Summary: The two parties in America stand as invincible barriers to political reform. They own the high ground; they control all the gates. No set of attractive policies will overcome them. Yet they have points of vulnerability exploitable by determined reformers who seek not just better doctrine but also organizational superiority. We can defeat giants, for they act stupid and slowly. Today we discuss one kind of advantage, part of a long series about ways to reform America (see links at the end). Not the fun of slogans and magic policies, but the specifics of building change.
And every eye
Gazed as before some brother of the sky.
— The Odyssey, Book VIII, line 17.
- Their weakness
- Lessons Learned
- For More Information
(1) Their weakness
Both Democrats and Republicans are “reality-based communities”, with a clear understanding — of each other. Both parties have in themselves the seeds of greatness, but are hobbled by their confidence in their beliefs, their preference for orthodoxy over truth, an unwillingness to hear criticism, and a disinterest in growth.
“Epistemic closure” protects the members of each faction from learning. Information comes only from in-group sources, with heterodox thought discouraged by group norms. The Democrats see this clearly in the Republicans. The GOP sees this clearly in the Democrats. So each party understands that the other’s worldview has little credibility.
This is most often described as a problem of the Republicans. But the Democrats are equally afflicted. Perhaps the best-known example: their belief that its portfolio of Treasury bonds funds Social Security. Eminent economists, such as Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley) and Paul Krugman confidently state this absurdity. As if a bond is an asset when held by the issuer. Federal government pays social security; it cannot fund one obligation with another obligation. You might as well write an IOU to yourself for a trillion dollars and ask to join the Fortune 500.
The October global surface temperature report (posted soon) shows another obvious example. By most measures it shows little warming during the past 30 years, and roughly 17 years with no statistically significant warming — the point at which some climate scientists (e.g., Ben Santer of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; see Wikipedia) say marks a possible change in the trend. To Democrats this data is untruth, acknowledging it commits crimethink. The large body of statements by climate scientists about the pause, from interviews to peer-reviewed literature to the IPCC reports, must be concealed or misrepresented.
Ignoring this data, Democrats make ever-more-dire warnings about the climate horrors to come, mostly unsupported by little but speculation. Worse than tales about the future, they often describe local events, attributing them to global warming or rising sea levels — in areas where the official records show little warming or rising sea levels for decades or generations (sometimes back to the 1940’s; these things are not globally homogeneous). Republicans mock this folly; Democrats wall their minds to these facts by shouts of “denier”.
This does not mean that Social Security must die, or that the world has not and will not warm. Just as Republicans’ faux history, faux economics, and love of fake quotes does not mean that rising government debt and erosion of social norms are not problems. Rather, these examples show how both factions’ views of reality are clouded. This leads to weak reasoning, easily countered by their opponents. As a result the public’s confidence in the major parties and the government has slowly fallen during the past few decades (e.g., see this NBC poll).
There’s none so blind as they that won’t see.
— Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversation (c. 1738), Dialogue III
(2) Lessons Learned
Let’s consider this as an opportunity to draw outside the lines. Political organizations compete not just in terms of such things as policies and style, but also their operational effectiveness. Political parties, like armies, have somewhat unique dynamics that typically result in a low level of effectiveness. But even so, higher competence can provide a competitive advantage.
Might an organization work without the usual ideological blinders — the refusal to see contrary facts, and love of pretty falsehoods from other members of the tribe? These things maintain internal coherence and social cohesion, but diminish both credibility to outsiders and the organization’s efficiency.
Reformers could start with a belief in openness and acceptance of criticism as standards of behavior. “Self-criticism” was a doctrine of communist parties (samokritika in Russia; jiǎntǎo in China), but corrupted into a brutal method of control. But it could work. The exact mechanisms matters little, and are easily implemented for those with the will to learn. Organizations from the Marines to Boy Scouts routinely do lessons learned sessions. While difficult to make these part of the organization’s culture, it can provide a lasting source of competitive advantage. Especially against the insular, largely dysfunctional main US parties.
(3) For More Information
(a) Reference pages about American politics:
- Posts about politics in America
- Posts about the Democratic Party
- How can we stop the quiet coup now in progress?
- Posts about reforming America
(b) Other posts about learning:
- Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011
- Learning skepticism, an essential skill for citizenship in 21st century America, 1 December 2012
- Remembering is the first step to learning. Living in the now is ignorance., 29 October 2013
(c) Steps to fixing America:
- Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step
- Five steps to fixing America
- A third try: The First Step to reforming America
- The second step to reforming America
- The third step to reforming America, with music
- How to recruit people to the cause of reforming America