What should we be fighting for?

Fri, 30 Nov 2012 | norman

What the future needs us to fight for today


First, we need Reason. Since humans have been able to think, they have searched for reasons for the things they see around them, and answers to the Big Questions.

Ibn al-Haytham is considered the father of the Scientific Method. But religious fundamentalism put an end to progress in Islamic society in the Middle Ages. In the West, Francis Bacon and René Descartes built on ideas of Aristotle to develop the process we use today:

  1. Observe evidence
  2. Come up with a possible explanation
  3. Test that explanation rigorously and relentlessly. Invite everyone to help.
  4. If the explanation is found lacking, start again from the top.

This has been used with enormous success to determine the reasons for things (and to work on several of the Big Questions, or, at least, to provide a good way of choosing a Decent Answer).

And yet it has taken centuries for this method to have an effect on the way most humans think. Still today I would guess that a minority of humans could tell you the steps of the scientific method. And even fewer would be able to apply that knowledge to how they live their lives; What do they consider to be "knowledge"? And based on that "knowledge", what food do they eat? How do they try to stay healthy? How do they choose to spend their money?

Anti-reason is still doing very well for itself. "Alternative medicine", "spiritualism" and religion, claim that they cater for our Humanity, and that Reason is heartless, or even better, soulless. ("Spiritualism" is in inverted commas because Reason allows for, and in some cases produces, what many call "spiritual" or "religious" experiences, but it does so without the need to imagine supernatural forces or entities.)

The truth is that superstition, alternative medicine, spiritualism and religion are all based entirely on guesswork -- step two of the scientific method -- with not enough of step one, and practically none of step three. Reason is our only mechanism properly to understand our nature. Art may express it, for us to appreciate it at an experiential level, and that is very important. But ultimately the value of guesswork is only its value as artistic expression; not as any literal truth.

These several fields of guesswork also claim that Hope is their core domain.

How can this be, when they are based on guesswork? That is not Hope. It is delusion. Hope can only come from truth. (I use the word in its scientific sense of statistical certainty.) And truth cannot be determined by guessing without testing. Even if you guess right, how would you know you are right?

Hope, along with truth, are squarely the benefits of Reason.

When we all achieve a deep understanding of how to reason, and realise its benefits, we will be able to appreciate the next step better.

How do we achieve this deep understanding? Nothing new. Just education, and healthcare.

Education is not just for kids. Education means life-long learning, for everyone. Because everyone needs this understanding and its benefits, not only for themselves, but for all of us. As long as we have ignorant people placing votes, financing superstition, and being fooled into parting with their money, their time, their potential, and in some cases even their lives, they will continue to be a financial burden and a security risk to all of us.

And healthcare does not mean socialist state health insurance. It means protecting your investment in the development and prosperity of your society.

An internally-altruistic collective

The second step is a society that helps its own.

Not because we should all be bleeding-heart liberals. We can also be completely selfish about this. But we need to recognise that we live in a society, and we rely on that society for our well-being and our survival.

Our society can either thrive, or decay. Leaving poor people to fight their way up or drag us all down is not smart. Smart is making sure that our society is the fittest it can possibly be. Our society competes with other societies. And the fittest societies will subjugate, subsume or destroy the weakest. We can all think of examples from the past. And we can all think of competing societies today.

A "social safety net" is not what I am meaning here. Putting someone on the dole might help to feed them, but it does not always help them to contribute to society to their full potential, and it seldom frees their children from a cycle of poverty and reliance. In many cases it simply allows them to feel that they are not in control of their lives, resigned, and depressed.

A society that helps its own actively helps its own, as a parent would help a child as best as possible. That means mentoring, listening and addressing problems, regularly, and actively helping the dependent party to overcome their situation, and to make the greatest possible contribution to society.

It is extremely laborious, and expensive. But the rewards are enormous, for the individual, for the individual's children who will be productive instead of a burden, and ultimately for society and you and me.


The third and last step is to appreciate our global connectedness.

When things are going badly in Afghanistan, that is bad for Argentina. Not immediately, and not directly. But Afghanistan affects Argentina's planet.

Poorer countries are more environmentally destructive, and Argentina shares Afghanistan's environment.

Poorer countries export violence and crime. Afghanistan produces opium, used to make heroin, used by Argentinians to get high, get addicted, commit crime to satisfy their cravings, destroy families, and burden Argentinian society. Argentinian society, even if you, the reader, are not Argentinian, is probably a lot like your society. It is certainly similar to mine.

Obviously Afghanistan and Argentina are just examples. But the principle is the same for any two countries, regions, or groups of people.

We all share, or compete for, the same resources. The most benefit we can get from those resources, while maintaining the well-being of our society (in other words, avoiding war where possible) would be the result of cooperation. And considering the tremendous success promised by steps one and two, it is obvious that assisting other societies to implement the same approach (if they have not managed to do so successfully on their own) would be to the benefit of humanity as a whole.

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