Ending Political Polarisation

by Jonathan Gunnell


Posted on June 17, 2020



This post presents personal opinions, which may not necessarily reflect the views of other members of the Christian Transhumanist Association.

Ending political polarisation: A Christian Transhumanist pathway to end political polarization.

Complaints about polarization are common, and the need to find reconciliation and a civil discourse is more important than ever. Pathways to fix our fractured politics are few. Here’s an outline from a Christian Transhumanist perspective that if adopted, will make a huge difference.

The causes of polarisation are complex, and I won’t cover them other than to suggest the fragmented media is a symptom and a catalyst, not the underlying cause.

I’m going to offer solutions from two sources, as befits Christian Transhumanism.

Solutions offered by Transhumanism:

I recently researched IBM Project Debater’s capabilities. This tech is the fruit of 6 years challenging work by IBM. Project Debater can hold its own against a champion human debater in real time, understanding and rebutting.

It has 10 billion sentences (“factoids”) at its disposal, and is able to evaluate if each supports or opposes any given proposition. In a debate against a human on the proposition “That we should subsidize pre-school” it opens with rich statistics and studies. Since both human and machine were given 15 minutes to prepare, the machine is obviously way better at finding obscure studies. However in terms of audience opinion (spoiler alert) the human (arguing against it) caused the audience opinion to shift against the proposition. This is despite the audience feeling the computer did more to inform them.

The human in the debate, being at a disadvantage in the face of the computer’s ability to serve up facts, resorted to impassioned arguments about opportunity costs. He pointed out any such subsidy would favor the rich. Speaking to a largely progessive audience, he knew what buttons to press, on a topic that, on paper, would be a tough sell for him to oppose.

But Project Debater does not only handle factoids. It also manages to sort and evaluate arguments for and against a given proposition, using logic. And, importantly, it does so without evidence filters.

Scott Adams book “Loserthink” in one passage juxtaposes two iconic polarizing issues: a border wall, and gun reform. He points out that the arguments put by the extremes of each side are mirror images. Conservatives use similar arguments for border control (preventive friction works) as they decry against gun control (preventive friction doesn’t work). The left uses similar arguments against a border wall (preventive friction doesn’t work) and for gun control (preventive friction works). Adams brings these together by pointing out in both cases we are trying imperfect methods of increasing “friction” to prevent undesirable outcomes. The friction agents proposed (wall, gun controls) are imperfect, but could be used to a sensible extent. On the extreme, both sides allege black and white e.g. “Walls don’t work at all, but you can keep guns away from criminals” which is plainly idealistic nonsense. Similarly, some conservatives ignore evidence that walls can be tunnelled under (or flown over on commercial airlines), and that reducing the availability of automatic weapons has reduced the death toll in shootings.

Surely as AI “Project Debater” applications increase in power, most of these iconic polarizing issues will find a sensible middle ground beyond evidence filters. For example, a government controlled and well organised immigration program, and ensuring only those responsible people with a valid reason to have guns will be able to get them.

This is just the beginning. In the same way computers are now unbeatable at Chess and Go, they will soon be unbeatable in political debates, at least at a factual level. Also of note is that the computer’s playing style of Go completely outclassed the masters, with a whole new genre of tactics. Will we see the same in politics?

Parallels can be drawn with Plato’s conception of the roots of monotheism. There can’t be more than one God, since there can only be one standard of right and wrong. Ontologically there can only be one optimal beneficial solution for humanity.

Parallels can also be drawn with the old analogy of the elephant and the 5 blind people who touch different parts. We are all blindly touching parts of the elephant, and in our teams loudly proclaiming only what we touch “it’s a rope” (tail), “It’s a tree-trunk!”, (leg). We deny the touch of others. But soon we will have another voice, an all-seeing AI with LIDAR scanning to pick up every wrinkle inside the elephant’s scrawny ears, and X-Ray eyes to see the bones.

So we must all start to adjust to the new world of AI offering up reasoned analysis instead of party-line iconic shibboleths. Soon we will all be required to interact with these AI systems, which some will call “beings” and for whom some will argue for some parallel of human rights. Maybe we will want them to somehow influence elections. Likely we may be required to interact with them via Elon Musk’s Neuralink or comparable technology.

Truly it will be better to understand the issues, (and each other!) than to shout our evidence-filter-based team allegiances. Truly we will have to join one humanity, governed by the ontologically-existent best course analysis.

Solutions offered by Christianity:

Christianity is a great leveller. All have fallen short of God’s standards, but a path of redemption and transformation is open. The rich and the poor are equal in rights and responsibilities, insofar as God requires they fulfil their respective vocations. From those to whom much is given, much will be expected. The only humans on this planet are sinners, that includes us.

Christianity’s greatest distinctive among world religions is this: “Love your enemies”. Why? What does it mean? How can I receive this command yet somehow let myself dehumanise my opponents, decrying their sin yet ignoring the beam in my own eye? I guess humans try to interpret our way out of some pretty simple scriptural principles!

So the command here is first to love your enemies. That doesn’t mean to uncritically agree with them. But it does mean to seek to understand and interpret the good in their message. To gracefully grant that maybe they mean well, at least in some way.

Certainly, to love your enemy must at least mean we don’t mis-represent or exaggerate their position. That we don’t puff up fake news. That we accept graciously when they apologise or withdraw. That we don’t cancel over an error from a quarter-century ago, of which they have since publicly repented. That we focus on what they can contribute in future, not on the past.

What does it feel like to be wrong?

Actually, it feels exactly the same as when you are right. Until you realise it. Another of Christianity’s core strengths is to admit error. To repent literally means “to change your mind”. To discover error not only in deeds, but in thoughts and words. Jesus talked at length about purity of mind and heart, noting a greedy look falls short of God’s standards, just as actual thieving.

So to end polarisation, we need firstly to maintain a very healthy skepticism of our own opinions. Which facts hit our evidence filters? Who’s perspective did we choose (maybe unconsciously) to ignore? So let’s define a few new deadly sins:

  1. Evidence filters. Many promote policies which sound like good ideas. But actually, most ideas (or something very similar) have been tried somewhere. Legalise marijuana? Single payer health system? Lower taxes? Higher taxes? Firstly you should challenge where else these policies, or parts of them have been tried, and what the outcomes were. I’ve heard many promote policies while ignoring that it failed elsewhere.
  2. Demanding extreme purity. Actually this is a hallmark of cults. You will observe the further you move on any extreme, the more fractured the group of people are. As the demand for purity becomes more extreme, those on the edges of the political spectrum suffer more severe internal divisions than mainstream parties. Instead of “extreme purity”, let’s demand “extreme acceptance” and “extreme logical examination of facts and evidence”.
  3. “Party Spirit” is spoken against in scripture. Gal 5:19-21 lists it amongst a long list of undesirable traits, and the Message version puts it thus: “the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival1” — let’s be straight - we want none of this.
  4. Decrying compromise and insisting on a hard all-or-nothing line. All successful public policy will feel like a fusion or a compromise. This is because many people have different views on matters, as in the parable of the elephant and the blind people. All are partly true and partly false. So the real answers to most of our iconic disagreements are, in fact, a sensible compromise and synthesis.

Humans tend to judge themselves by their intentions and others by their outcomes. To live in grace is to do the opposite of this, that is, to assume in the first instance others mean well, at least at some level, and to rigorously test your own impact on the world.

Can you be more factual? Can you rigorously test your own ideas against global experience? Can you find the good in your worst political hate-symbol? Can you find fault with yourself, your side, and your policies?

Moreover, can you accept that with so many humans having partially correct and partially incorrect views, and differing legitimate interests, that the best policy is in fact a fusion or compromise? Remember, shortly we will have AI’s rattling off facts and different viewpoints at us, and all our party-spirit, evidence filter and tribalism flaws will be shown up to be as evil as the New Testament claims.

In this way, Christian Transhumanism offers a comprehensive path forwards out of political polarisation.

Takeaways:

  1. The command to love your enemy extends to your least favorite politician. That does not mean to not be critical, but it does require that you:
    1. Not exaggerate their faults
    2. Not repeat falsehoods. Thou shalt not bear false witness, even if you saw it on Facebook. Verify before reposting.
    3. Not demonise their supporters
    4. Rigorously ask yourself what your reaction would have been if your most favorite politician had said or done the same thing.
    5. Acknowledge and give credit when they do something good, or when they change course.
  2. Evidence filters are sin. Repent of them.
  3. Forming teams or “party spirit” is sin. All humans are one family. If we love our enemies, we should not experience “us vs them” the way the USA experiences family breakdown over voting Democrat or Republican.
  4. Always admit your errors, quickly and unreservedly.
  5. Always forgive others their errors, quickly and unreservedly, particularly when they publicly repent, let that be the end of the matter. Defend the genuinely repentant from unforgiveness.
  6. AI is now capable of collecting and comparing both sides of an argument. So you might as well get used to that or you’ll be made to sound silly by AI within a couple of years.
  7. Future humans will be judged by how they tear down their own evidence filters, remove the log from their own eyes, and always seek to understand the viewpoints of others.
  8. The development of every sound public policy feels like a compromise. This is true, because successful policy is a fusion of many different insights. So it’s a sin to dehumanize, misrepresent or exaggerate such other insights.
  9. All Christians will be evidenced by their commitment to loving their enemies and seeing others as fellow humans first, rather than people who vote in a particular manner.

Notes


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