“The irrational separates us, the rational unites us.”— Bertrand Russell paraphrasing Aristotle
The word “politics” has a double-meaning. In commonplace definition of the term, it refers to a morality-free zone, where people vie for unaccountable power over one another, like apes. In the enlightened definition, it refers to the sphere of human activity that rationally determines when force should or should not be used against another.
What does “rationally” mean? Simply, it means we appeal solely to facts, logic, undeniable axioms, we give due consideration to all relevant perspectives, we ultimately aim to discover the truth. We never presume that we have a perfect unalterable omniscience – we are always open to hearing how we might be mistaken – but neither do we betray what we in good faith believe to be the case. Furthermore, to embrace logic is to embrace principles and to reject hypocrisy. We think in terms of propositions like “All men are entitled to equal treatment under the law and to due process”, and we endeavor to apply such ideals consistently and with intellectual discipline, without regard to bias or emotion or intimidation by the mob.
There are of course those who believe that human rationality is a myth, and so would believe I’m making a distinction without a difference. How do they know this? By their own assumptions, they don’t rationally know it; in their worldview, there is no such thing as a rational belief, and that definitely includes their own beliefs. Since they deny rationality, they deny any avenue for convincing them otherwise, unless it’s via Schopenhauer’s method: “… whoever is not susceptible to reasons will be to floggings.”
On their view, “convincing” is a myth; floggings (and other such methods) are the only possible way of changing someone’s mind. So the only question for them is who shall be flogged and who shall be doing the flogging. This they will of course try to determine in their own favor and on every scheme they can connive, including, of course, schemes that superficially would appear as if it were reasoning. Indeed, they would prefer blunt violence only as a last resort, for that destroys much of the benefit they seek to accrue. They don’t want to “kill the goose that lays the golden egg”, they only want the golden egg. Killing a farmer and taking his cows might feed them for a day; but trick him to slave for them and they’ll eat forever. So, deception and manipulation is their first order of business.
From the point of view of such evil, the worst possible result would be the clarity of mind that discerns it for what it is. And of course, and in large part due to thousands of years of such shenanigans, the world is not so black and white. Most people are mixed up and easily intimidated into believing nonsense. A recent college graduate might give me a dozen sanctimonious, condescending, and obtuse objections to my simple analysis above. Does that make him an evil human being, or is he merely deeply confused fool? It’s probably some of both. But I pass no preemptive judgment; only a real-world engagement reveals the truth about his lost soul.
It has never been the case that any political party has ever stood for rationality and truth. Only philosophers do that, and a minority of those at that (most state-anointed philosophers are only state-sponsored charlatans). At best, we might find that, for a brief time, one political party is the lesser evil, a more relatively more decent and humane alternative. But since political parties are not rooted in rational principle, we can expect that one day, the winds will change, and the situation will be reversed.
The determination of which political party or candidate is truly the lesser evil is not a triviality. You couldn’t expect someone completely uneducated about the politics of the day to be able to determine it without spending a great deal of time sifting through the barnacles of partisan narrative and tracing them through to the original sources and context, judging everything through the lens of rational principle.
“The lens of rational principle” is indeed the pivotal issue. What ultimately matters is not what party or candidate you support, but whether your discernment is guided by facts and logic and a firm commitment to authentic justice and fairness, or not. And this is the civilizational-scale problem that we are failing to solve: we have handed everyone the power of vote, but without teaching them the power of reason. The result is very predictable: social chaos and rampant injustice.
It all seems so hopeless, but is it? We should reject such immature framing. We should be concerned less with hopes and guarantees of success, and more with simply figuring out what is the next right step, and taking that step. We should do what we can, until we can’t.
The glaring problem is the failures spanning the entire spectrum of our institutions: politics, science, economics, philosophy, journalism, medicine, education, art, commerce, agriculture, nutrition. Nothing is unscathed.
We’ve tried to fix these from within, an eternal battle of incremental differences within an ocean of fundamental problems and seemingly unstoppable bad trends; an unrelenting Sisyphean torture. I’d never suggest that the heroes waging these battles should cease: they are the bulwarks against civilizational catastrophe. But we should also face the root of our problems.
The problem of institutional corruption is the problem of allowing the irrational to govern the rational. We need institutions where authentic rational wisdom governs. It is virtually impossible to achieve this from within corrupted institutions, but nothing prevents those who embrace rationality to form their own institution. My use of the singular “institution” is intentional: if the self-described “rational” cannot achieve a real unity of civic values, then they can be no example to the rest.
How do we achieve this? We do it how every institution has ever been originated in the history of mankind: one person at a time. Two people who agree on specific beliefs and follow specific practices are an institution; so are four; so are four million. Such institution should strive for a body of true beliefs and virtuous practices that can, by way of education and example, show other institutions how to self-govern, and over time, build alliance with those cultural institutions that embrace these civic values.