Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A preamble to an experiment

I want to try an experiment. Like any good experiment, its strength will depend on the number of participants -- the more participants, the smaller the chance that the conclusions drawn from the experiment will be erroneous.

Political discourse in this country is heavily fettered by the mutual unacceptability of the premises of the other side. This will be true as long as arguments start from ideologically predilections, rather than from the facts on the ground. No one is immune from this disease. It takes tremendous effort to stay focused on details, and it requires considerable strength of mind to admit the potential efficacy of our opponents' prescriptions. As Orwell said, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."

We need a group of people so desperate for common sense solutions, that they are willing to forgo standard partisan delineations, and to even see beyond religious or other moral commitments. How do we do this?

The answer is something I think we should call "materialism by committee." By "materialism" we don't mean "commercialism" or the love of money and possessions, but rather the philosophical expression of the belief that, at least at some level, the world can be explained solely by interactions between material objects. We want a "materialistic" explanation of political and social process that everyone can agree to, or, at the very least, one in which everyone's views get a fair hearing. How is this different from the endless, and seemingly pointless roundtable discussions of hopelessly swelled talking heads? First of all, this explanation will have no place for individual, larger-than-life statesmen and women -- the influence of the political bad guys and good guys does not interest us. These come and go, while the process remains. Tout change, tout passe, il n'y a que le tout qui reste. Bush-hatred and Hillary-hatred are irrelevant here -- we will make something that transcends personal animosity, and instead sees only what is in front of one's nose.

2 comments:

Raphael Korn said...

I applaud your effort at creating a more balanced discourse. This seems somewhat like Habermas' goal of creating the "ideal speech scenario". However, the grounding of social interaction in material grounds seems problematic. Why is a material base necessary and can social phenomena be reduced to material conditions? How can you uphold this causality? In the philosophy of science, the assumption that, on some level, the social realm is a mere extension of and connected to the material is called naturalism and widely disputed. An interesting idea nonetheless. I am curious to hear more.

Matt said...

My idea, which I haven't yet determined how to implement, is to let groups of people elaborate on flow charts of political processes, and then determine how to augment or reduce desired outcomes. For instance, if it is everyone's goal to reduce the number of people in a population with STDs, what factors could be tweaked in a broadly politically acceptable way to achieve that end. All possibilities would be on the table -- in fact, Matt Thompson (me), the liberal, would go out of his way to include causal connections that conservatives feel are important. But then, once all "arrows" are in place, it would be our job to show which "tweaks" are the most efficient at meeting our collective goals. This could be totally quixotic, but I want to try it anyway. I want this to allow me to spend more time thinking critically, and in a group, about process rather than ideology. I'm sick of ideology. I hope you will come back and see what I have in mind.