In the debate about the referendum for the UK to leave the EU any people are complaining about the perceived lack of democracy in the EU parliament as policy are put up for debate by unelected bureaucrats, although they are voted on by elected members of the European parliament and sent to each national government to look over and they can choose to veto them.
My question is why is this so bad? Surely some policies should be completely off the table and a purely democratic process can theoretically entertain any idea. What if it, for example, the majority of the populace thought the UK should bring back the death penalty? Some would say if that’s what the people say that should be allowed to happen. I’m not convinced, I would have to be presented with strong evidence that threat of the death penalty reduces crimes and outweighs the costs of ending human life and the psychological and social costs to people who live in a society that has the death penalty (fear it will be used on innocents and the effect it has on workers and inmates of prison for example). Yes, bureaucrats who curate the status quo are also unlikely to put forward potentially more positive changes and who they are and how they make selections should be scrutinised.
The best way to sort through the various potential policies, to bring new things to the table and weigh their costs and benefits is, as always, the use of strong scientific and other evidence in the use of policy, not popular opinion. Yes we need democracy in some form; it is quicker to adapt to changing circumstances and people’s voices should be heard. But I’m becoming more and more convinced democracy is its own form of tyranny, one dictated by the many rather than the few. Unlike some commentators I don’t think that the electorate is unqualified to make certain decisions (that’s just snobbish), but when science is revealing the variation among people more and more it becomes more and more clear that the obeying beliefs of the many will always come at a cost for the few. Different people have different needs to make them happy and society should aim to maximise that for all of them as long as it is not at a cost to others (again this comes back to the argument about capital punishment). Science is guilty of this too, because statistics works by looking at what works for the majority, this is one of the reasons many feel modern medicine doesn’t work for them and choose to have complementary or alternative treatment. But science doesn’t discount the minority and the outliers and its nature means it does correct itself when it overlooks them and is more capable of building up a more nuanced picture.
– Matthew Dickinson,
The Spiritual Materialist
Why is it that the general public is expected and trusted to be fair and impartial when called to jury service, interviewing for jobs or working in almost any occupation, but this is not the case when it comes to making the most important decision: voting for who will run the country? In almost any other job we trust people to be objective and we punish them if they aren’t, judges, doctors, managers, if they don’t follow where the evidence points but where their personal opinions guide them or if they break protocol they risk their reputation and their job. Politicians can have a reputation in ruins but still keep their job.
Ideology and the persuasive power of image have been known to be the biggest drawbacks to democracy for time immemorial, yet very little has ever been done to reduce their effects and arguably in the past few decades they have been exacerbated with a move towards the political extremes in both the US and UK. This is likely to get even worse with the rise of social media as image and celebrity become more pronounced and they tend to be echo chambers reinforce people’s ideologies and runaway processes take place as things go viral. Irrelevant characteristics relating to candidates image such as facial structure and vocal range and style are known to influence voters.
Would Donald Trump (née Drumpf) have been a contender for the presidency without social media? Would he persuade anyone if political candidates had to wear burkas and disguise their voice when appearing in public? One day soon we will get a politician who is the Boaty McBoatface of parliament, elected because he amuses people to do so (one could argue Boris Johnson proves this has already happened). Continue reading
Imagine a friend invites you and five other friends over to help paint his living room, he promises a slice of cake he’s baked as a reward. Between you the room is finished over the course of the afternoon and the cake is brought out to be served. The question is how to you slice it? You could all be given an equal sixth slice, but two of the other only turned up two hours in, another pair was messing around writing messages to each other with the paint and you were the only one who got up on the ladder to do the hard to reach bits, surely you deserve a larger slice of the cake? Continue reading
Some time ago I wrote about Geoffrey Miller’s brilliant thesis that we adorn ourselves with consumer products, ideologies and religious beliefs that allow us to best display our personality traits as detailed in the Big Five model. This means we try show off our degree of Open-mindedness, Consciousness, Extraversion, Emotional Stability and Agreeableness by our choice of conversation topics, body and home decorations and attendances at religious and secular groups (among many other strange things we do). He further argues that these displays are unique to the human species and are a huge part of what made us evolve our intelligence, sense of humour and other physical and mental characteristics that make us different from our closest animal relatives. These came about through sexual selection, which is usually overlooked or denied as a significant factor in human evolution.
A new study from the University of Otago, New Zealand provides strong confirmatory evidence for Miller’s theory. Continue reading
Steve Grand, one of my favourite science writers, tells us what the secret is and why we can take deep spiritual satisfaction from it
My last post covered Geoffrey Miller’s first book. I summarised his theory that most of the traits that make the human species unique (be it complex language, sense of humour or religious belief) have evolved due to us trying to show off certain qualities to potential mates, leading to sexual selection for those traits. Although what follows is written to be stand alone, you will get more from this post if you read that first, don’t worry I can wait.
In his second book Miller takes what he established about how our minds developed for sexual selection in the past and applies the consequences of this theory for modern society. In particular he looks at what this means for consumerism and develops new theories, as with his first theory the sheer range and amount of human behaviour that these explain and predict is staggering. In my second of this pair of posts I will explore some of these aspects of humanity, as always I will concentrate mostly on what this means for my proposal for a spiritual materialism, but I’m so taken with some of the ideas on display I cast my net more widely than often before. I hope you are equally inspired by at least the potential if not my interpretations, and if not, please, I beg your indulgence.
One of the biggest questions in evolution, and one of the biggest challenges thrown at materialists by believers in a creator, is what makes human’s different from other animals and how can these be explained by natural processes? Over the next two posts I will discuss the works of Geoffrey Miller, who has come up with an overwhelmingly strong answer. Here I give an overview of his first book The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature where he sets out the theory of how we have come to be what we are.
In the follow up I will discuss his second book Must-Have, which explores what this means for modern society and I will look at what these theories mean for my philosophy of Spiritual Materialism. If I have done Miller’s central tenets any justice in my two unfairly brief summaries you will hopefully be as convinced of their merits as very strong scientific theories for their ability to explain so much of what we see, without conflicting with what we know, about human psychology and evolution, and making a vast number of testable predictions. Unfortunately I don’t have the space to present the evidence Miller does for his proposals, you will have to refer to the original works for that.
(There is also a healthy amount of educated speculation based on what we do know, both from myself and Miller, this is included to spark discussion rather than because I am convinced of their certainty.)
Miller’s first wide reaching theory sets out to explain what we see as our uniquely human mental traits (and one or two physical ones too) and thereby very thoroughly covers almost all male and female desires, intentions, interactions and differences. The crux of his theory is that those uniquely human mental qualities; academic intelligence, reasoning, artistic abilities, empathy, humour and ideology, may have developed through evolution of sexually selected traits. Continue reading