This short essay will be the first in a series of essays I’m planning to write on the topic of good governance. It’s an important topic to me, as I feel very strongly that we need more than ever good governance practices in our government at all levels.
Please, if you’re reading this page, I IMPLORE you to watch the video above before going any further. Or indeed, if you’re short on time, I’d rather you watch that short 12 minute video RATHER than read my diatribe below. It will give you a great insight into a different way or perspective on how to look at decision making, which most definitely applies to governmental actions. It will also provide a huge insight into how I try to approach the world.
As a programmer by trade, it’s my job to solve problems. That’s my basic job description – problem solver. Everything else, all of the code, and data etc… those are all just tools and window dressing. They are secondary to actually solving the problem itself. And you can’t solve problems by coming at them with a closed mindset that sees only what it WANTS to see, or a “soldier” mindset as Ms. Galef describes in her video. If I lived my life with a “soldier” mindset, I would be a very poor problem solver, and I would create “solutions” that were inefficient, or frankly more harmful than the problems themselves. I’ve already seen this in my career so far – code and programs that add EXTRA workload to people’s lives rather than reduce that workload, which is kind of the opposite of what programmers should be trying to do. I’m sure you’ve run across this at least a few times in your life, when you’re frustrated with a piece of technology that seems to be getting in the way of your goal, of what you’re trying to accomplish. Those moments are the result of a soldier mindset, where the programmer decided beforehand that THIS was the way that things should be, rather than working with end users to make sure that the solution solved the problem in an elegant and efficient way that makes things easier, rather than harder.
To solve problems, it’s important that we see the world as it is, rather than how we want it to be, and try to move past our biases and predilections that may warp the lens with which we view the world. This is also why partisanship is a detriment to good governance. Because while having a pre-conceived notion or point of view before you get into a discussion is human nature, it also closes you off to being wrong. And being closed off to being wrong puts you into a place where you’re not open to discussion, debate, or compromise.
Good governance *IS* discussion, debate and compromise. There is a quote often attributed to one of our greatest leaders of the past, Abraham Lincoln:
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/12/11/cannot-fool/
This quote from a well respected personage speaks of the importance of realizing that people are NOT a monolithic group. We are all unique individuals that have our own way of looking at things, and thinking about things. This is probably our greatest gift as humans – our variability. Its helped us to become the dominant species on the planet. It also points to the fact that a deception will only ever last so long – until the right person that doesn’t go along with the rest sees the deception for what it is, and exposes its falsehood to all.
Which is also why REAL conspiracies have a fairly short shelf life, and conspiracy theories should be given very little latitude. Because each person supposedly added in to a conspiracy exponentially increases the risk of that conspiracy being uncovered. So conspiracies that require dozens if not hundreds of people working in unison towards a common goal in complete secrecy? Most likely not realistic.
Why am I bringing up this quote anyways? Because I wanted to use this quote and paraphrase it to make it apply not just to deception, but to making people happy or comfortable. It could also be rephrased as follows: “You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not please all of the people all of the time”. And good governance is about realizing this, and doing what you can to “maximize happiness” as a utilitarian might say. You won’t please everyone all of the time, but with making wise choices based on the FACTS as we can know them, we can try to make the best decisions that will maximize people’s happiness with that decision. This requires moderation and compromise.
Now, if you follow the link above under the quote, you’ll see that we have no proof that Lincoln ever said that, and in fact, people quoting him as saying it without fact checking are doing the exact same thing that Ms. Galef is referring to… coming at something with a pre-conceived notion, and deciding that THAT is reality, without doing proper due diligence to ensure that what you believe to be true matches up with what’s actually true. Why do I bring this up? Because I just caught myself, during the writing of this essay, doing this exact same thing. I was just about to make use of this quote as-is, and attribute it to Lincoln to make the point that I made in the previous couple of paragraphs. I absolutely was and frankly, did. But then, I got to thinking about the thrust of the topic, and I asked myself, “what if I’m wrong”? So… I shifted myself from a soldier mentality to a scout mentality, and sought out the TRUTH of things, rather than what I’d like them to be. I discovered that I was indeed wrong, that Lincoln never said this. And I felt it important to note this, as a real life example of how a soldier mindset can cause issues like miscommunication and misunderstanding. However, the thrust of the argument is still valid, even if the source is obfuscated.
And what more, it offers a perfect example that all of us do this, myself included. It is a part of human nature to have a certain way of seeing the world, a certain viewpoint, and to not question that viewpoint without good evidence to the contrary. In philosophy it’s called the “Principle of Belief Conservation“, and it’s one of the many things that help us keep sane in an often times insane world. However, when taken to extremes, it leads to a soldier mindset, echo chambers, and confirmation bias, which are all VERY bad for us, and for the governments that we create and run.
We must make an effort to fight against this natural inclination to see ourselves as being always correct, and to seriously consider information contradictory to our existing positions.
It is only through this effort that we will find the “middle ground” that we need to maximize happiness and to ensure that our decisions are based on reality – what is, rather than the fiction that we may wish to live in – what isn’t.