I’ve written extensively on the “Political Fundamentalism” of the Tea Party, and its three idolatries (“Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, Small Government Idolatry). Though I’ve emphasized the degree to which it defines the Right, political fundamentalism of a different flavor is also rampant on the Left. This is particularly tragic, because the Left, despite its foibles, is substantively far closer to where procedurally disciplined reason and goodwill lead, but to the extent that it is not defined by such procedurally disciplined reason and goodwill, it loses much of this natural advantage in the struggle for our national soul.

Personal political convictions on the Left are, for the most part, as dogmatic, vitriolic, and arbitrary as those on the Right. Though those convictions have, on average and inconsistently, arrived at where reason and goodwill, diligently pursued, lead to, they have not generally done so by personally diligently pursuing reason and goodwill, but rather by doing exactly what their counterparts on the Right do: Gravitating toward the political ideology that best resonates with their predispositions, and then cognitively and emotionally wrapping themselves around it and committing themselves to it. I have written extensively on how this fact helps to erase the natural advantage that would otherwise accrue to better-reasoned, more factually-supported, and more humane political ideological commitments (see, e.g., Ideology v. Methodology, The Signal-To-Noise Ratio, The Elusive Truth, Scientific Misconduct: There’s No Such Thing As Immaculate Conception, The Voice Beyond Extremes).

Furthermore, not all of those arbitrary certainties widely held by left-wing ideologues are actually substantively superior to their counterparts on the Right. The cost of adhering to blind ideology isn’t only losing an advantage that would otherwise have accrued, but also, too often, failing to achieve that natural advantage at all, by failing to identify the wisest policies that best serve the public interest. The Left is far too laden with oversimplistic, systemically naïve, and ultimately counterproductive false certainties, while the Right is not completely devoid of legitimate insights. The ultimate challenge is less that the Left wins than that the best and most humane ideas win. And that ultimate challenge is best met by a broadening and deepening commitment to establishing a procedure designed to promote the implementation of the best policies, independently of ideological presumptions about what those are.

While I believe that the dogma of the Left is closer than the dogma of the Right to what such a methodologically disciplined process (similar to scientific methodology or legal procedure) would produce, it doesn’t really matter: I’m willing to put my beliefs on the line, and if and when such a process favors Right-wing over Left-wing policy recommendations, so be it. We need to start shifting political discourse away from fighting over our more fallible conflicting substantive conclusions, and toward fighting for an agreed upon process by which to arrive at them which reduces their fallibility.

Obviously, neither the majority of people engaging in political discourse and activism nor the majority of voters are going to suddenly relinquish their own ideological convictions and embrace instead the application of scientific and judicial methodology to the derivation of new convictions. The opportunity to do so, and the historical evidence of the value of doing so, have long existed. Economists, political scientists, legal scholars, and policy analysts have long, often implicitly, been making the case for doing so. American politics will continue much as it is today, a semi-orderly competition of precipitous false certainties, into the foreseeable future, gradually evolving according to forces I’ve described elsewhere (see, e.g., The Politics of Consciousness , Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future).

But just as scientific methodology gradually, almost imperceptibly, and still very incompletely, displaced religious dogma as the most reliable source of understanding the systemic dynamics of nature, and just as legal procedure gradually, almost imperceptibly, and still very incompletely, displaced prejudice and bigotry in the determination of guilt or innocence, so too can a similar commitment to a similar procedure applied to political beliefs have a similar effect over time. It’s a worthy and attainable long-term goal to which to commit ourselves.

My argument is not that all matters in the political universe can be reduced to testable hypotheses and non-controversial paradigms, but rather that the excessive arbitrariness of political ideology can gradually be pushed to the margins, the transparency of interests and values served and harmed by particular orientations and policies increased, and the range of rational policy ideas in service to the public interest more clearly defined.

That is the alternative to idolatry.

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