term Elections Should be a Call To Reason

The serious, even dire, consequences of allowing passion to be the deciding factor in today's mid-term elections cannot be under estimated. The time for political posturing, outrage and dogma are over. We get it. The average citizen is Angry. So what are these angry citizens gonna do about it? Unfortunately so far, these initially well-intentioned groups have been so blinded by their anger, they have allowed themselves to be co-opted by the very forces who caused the problems. For months now I have just shaken my head, first in amusement, and later in utter disbelief, as I have watched Republican party leaders desperately groping for an issue in an attempt to distract the public's attention away from their failed policies which caused the deepest recession since the Great Depression. As usual, the Republican pr machine used their well-worn playbook of thinly veiled racism (e.g. Obama not born in America), religion (e.g. Obama's a Muslim) and their old standard, appeals to false patriotism, to distract.

The complex problems facing our nation call for the very best and brightest minds using the best scientific approaches to decision making, free of emotion and partisanship, to come up with the best possible human solutions (not perfect ones or ideologically pure rhetoric) if we are to survive and leave our children any semblance of the country we inherited from the "Greatest Generation".
So just how did our parent's generation not only survive, but prevail over the Great Depression and in World War II? They realized that serious times called for serious analysis using the best data and knowledge across all sectors of industry, fields of science and academia that this great nation had to offer. But just as important as getting the best information and bringing to bear the best knowledge, is using a decision making framework and process that will hopefully filter out all the imperfections of human nature to arrive at the best possible decisions.

Fortunately we have such a framework and process, its called the scientific method and it has served us well in the past whenever we have been faced with life and death issues. Notice that I did not describe our political system, which is the very institution that we have assigned the task of decision making to. Don't get me wrong, I am not knocking democracy. As Americans we are rightly proud and even a little smug, over the system of government we inherited from the country's founding fathers. As every American should have learned in grade school, the genius and overriding principal on which our democracy and system of government was based, was a system of checks and balances to be zealously pursued and defended among three co-equal branches of government. Coupled with a detailed list or bill of individual rights, including, importantly, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, in a perfect and logical world, an informed citizenry, through their elected representatives, would engage in a robust intellectual battle for truth in the marketplace of ideas. The end result of which would hopefully be enlightened decision making giving enough sense of participation to allow for an uninterrupted string of arguably democratic elections and non-violent transfers of government for more than 230 years.

The dilemma we are in today comes as a result of our own success and progress. The catch-22 of modernity is that history, like science is based upon trial and error. In an ever increasingly complex world, comes a correspondingly set of complex, inter-connected problems. The very nature of complex systems is that with so many variables, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand and predict with certainty exact causes and effects of problems and potential problems. some of which we don't understand.

Much more troubling and perhaps catastrophically dangerous, are the complex problems which science can at least identify, even if science has not yet progressed to the point where it has worked out every last detail and a perfect or complete solution to the problem. But such is the human condition, as a species we will never be omniscient.

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