Tag Archives: Politics

Human Evolution: from belief to evidence

The notes below started with me reading the phrase “policy based evidence” somewhere, in the last week. I returned to previous thoughts about the different meanings of the word “believe” in the context of religion, politics and science. I went slightly off track but I found it useful to recognise that politics sits somewhere between religion and science on the scale of rationality. Science is led by your experience of life. Religion leads your decisions in life. Politicians try to persuade you to choose their proposals of how to change your life experience, through an inadequate communication system. The rules you are expected to follow seem to be:

Religion : take your values from an old book you get from your parents or someone else who is kind to you. The book will tell you what to believe without question to avoid going to hell; so only listen to evidence that agrees with the book. You don’t want any doubt creeping in and damning you for eternity. Try not to think too hard. Pray instead. Learn to keep conflicting ideas in different parts of your brain. What you do now only matters when you are dead.

Politics : decide whether to believe in individual accountability, shared responsibility or a compromise. Pick a political party and learn what your values are and what to believe, from the elders of your chosen tribe. Only listen to evidence that supports what your party believes. Learn to convert people to your cause by selecting which statistics to use.

Science : learn from others whose opinion is based on evidence. Consider everything you are told and check everything you doubt. Consider arguments against anything you believe, in case it is wrong. Weigh the likelihood of either side being right. If you still aren’t sure, do your own experiments. It is OK to be uncertain or to change your mind when what you believe is wrong. Base your values on what you learn about humanity and the environment we live in. Live the very best version of your life you can, because it is probably your only chance. Appreciate the elegance, beauty and complexity of the universe.

Never talk about Science, Religion or Politics

Science is about deciding what to believe by considering evidence.

Religion is about learning what to believe from a book, despite evidence.

Politics is about deciding what to believe then selecting evidence to prove you are right.

There is a lot of overlap between politics and religion, because of science.

(This is Version 2 of an earlier Twitter draft. It was brought to you by Science, or the Holy Internet Whale or your generous overlords. You decide.)

Open Rights (in Birmingham)

Last night I went to this: https://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/94628536/ , the first meeting of the ‘Open Rights Group Birmingham’, to see what THAT is all about.

There was a table full of us, gathered from the worlds of computing, art and politics. Thinking about what happened, I’ve realised that although I’m interested in all three areas, I’ve never experienced them mashed-up before. We were in the cafe at Birmingham Open Media, after closing time, like radicals, ready to change the world.

Our mission from HQ, should we choose to accept it, was to consider what Brum could do to help ORG’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’ campaign: “We demand an end to indiscriminate retention, collection and analysis of everyone’s Internet communications, regardless of whether they are suspected of a crime. We want the police and intelligence agencies to have powers that are effective and genuinely protect our privacy and freedom of speech.”

What fascinated me most was the different intuitive responses of the three groups. The techies saw it as a problem to be fixed or provided with tools. Those in public services and the world of politics saw a policy decision to be campaigned on and influenced, using their knowledge of the tools of our broken democracy and those from the art world saw it as something to be responded to, to influence public opinion. That is a heady combination: identify a problem, motivate popular demand for change to generate political appetite, provide a technical solution. It also demonstrates that politicians are often the blockers rather than the enablers of societal change.

I’ve also watched a video on the societal imperatives driving the move of businesses from hierarchies to networks. Imagine that applied to democracy. Netwocracy?

Pre-election Budget Day Rant

For many years I wasn’t very interested in politics but corrupt, power-hungry politicians annoyed me into it. They’ve been at it again. Today was pre-Election 2015 Budget day, when the British Government traditionally bribes the electorate, whilst lying, to test the selfishness and gullibility of the British people.

People tell me George Osborne is very clever but he hides it well. I heard an arrogant man who thinks we are easy to fool. He seems to think that the average elector is too stupid to see through misleading statistics and deliberate misdirection. In case he is right, I’d like to point out a couple of his cunning ruses that I spotted. If we all do that then MAYBE politicians will start seeing that there is personal advantage in telling us the truth, as that seems to be what motivates most of them.

We were told it is time to share the advantages of the improving economy with everyone. The homeless, those living in B&B accommodation because there is insufficient social housing, those who can’t afford to buy food? Well, “No”.

Who then? Aspirational “lower paid savers”, first-time house buyers, older people who are disappointed in the extra income they are getting from interest on their savings. Basically, people who might be on the edge of voting Tory. So, how easily bought are you?

“Incomes are up” said George. Ed Miliband’s response was “Ernings are down”. How can this be? There must be ‘unearned incomes’! There’s a small increase in pensions but surely that can’t be it. Do you think it might be a massive increase in unearned income for the massively rich? You are all very cynical people.

You’ve already paid tax on your income, said George.
We don’t want to tax it again when you save, he said.
What? You mean tax on interest, don’t you George? No-one has ever paid tax on savings, you’re just hoping we don’t notice because we’re a bit thick and didn’t go to the right schools. You mean ‘unearned income’ from interest on bankers bonuses, don’t you? You mean no interest on private landlords cash stash while they wait to buy up at a bargain price the next redundant  public servant’s repossessed house. The NHS is losing subsidies from successful tooth and claw Capitalism. Ed pointed out that he didn’t mention the NHS but soon he’ll be pointing out that ‘the (poor) tax payer’ won’t be able to afford to fund it.

If you were actually interested in not taxing people twice, George, you’d do something about VAT, not interest. We’re not fooled.

At least there’s extra funding for “The Northern Powerhouse”, where George Osborne has his seat and the Midlands car industry where there are a couple of marginal Conservative seats. What a coincidence.

I’m now listening to people on TV working out how much better off they will be and getting on ‘the housing ladder’. They love it. He’s stopped banging their heads against the wall, so they’re grateful. I thought writing this would make me feel better but it hasn’t.

Values Market

“You can’t put a value on human life.”

I’m sorry, but yes, you can. If it is your life or the life of a family member then it may be ‘everything I have’ but if you are an administrator of a health budget then you must optimise the use of a finite resource according to some algorithm. Or you could pick the people you like the look of, or who agreed with your religious beliefs or politics. In the UK, they would generally not prove popular options. That isn’t the way we do things around here. Maggie Thatcher was wrong. We are a society and our society, on average, has loosely agreed on some ‘values’. We are willing to pay more for things and people and beliefs that we value . We value our values. We say “I love you and I will do anything for you, for ever” but we won’t really. We have limits. There is an upper limit on our investment, for our own protection.

That isn’t money though, is it? That’s love and some people appear to have bottomless reserves. Do they, or are they simply measuring their relative values in a different way? We all have different ideas of the value of things or commerce would be impossible. Trades only happen when there is a differential between the values of the people on either side of the trade. Our individual valuations change over time too. I won’t pay for your bottled water because I have perfectly good tap water available, but try offering me a tiny bottle for 5 Euros in a hot airport when my plane is 3 hours late. Think of bartering in a market too – finding the tipping point betwee holding on and letting go.

Money doesn’t really exist. It is a metric of relative value. Our chosen currency itself has a relative value against other currencies. There is a market in values and we have to agree our price.

“I’m not eating that!”
“I’ll give you £10… £50!”

Decide what you value and where you are willing to fold. “We do not negotiate with terrorists” is an opening bid, as Western-style market-capitalist democracies try to negotiate a new value system we can agree with the rest of the world. We may need to consider if any of our beliefs need to be re-evaluated in the new world market.

When I woke up this morning, I believed there were two different meanings of the word “value”; one about morals, one about money but I’ve realised that whether I want world peace or a new sports car, value is the measure of our personal desire for a particular future projection of the world to be true, relative to a network of the desires of every other living creature. Markets are the human race, balancing our collective desires. They aren’t going to go away.

Rationalism vs Atheism, Feminism & Other Religions

Perhaps my scientific training led to scepticism and the search for facts or maybe I was just made this way.

A colleague in my first job pointed out that maths is symbols and rules but any relationship between maths and reality is unproven, though backed by a lot of circumstantial evidence.

After an upbringing in a ‘Church of England’ style, relatively disinterested Christianity but little or no church attendance, I failed to find any evidence for the existence of a loving God. All the love and hate I witnessed was more sensibly attributed to humans and ‘acts of God’ to climate or accident.

I know that religion can make people feel more hopeful at the worst of times so I wanted to distance myself from increasingly militant atheism. I started describing my lack of religious belief as “agnostic atheism”. I’m not absolutely sure there is no God but I see no evidence that there is. My relationship to God is exactly the same as the one I have with creatures  who live underground on the Moon. I’ve heard stories but without further evidence, I’m going to assume they’re not there. The Bible is not better evidence than ‘The Clangers’, if we ignore any knowledge of who created the artifacts and what their motivation was. Describing myself by something I don’t think became increasingly ridiculous to me. When I started going to ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ events, I began to self-identify primarily as a rationalist.

Last week, I was catching up on the latest series of The Infinite Monkey Cage. Prof. Brian Cox said that in science there are no facts, only theories that haven’t been disproven yet. Religion and science have a common aim, to explain how and why things work. The difference is that once a religion has decided something, it becomes a sin to challenge it. Dogma gets treated as fact.

Science has theories and it constantly challenges them until no-one can think of any better ideas (for now) and everyone pretends they’re facts, because we like certainty but we are still kidding ourselves. I’m imagining religious fundamentalists, pointing at this, screaming “See! See! They know NOTHING!”.  The only people who can believe they KNOW facts with any degree of certainty are the religious. And they are not going to be swayed from their Knowledge by something as trivial as contradictory evidence. Their faith teaches them that believing, without a scrap of evidence, is the greatest virtue, that doubt is a sin to be prayed through. You can imagine the ambitious early churchman who made that rule up.

I know religious scientists. They separate their science from their beliefs and compartmentalise them, in different sections of their brain. Logic is not permitted in the religious baggage area. Many atheists try arguing with religious people, at a cost of great personal stress. You may as well try building a suspension bridge using magic. However, if you are arguing from a position of absolute certainty that there is no God then you are not being rational either, because science isn’t certain about anything. That is its greatest strength. ‘It’ learns continuously in a way that religious institutions are reluctant to and that is why religion is disappearing fastest amongst educated people. The places that God might be hiding are slowly disappearing. The odds suggest overwhelmingly that we should grow up, take responsibility for our own actions and fix any problems ourselves. Don’t pray, think.

And then I talk to feminists. I believe that all people should be offered the same opportunities; that as far as is possible we should strive to enable equality. But people are not equal. I have observed this, scientifically. Yet, if I had to decide who to throw out of an airship, I’m confident it would mostly be men, even without the archaic concept of male chivalry. Not all men are the same and not all women are the same. I get that too. And even when we do conform to gender stereotypes, we don’t know whether that was caused by nature or nurture so we just pick a side, based on faith. Faith must never be questioned. If someone produces evidence that conflicts with your belief, it is your duty to shout at it and attempt to undermine the messenger.

Some aspects of this ill-defined thing we call “Feminism” seems to have become a religion to some people. It’s strictest adherents are capable of holding totally conflicting beliefs in their minds without them ever meeting. And like other religions, it is impossible to question some of the more outlandish beliefs without triggering reflex protection mechanisms. “It says in the Bible…”, “Well you would say that, you reap the benefits of the patriarchy”. Or maybe I’ve thought about what you said and found it lacking and the fact I am a man is irrelevant.

“Not all feminists!”, I hear you cry. But some of them, and they are doing harm to a logical cause that I care about. Men don’t run around clubbing wild boars any more, leaving our little women safe in the cave. Our culture needs women working and men doing childcare as though they were equal. We need to grow up and discuss equal opportunities, like adults.

Competitiveness – a strange game

[ a slightly different version of a post I made on LinkedIn ]

“A strange game. The only winning move is not to play” – the computer in ‘Wargames’

Also see: market capitalism, Westminster politics, privatisation, corporate performance reviews.