Utopia or bust?
Throughout the 20th century, many science fiction writers would write about seemingly impossible utopian outcomes for the world in the often not too distant future. Naturally, this enticed the imaginations of those who read them, and depending on the reader, these utopian visions would either be an orderly paradise or a totalitarian hellhole, but where there are sci-fi visions of the future, you inevitably have scientists thinking of ways to try and bridge the gap between fiction and reality. Among those is Neil deGrasse Tyson, who in June proposed a new kind of government called “Saturnalia”, to much ridicule from the scientific press. At least he stands by his nonsense, as he recently decided to double down on the idea in a lengthy Facebook post entitled “Reflections on Rationalia”, perhaps indicating that he is not as wise as he’d like you to believe.
What exactly is “Rationalia”? It’s basically the name Neil deGrasse Tyson gave to his planned virtual country, which he initially defined with a single tweet-length post that read “all policy shall be based on the weight of evidence”. You might think that doesn’t sound bad, but it’s simply impractical. Mr. Tyson apparently doesn’t understand that politics and science are completely different realms. Yes, in politics you are supposed to prove your argument with evidence to support your case, but in politics there is no objective answer, or at least not in the same way that it would ideally be in the case of the scientific method.
Almost immediately Mr. Tyson’s proposal comes across as the manifesto of some pompous liberal arts student who thinks he knows all the answers because his teachers gave him stellar grades, but that’s not all. He decided to expand on it some more, and it doesn’t necessarily make the idea any less laughable. In a lengthy Facebook post, he writes:
“Consider further that the original Tweet specifically references Policy, which can itself become laws, but more broadly, Policy sets frameworks for thinking about laws. Examples of Policy would be a government’s choice to invest in R&D, and if so, by how much. Or whether a government should help the poor, and if so, in what ways. Or how much a municipality should support equal access to education. Or whether or not tariffs should be levied on goods and services from one country or another. Or what tax rate should be established, and on what kinds of income. Often these policies stall between political factions arguing loudly that they are right and their opponent is wrong. Which reminds me of the mostly-true adage, “if an argument lasts longer than five minutes then both sides are wrong.”
Obviously this comes from the perspective of a man who looks at American politics and only sees the arguments. Given how much of a circus American politics tends to be, I can understand why he and many Americans who consider themselves rational might think this way, but the reality of politics is often far more complex than that. There are many reasons why policies don’t get implemented, but most commonly is the simple fact that it lost the congressional vote. Also, the political factions “arguing loudly” has been a thing ever since mankind first engaged in politics, and I highly doubt that you’re going to get rid of it, because to not have multiple arguing parties would mean not having a true democracy.
I’ve read through the entire post, and I have to say, it reeks of the kind pomposity and intellectual dishonesty that one might generally expect to find in somebody who’s desperate to defend a failed idea (in that regard, he has much in common with the Marxists). For example:
“A common critique was the question of where such a country would get its morals, and how other other ethical issues might be established or resolved. The last I reviewed the US Bill of Rights, there was no discussion of morals there either. Nowhere does it say “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. Meanwhile, there’s an entire Amendment — Number 3 — that prevents the military from bunking in your home without your permission.”
Okay, this part attempts to create an equivalency between two entirely different laws and ethical dilemmas where there is none. This is what we call intellectual dishonesty, but I digress. The reason why the Third Amendment was written was because at the time of America’s founding, it was a colony under the tyrannical rule of the British Empire. Much of what was written into the constitution, and this includes the Second Amendment by the way, was written with the intent of enabling the American people to stand up to oppressive powers, which would include the government should it ever become too tyrannical. It was designed to place limits on government, which I would argue is morally just. You don’t need scientific evidence to argue that either. You need only to look through the history books to show how tyrannical governments can be if given too much power to control the people.
Wait a minute, is he attempting to refute the idea of morality because it isn’t mentioned in the Bill of Rights? Why would anyone do that? Not even the most bat-shit insane fundamentalist Christians ever attempted to argue that, and they’re the ones how insist that God should be a part of our everyday life. By contrast, Mr. Tyson is arguing for a nation founded on the idea of the scientific method as the basis of government, and somehow he sounds even stupider than a tambourine-shaking Baptist in New Orleans, and yet that somehow isn’t all there is.
We haven’t even gotten to the crux of the matter, which is his policy.
“In Rationalia, the Constitution stipulates that a body of convincing evidence needs to exist in support of an idea before any Policy can established based on it. In such a country, data gathering, careful observations, and experimentation would be happening all the time, influencing practically every aspect of our modern lives. As a result, Rationalia would lead the world in discovery, because discovery would be built into the DNA of how the government operates, and how its citizens think.”
Again, this sounds nice on paper, but in practice, there would be no way to implement it, at least not in a democracy anyway. How would he go about acheiving this? I’ve actually read through the whole post, and he doesn’t say anything about how he plans to implement any of this.
“the sciences that study human behavior (psychology, sociology, neuroscience, anthropology, economics, etc) would be heavily funded since much of our understanding of how we interact with one another derives from research within subfields of these disciplines. Because their subjects involve humans, these fields are particularly susceptible to social & cultural bias. So the verifiability of evidence will be of highest concern.”
How exactly would you give the human behaviour sciences as much funding as Mr. Tyson desires? He doesn’t tell you, but I can almost guarantee that to get what he wants, you’d have to raise taxes, and that’s when Rationalia starts looking like a barmy socialist nightmare, as that’s what inevitably happens when you try and create a society where the government funds all the nice things people want. Also, if he’s complaining about “social and cultrual bias”, let’s consider that once anything is subsidised by government, it is controlled by the government. Therefore, if you hand the human behaviour sciences over to the government, what inevitably happens is that they can only publish the findings that the government approves. This is true in the European Union, which gives generous funding to the sciences as long as it makes them look good.
“since weight of evidence is built into the Constitution, everyone would be trained from an early age how to obtain and analyze evidence, and how to draw conclusions from it.”
This is basically code for indoctrination. There is no other way to describe it, and it’s especially jarring because you have a scientist, a man who should be opposed to the kind of authoritarian religious indoctrination that atheists universally condemned, but he’s apparently alright with it if his government is doing the indoctrination. Isn’t it bad enough that young people are being indoctrinated in left-leaning campuses all across America? Is he willing to address the fact that Marxist ideology is being taught in prestigious universities, despite the fact that they have no basis in fact? I thought not. In summation, indoctrination is bad and evil unless the good guys do it. That’s what Neil deGrasse Tyson is saying.
“you would have complete freedom to be irrational. You just don’t have the freedom to base policy on your ideas if the weight of evidence does not support it. For this reason, Rationalia might just be the freest country in the world.”
That’s basically a self-contradictory statement. You can’t say that you have the freedom to be irrational if the weight of evidence is the prime determiner of policy. Therefore, Rationalia cannot be the freest country in the world.
“for example, if you want to introduce capital punishment you’d need to propose a reason for it. If the reason is to deter murder, then an entire research machine would be put into place (if it did not already exist) to see whether, in fact, capital punishment deters murder. If it does not, then your proposed policy fails, and we move on to other proposals.”
We already debate policies like capital punishment in a democracy, and in a healthy democracy, you would have people arguing for or against capital punishment, and the proposal would be subject to a vote by Congress, and if more people vote “nay” than “yea”, then the proposal is rejected. Since I assume Rationalia would do away with that process entirely, the only way to prove whether or not capital punishment is a good idea is to execute someone, which would require implementing the death penatly regardless of popular opinion. What if that “experiment” produces inconclusive results? You’d have to kill another person, and another person, and at some point, how many people need to die to prove a point?
“if you want to fund art in schools, you simply propose a reason why. Does it increase creativity in the citizenry? Is creativity good for culture and society at large? Is creativity good for everyone no matter your chosen profession? These are testable questions. They just require verifiable research to establish answers. And then, the debate ends quickly in the face of evidence, and we move on to other questions.”
I don’t think you need a reason to teach art in school. It’s just one of those things that we would be culturally poorer without, and it’s not something that the scientific method could prove or disprove. As an artist, I can tell you about the value of art, and I can guarantee that in Rationalia, art would be dismissed if they thought it was “irrational”.
“citizens would pity newscasters for presenting their opinions as facts. Everyone would have a heightened capacity to spot bullshit wherever and whenever it arose.”
Newsflash: media outlets have been using news to push their ideological agenda for a very long time, and it still happens to this day. I don’t like it either, but you can’t make a law against it without sacrificing freedom of the press, which is one of the fundamental pillars of a free society. If you punish news outlets for deviating from “the facts”, then congratulations, you do not live in a free society.
“In Rationalia, a diverse, pluralistic land, you are free to practice religion. You would just have a hard-time basing policy on it. Policy, by most intended meanings of the word, are rules that apply to everyone, but most religions have rules that apply only to themselves.”
Just because right-wing Christians try to push “family values” policies doesn’t mean they are successful. In fact, nowadays they are ridiculed for it. If you are free to practice a religion, you can also choose to follow its rules. Also, I think the “weight of evidence” policy would turn against the idea of freedom of religion if the weight of evidence judged it to be bad.
“research in psychology and neuroscience would establish what level risks we are all willing to take, and how much freedom we might need to forfeit, in exchange for comfort, health, wealth and security.”
Ah the mantra of the statist. How predictable, and now I know that Mr. Tyson is a statist. It also speaks volumes about how he thinks psychology and neuroscience can shape how society functions, but he doesn’t go into how it would establish the risks we all are willing to take. What he actually wants is for people to be comfortable with being in a dictatorship, because that is the only thing Rationalia could be.
“you could create an Office of Morality, where moral codes are proposed and debated. What moral codes would the citizens of Rationalia embrace? That is, itself, a research project. Countries don’t always get it right, of course. And neither will Rationalia. Is slavery moral? The USA’s Constitution thought so for 76 years. Should women vote? The USA’s Constitution said no for 131 years.”
If you needed further proof that Rationalia can be nothing other than an Orwellian nightmare, here it is, complete with brainless conjecture. For the record, morality is completely subjective. 1000 years ago we would have tolerated slavery, but now we don’t, because at some point in history we decided that slavery was wrong. You can’t regulate morality. Many have tried, and all of them have failed miserably.
There you have it, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s vision of the future is nothing more than a laughable brain fart, but it suddenly becomes more abhorrent once you actually look into what he’s suggesting. If this were a real country, Rationalia would be a technocratic dictatorship with scientism (the belief that all we need to solve the world’s problems is science) as its core value. Politics and science don’t mix. They never can, and Neil deGrasse Tyson has essentially proven why it shouldn’t. The current system isn’t exactly perfect, but I would certainly prefer it to an authoritarian nightmare where my life was governed by those who claim to be enlightened, but are ultimately blinded by their pursuit of utopia.