Is it possible to raise the bar of public discourse? Is it possible to bring about a new Age of Reason?
Imagine a world where our institutions were guided by rational thought, and our leaders selected for their intellect and clarity of mind. Can we do it?
WARNING: The following is pretty hand-wavy. I wanted to get these thoughts down, but they are admittedly not supported by references, although I'm confident that they could be.
It seems unlikely. Even the brightest and most optimistic minds of our generation seem to scoff at this notion. I mean, getting the entire world to do anything in synchrony seems beyond the pale, and surely basic human nature would not allow the powerful to behave selflessly for long.
- Just because it's unlikely that this would work eternally for all does not mean that we shouldn't strive for a more rational world.
- Current power systems are not striving for a more rational world at all; they're striving for more power.
It's also interesting to note that certain organizations have historically been able to achieve intellectually rigorous decision-making, with close to optimal outcomes. What can we learn from them?
- This becomes harder (non-linearly, probably n²) with scale.
- Incentive structures are very important.
Given a sufficiently long time-horizon for stakeholders and a sufficiently global outlook, capitalism seems to do a good job of providing organizational incentives at the corporate level. Unfortunately, long time-horizons and global outlooks are not common. Furthermore, operational inefficiencies frequently reduce capitalism's effectiveness within large corporations. Lastly, capitalism historically seems to have done a poor job of aligning incentives at the societal level. The lack of true economic incentives above the corporate level prevent regulation from being an effective guide toward long-term growth.
More succinctly: politicians, both personally and as part of the institutions they belong to, do not have meaningful economic incentives, especially not with a long time-horizon or global outlook attached.
How could this problem be solved?
I'm not sure, but an idea I've had recently that I think would be interesting is the following:
- A new, global, political party. Yes, new parties are unlikely to come to power in the short-term, but they may gain a voice at the table. And, more importantly, on a long time-horizon a global party has a greater chance of accomplishing global goals.
- This new party would participate in the elections of any democratic country.
- Members would be vetted for intelligence, and must agree to a pledge regarding long time-horizons and global outlook, but otherwise require no institutional credentials. They are encouraged to speak their mind and vote their conscience.
- The party would set global goals with multi-decade time horizons which gain the support of its membership.
- The party would adopt modern corporate standards for transparency in communication and decision-making, both internally and externally.
The above solution does not solve all of the problematic incentive structures which have been alluded to, but it does reduce the scale of the problem (by aiming to organize a single—albeit ambitious—political party first, rather than all of the world's political institutions) and it establishes long time-horizons along with a global outlook, both of which are critical components in bringing about a new Age of Reason.