The Rationalist Party
I have a suggestion for a new political party, the Rationalists. A party that analyzes what has worked in society and doesn't and looks to apply what works. The process of government being decided and carried out by some semblance of the scientific method. The goal of the group would be to try promote America as a solid nation and drive forward the human experience.Given the irrationality that is dominating our political discourse today, particularly the antiscience attitudes among the religious right, this idea has much appeal to skeptics like myself. Certainly, on the face of it, it would almost have to be better than the administration that is running the nation right now, whose party has turned into what I'd like to call the "Irrationalist Party." I have to disagree, however, that we actually do know what "works" and what "doesn't work." In some cases we do, but in all too many cases we don't. On the other hand, Miles is quite correct that agreeing on the goal is the most important part. That's the biggest problem with his concept, and he seems to recognize that. Even the most "rational" people can have pretty violent disagreements over what direction we should be going.
Part of the problem I can see is the goal, but that can be argued out. What doesn't need to be worked out is what methods work and what methods don't. Both sides are holding on to ideas to don't work.
More of what gives me pause about the concept of a Rationalist Party is my knowledge of what similar approaches to politics and governance represented as rooted in science and rationality have led to in the past. For example, take the eugenicists in the first three decades of the last century. They enthusiastically advocated the compulsory sterilization of those whom they deemed to have genetic derangements, based on what they considered "rational" and even "scientific" reasoning based on "Darwinian" natural selection combined with the emerging understanding of the inheritance of phenotypic traits and genetics. In essence, eugenics and "racial hygiene" were the bastard offspring of social Darwinism, which was in turn a misapplication of Darwin's work. Many politicians were persuaded based on the supposedly "scientific" nature of such laws, such that mandatory sterilization became law in many states. These sorts of seemingly scientific considerations were behind anti-miscegenation laws as well. Also, our understanding of which diseases had genetic components was sorely lacking, leading to the mandatory sterilization under eugenics laws of the deaf, the blind, epileptics, and even homosexuals. In essence, in the U.S. and elsewhere, eugenics led to policies that had the veneer of scientific "objectivity" to support them, but were in reality rooted in prejudice and misunderstandings of what conditions had genetic components and how great those components were.
I'm not saying that that's what Miles was advocating. My intent is merely to cite such examples as a cautionary tale of how easily "rational" or "scientific" approaches to policy can become divorced from morality and a respect for human rights, particularly when our understanding of the science is so incomplete. The other problem with this approach is the very fact that whoever is in power gets to define what is "rational," whether it is, in fact, rational or not. Finally, even the most "rational" among us have biases and beliefs that could interfere with any sort of objective hypothesis testing, particularly when it comes to testing policies, deciding on measures of outcomes to verify that they "work," and actually quantifying those outcomes. That does not mean we shouldn't try to insist on more objective determinations of what policies succeed and fail, merely that doing so would be highly unlikely to decrease the level of disagreement and conflict in our political system.
Although Miles' idea has appeal to me, it is probably too utopian ever to work. Human beings are not, at heart, rational creatures. We have to work at it. Part of the reason that the scientific method came to be accepted is because scientists are human prone to the same tendency to believe what they want to believe and discount what doesn't fit in with what they want to believe. It also probably won't work for the reason Miles states:
But it probably won't work. We don't like logic in this country. We like strength and displays of power and faith.