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It’s not news that political advertising is deceptive (, that our treatment of electoral politics as a spectator sport trivializes it, and that our oversimplistic reduction of the challenges we face to platitudes and slogans creates a noisy obstacle to governing ourselves intelligently and effectively. The blogosphere does not help, amplifying the noise rather than cutting through it (One Colorado Pols blogger, in a moment of unintentional irony, wrote that my choice to focus on understanding and discussing issues, including spending lots of time talking with people in my district, rather than raising money and playing the political marketing game, made a mockery of the political process). Grass roots movements are choked with the crabgrass of superficiality.

The most fundamental issues we face are not taxes, services, or even campaign finance reform. They’re not health care or civil liberties or any of the other substantive issues that occupy our attention and directly affect our lives. The most fundamental issues are, as always, procedural, on how most effectively to solve substantive issues and resolve political disputes. The most fundamental issue is: How do we refine our political process to better liberate rather than distract our collective genius, to apply our thoughts and actions to the challenge of improving the quality of our lives rather than to the challenge of winning the cock fights of dueling false certainties?

I understand the temptation to focus exclusively on accomplishing small gains through traditional means, rather than acknowledging the need to tackle the fundamental, long-term political challenges we face. It’s as though we’re trapped in a pit, fighting over the scraps within it rather than working together to climb out. It may not be possible to turn our backs on the brawl constantly underway in this pit of politics in which we’re trapped, but we have to find ways to free ourselves enough of its immediate demands that we can attend at least marginally to the ultimate goal: Getting out of the pit. And that means refining the political process, hopefully enough to constitute a complete paradigm shift (see The Politics of Consciousness).

I’ve written that, to confront this fundamental political issue, there are three “virtues” we must emphasize: Reason, goodwill, and humility (or perhaps “skepticism”, the reluctance to assume that anything is true until it is well demonstrated) (The Foundational Progressive Agenda ). I am not arguing that we can just ignore the implications of being trapped in the pit of politics-as-usual, and dedicate ourselves exclusively to promoting these three virtues. As Henry Kissinger once said in a different context, that would only succeed in ceding the world to the most ruthless. But neither should we be satisfied with winning brawls in the pit, never attending to the more fundamental challenge of getting out of it altogether.

The irony and frustration of the human condition is that we’re capable of doing so much better. If we were able to address ourselves, as a society, as a world, to the collective enterprise of creating an ever more robust, sustainable, and fair global civilization, we’d be able to create a far less brutal, and far more accommodating, context for our lives. While it’s true that stating this does not move us toward it, and that the challenge of getting people on board, agreeing to work together to address ourselves to these most fundamental of substantive challenges, is as daunting as any we face, it’s also true that progress can be made on this front. And it behooves us to do so.

We need a new social movement, one that is not about the scraps in the pit, but about getting out of the pit altogether. We need a movement that suspends discussion (in the context of that movement) of all of the particular substantive policies and issues we are brawling over, and addresses instead the challenge of getting us more focused on working together as teammates in a collective endeavor, facing shared challenges and opportunities.

This is not something that candidates and office holders can, or perhaps even should, attend to. This is not something that the political parties can, or perhaps even should, attend to. But it is something that we, as a people, have to attend to. We have squandered the wealth of our genius far too egregiously for far too long.

Human history is about cumulative and threshold advances in how well we tap and utilize our genius. One of the best examples of a threshold improvement is the development of the scientific method, which vastly increased the signal-to-noise ratio in the information we generated through our observations of and inferences about the world around us. Making such advances is neither beyond our grasp, nor accomplished independently of the individual and organized efforts of living human beings to accomplish them.

The similarities between politics and science are not trivial. Both involve competing views, passionately held. Both involve bitter rivalries, brutal battles, and eventual outcomes that favor some ideas over others. Both involve resolutions that affect our lives. The main difference is that, in science, we have tamed this process to a far greater extent than we have tamed it in politics. And the benefits of having done so are astronomical.

The advance represented by the scientific revolution is a procedural one, not a substantive one. It is the creation of a more robust and less arbitrary methodology, reducing the casual and drawn-out processes of trial and error to a focused process of systematic investigation. If we can implement such a wondrous step in how we understand the nature of the world and universe around and within us, then we can certainly at least contemplate the possibility of implementing a similarly wondrous step in how we coordinate and frame our shared existence.

In fact, Science is a special cut-out from the universe of politics. Fighting over what is and is not true is a fundamentally political enterprise (see The Politics of Consciousness). Issues that we now recognize to fall clearly under the umbrella of science were once clearly merely political, with equallly rancorous conflicts of power and organization over which vision of the world would prevail. Eventually, to a large if forever incomplete degree, the preeminence of the scientific method to determine what is true and what isn’t, to frame those brawls within an agreed-upon procedure that maximized the influence of reason upon the outcome, to determine what causes result in what effects, has become widely accepted. The challenge now is to continue to subject all political disputes on matters that can be to scientific methodology (we already do, but relegated to the margins of political discourse), and, more dauntingly, to cultivate an agreement that we will privilege those conclusions over others more haphazardly arrived at.

We need a social movement that advances the notion that investing ourselves in the science of self-governance is good for humanity, that creating a context in which it is not just those who shout the loudest, but those who have best applied reason to the most reliable evidence, that prevail. We need to keep fighting to be a more enlightened society. That is the most fundamental political battle of all.

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