Many if not most people would agree that society is suffering from a gross lack of rationality. And then they would not agree that that diagnosis squarely applies to themselves.
Should we as a people be more rational? Should we have more concern for facts and logic? Stated that way, I think most people would admit that we should. But I don’t think most people fathom the wide chasm between the intention to be rational and what it really means when put into practice. They would claim to agree with the marketing brochure for rationality, but wouldn’t want to actually own the product.
An analogy I often make is of launching a spaceship. If you examine what’s required to launch a man into orbit or land him on the moon, you’ll find that it relies upon an extremely disciplined and meticulous use of logic and evidence over a long span of time, both in human history and the history of the scientists and engineers who have trained themselves to perform this work. Building a healthy and proper civilization and its political system requires this same disciplined rationality.
And yet, most act as if a little education gives them enough information to form political opinions and then vote for whomever they like. But that’s as silly as thinking that the same education would be sufficient for forming a team to launch rockets. The truth is, if they were to try the latter, they’d just get astronauts and ground crew killed. Just as they’re arguably getting so many killed (or otherwise destroying human lives) by their current negligent approaches to politics.
As a species then, here is where we are stumped. While a select few of us have figured out how to apply rational discipline to our approach toward the natural world and then build institutions on this premise, we have no clue how to do it in the realm of political institutions. And what’s worse, we have institution-scale Dunning-Kruger – we aren’t even aware that we have this major blind spot.
The way forward is obvious: one at a time, individuals must come to understand this chasm between rationality as intention vs. as fact, and then attempt to cross it. Only when there are a sufficient number of people actually being rational will our institutions then begin to accept our reforms. But there are a number of stumbling blocks: