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DAVID BRIN's questionnaire regarding politics, ideology and human destiny

Are you frustrated seeing your neighbors — and yourself — trapped in tired ideological rifts and fixations? Can we find common ground between folks who seem implacable foes?

When asked about the Big Picture, in speeches and consultations, I try to dig beneath standard divides and clichés like "left-vs-right."


I've assembled a questionnaire to illuminate why you feel as you do about modern issues... and why other smart humans weirdly disagree.

Take the survey in-private. Like Socrates, I’m hoping the questions themselves will provoke folks to re-think, rising above ideology.


the time flow of wisdom

ask yourself — and others

How do you feel wisdom is achieved?
I believe humans knew a natural idyllic condition at some point in the past, from which we fell because of bad, inappropriate or sinful choices, thus reducing our net wisdom. (The Look Back View.)
I consider such tales mythological. Wisdom is cumulative and anything resembling a human utopia can only be achieved in the future, through incremental improvements in knowledge or merit. (The Look Forward View.)

What evidence can you provide to support your point of view?

Which of these views of past or future wisdom do you think dominated the societies of the past? Which is still dominant in myths and storytelling? Is science fiction different — sometimes — in its time-flow notions of wisdom?

Do you feel wisdom is achieved through another source? If so, please describe it and list your evidence.

the time flow of wisdom

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Obsession with either past or future can almost define a civilization. Your attitude in this area is important because it colors every other political assumption you make, including whether you believe progress is possible, or desirable, or an illusion. Virginia Postrel distinguishes between two ways of dealing with change: anticipation and resiliency. We try to anticipate problems — and we've grown better at it! But ultimately, a civil society must also be strong and resilient enough to deal successfully with the unexpected. But none of that will matter, if your core assumption is that we are fallen creatures, doomed and on a downward path. If that is your core belief, then no amount of statistical evidence for progress will convince you.

read "Science Fiction and the Time Flow of Wisdom"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


propaganda

ask yourself — and others

Are members of our present culture subjected to propaganda? Which members? What kind?

What are the principal propaganda messages circulated today, and how are they disseminated? How effective has this propaganda been?

Name 5 popular modern examples of these propaganda messages being promoted. What are the messages they promote?

the art assembly line of WW2 propaganda posters

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People — especially westerners and Americans — tend to resent any suggestion that that our own opinions arose from propaganda... though we mostly think our opponents got their beliefs that way! But what is propaganda? Tally underlying messages in almost every Hollywood film: Isn't the paramount one Suspicion of Authority (SoA), followed by individualism and eccentricity? Don't we all tend to think "I am among the few brave non-conformists out here who can sense what's going on, surrounded by neighbors who are like sheep?" Feeling that way is very satisfying... and that should be a clue! Liberals dread different authority figures than conservatives, but they share the underlying suspicion that someone is trying to become Big Brother. Is this reflex the result of "propaganda" that fills every film? If so, what are other messages — some "good" and others not so much — that we grew up with?

read "The Underlying Memes That Drive Us"

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political beliefs

ask yourself — and others

Which of the following best describes how and why you arrived at your present set of political opinions and political agenda?
Logical appraisal of the evidence.
Inherent qualities of my nature, character or intelligence.
The effects of propaganda or upbringing.
Pursuit of my agenda may result in personal advantage.

Now answer the same question about why your political opponents hold the opinions & agendas they do.
Logical appraisal of the evidence.
Inherent qualities of their nature, character or intelligence.
The effects of propaganda or upbringing.
Pursuit of their agenda may result in personal advantage.

Do you think your opponents would agree or disagree with the way you answered just now? How do you think they would respond, if asked the very same questions about their beliefs... and yours?

political beliefs

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We tend to find reasons to justify "me and folks like me." Recent science has shown that folks who consider themselves to be highly rational will shut down their critical faculties, when confronted with evidence that that they might be wholly or partially wrong about something. And yes, this holds even if your side truly is 90% in the right! Learn more about this! Notice, if you find yourself in an echo chamber of folks repeating the same mantras. Even if those mantras are mostly right and your side is just, that sameness should irk you and make you want to scratch at your comfort zone. Actually go out and talk to someone unlike yourself.

read "Survival of the Fittest Ideas"

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the toxicity of ideas

ask yourself — and others

Please choose between the following:
I think ideas are inherently dangerous or toxic. People are easily deceived. An elite should guide or protect gullible masses toward correct thinking (Memic Frailty).
I believe children can be raised with a mixture of openness and skepticism to evaluate concepts on their own merits. Citizens can pluck useful bits wherever they may be found, even from bad images or ideologies (Memic Maturity).

If your answer to the preceding question was Memic Frailty, do you believe you should be selected as one of the elite who help encourage correct thinking? Why?

If your answer to the preceding question was Memic Maturity, do you hold "the masses" in contempt for not always agreeing with you? Why?

Nearly all societies appear to have preached Memic Frailty. But which message is conveyed in Hollywood films? If you believe in Memic Maturity, where do you think you got that belief?

Do you hold another viewpoint on the toxicity of ideas? If so, please describe it and list your evidence.

the toxicity of ideas

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Of course there are always scoundrels. I worry about any elite seeking to avoid accountability and gather power over our lives, while rationalizing they are the good guys, doing it for a greater good. But most of us then fixate on just one kind of worrisome elite, suspecting them of schemes to become Big Brother. Democrats worry about conspiring aristocrats and conniving corporate CEOs. Republicans fear snooty academics and meddlesome bureaucrats. Fundamentalists see secular elitists conspiring to spread filth. Nationalists fret over foreign powers. Others focus on organized crime or a burgeoning techno-elite. In truth, human nature means that all power centers try to avoid scrutiny. All need it.

read "War in the 21st Century"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


birds of a feather

ask yourself — and others

With whom would you ally? Which of the following persons would you listen to?
Person A, who agrees with my long-range dreams and goals, but disagrees profoundly with my program for getting there.
Person B, who agrees with my near-term political agenda and despises the same opponents, but has a very different image of what kind of society we should eventually arrive at.

How often have your political or other discussions with your allies actually focused on the distant goal? What is that goal?

Do you have a clear image of the future society all your efforts are aimed at achieving? Describe your program for getting there.

How have you verified that your "allies" have the same destination in mind?

birds of a feather

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Might believers in modernity, whether "liberal" or "conservative," form coalitions that agree to promote — boldly and openly — a dozen deeply-held, high-priority agenda items, and refuse to be lured back into party politics on these issues?

read "Alliance for a Modern World"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


dynamic systems

ask yourself — and others

Despite many admitted flaws, four societal innovations — Democracy, Science, unbiased Justice Courts and Free Markets — have burgeoned only in our recent civilization. What traits do they have in common? (Hint: there is a fifth "arena" that uses the same method — sports.)

Can competition be creative, or last for long, when human beings are always tempted to cheat?

Do you believe there is a balance between too little regulation — allowing cheating — and too much, that stifles?

dynamic systems

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It is fifty years since the great philosopher C.P. Snow gave his famous address lamenting how the academic world had divided into "two cultures" — one scientific and the other consisting of the arts, the humanities and so on. Underlying this divide was the noxious notion that limited so many of our ancestors... the Zero Sum Game... the assumption that you cannot achieve new powers without abandoning or losing something else. And make no mistake, this way of thinking dominated nearly all human cultures, leading to the banal and stifling logic of feudalism.

read "The New Modernism"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


the wisdom of progress

ask yourself — and others

Are we wise or knowledgeable enough to prescribe ideologies for our descendants? How should we transmit these ideologies to our descendants?
Focus all efforts on achieving total victory for one's particular political agenda and then leave the transformed world to them.
Concentrate on achieving pragmatic solutions, raise a new generation that is appreciably wiser and more aware than ours, and then leave the rest of the details to them.

Do you know of another way to transmit ideologies? If so, please describe it and list your evidence.

the wisdom of progress

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Ever since human beings discovered metals and agriculture, nearly all complex civilizations shared a common structure, a hierarchy of privilege reminiscent of a pyramid, with a super-empowered few on top, directing the labors of obedient masses below. Across 4,000 years and nearly every continent, aristocracies (and the clerics who preached on their behalf) colluded to ensure that the ruling oligarchy would stay on top.

read "Political Totemism and the Danger of Metaphors, Part 4"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


human nature

ask yourself — and others

Do you believe in evolution? Are humans still at least somewhat part of the animal kingdom?

What politically relevant things, if any, can we learn from fields like mammalian ethology, psychopharmacology, anthropology, and the historical behavior of real human tribes?

If discrepancies appear between these sciences and our idealization of human nature, should the idealization be revised? If information appears that shows an intrinsic difference between basic human nature and the ideal way we "ought to be," what is your response?
The so-called information about our basic nature must be wrong.
Society must adapt and conform to information about our basic nature, letting us be ourselves, since people are what they are.
The more we learn about 'basic human nature,' the more clearly we need vigorous guidance to encourage behavior more appropriate than we would 'naturally' engage in. This can be achieved by hewing to standards that have been known for generations.
Information about our basic nature helps us understand the raw material from which a new/better humanity might emerge.

Based on your reply to the previous question, how would you resolve the differences?

human nature

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Which type of coercive repressor destroyed freedom and markets in most cultures, across 4,000 years of recorded history? Was it socialist levelers? Religious zealots? Or kings and feudal lords? If you can’t form a clear picture of the most frequent failure mode in your mind, perhaps some closer look at history might be in order?

As George Santayana said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

And as Joseph Miller said: "Those who ignore the mistakes of the future are bound to make them."

read "Political Totemism and the Danger of Metaphors, Part 1"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


the wisdom of history

ask yourself — and others

Historically, which prescription has best helped to maximize human achievement, minimized costly errors and ensured freedom/happiness etc.?
Weak government.
Widespread and open criticism.
Strong leadership.
A cohesive shared value system.

Can you think of historical examples to support your claim?

Can you cite counter-examples?

the wisdom of history

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In the last 6,000 years of darkness and cruelty, one simple lesson has emerged — that human beings who are frightened, ignorant, tribal or desperate have nearly always behaved badly. People who are insecure will steal and cheat; they will all too often gang up on each other, and conspire to create dynasties. The Marxists are right, that some kind of satiation must be achieved — and libertarians are right that markets are crucial in order to get there. But absence of fear is key.

read "Political Totemism and the Danger of Metaphors, Part 2"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


problem-solving methods

ask yourself — and others

Consider the following two approaches that have been used for many generations by people and societies attempting to solve problems or change their world: Which approach do you prefer?
The Left-Handed Approach: concerted action by tribal or national units, organized by leaders who gather social resources (e.g., taxes or tithes) and apply them to attain goals in an organized manner.
The Right-Handed Approach: create loosely regulated markets wherein free individuals compete and/or cooperate, making the best deals they can for their own self interest.
Neither approach.
Both approaches.

If you prefer one approach over another, would you:
Amputate the other approach entirely?
Severely limit it?
Try to discover which types of problem each approach is best at performing and utilize the best one?

How does your preferred approach create abiding conditions for personal satisfaction or generation of wealth?

How would it deal with acute problems like natural disasters or Adolf Hitler?

Has democracy moderated the faults in the left-handed approach? If so, what other reforms might help make it work better?

Likewise, has democracy moderated the faults in the right-handed approach? If so, what other reforms might help make it work better?

Do you know of another problem-solving approach? If so, please describe it and list your evidence.

problem-solving methods

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In 10,000 years we've seen countless left-handed projects (pyramids, canals, wars and universities) and countless right-handed projects (industry, medicine, slavery and bookstores). Radical socialists have long demonized the right-handed approach as inherently corrupt/exploitive, and prescribe its amputation. Radical libertarians and anarchists call the left-handed approach coercive and stifling, and prescribe its amputation.

read "Neo-Romanticism"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


strategy

ask yourself — and others

Over the long run, what are the fundamental prerequisites for nurturing a growing state of freedom and wisdom for all human beings? (Please write a list.)

Can these prerequisites you just listed be achieved by:
Persuading people to behave differently than they presently do (Exhortation)?
Ensuring that actions have consequences (Accountability)?
Creating environmental preconditions (e.g., heightened health and/or wealth and/or education and/or low fear levels) then trusting people to make correct decisions (Changed Circumstance)?
Some combination of the above?

Which of the above prerequisites (or lack thereof) are most responsible for our present state of civilization?

Which of the above prerequisites (or lack thereof) are most responsible for YOUR present beliefs?

How does your answer to this question corelate with your earlier answers regarding Propaganda, the Time Flow of Wisdom and Toxicity of Ideas?

strategy

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There is a principle in science known as "Occam's Razor," which states that, when you are building hypotheses to try to explain a phenomenon, it is nearly always best to accept as the leading theory the one that's simplest. Only if that theory fails should one then take it down and lift another in its place. This principle is applicable to our investigation of political idealism.

read "Political Totemism and the Danfger of Metaphors, Part 3"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


tactics

ask yourself — and others

In the short term, which of the following describes how you feel you are more likely to achieve immediate political goals?
Consolidate your core supporters, demonize your opponents, and dismiss compromise as a form of ideological betrayal.
Negotiate the best near-term deal you can through whatever political process works best, even if it means your opponents get part of their agenda accomplished, too.
Learn as much as possible about the opposition, then offer the other side's moderate wing enough to split them off from their fanatics, destroying their coalition and building your own.
Ignore your opponents because (a) they represent obsolete or decrepit worldviews doomed to inevitably fail anyway, or (b) because they are mere stalking horses or fronts for the real opposition — power groups who operate inimically behind the scenes.
Concentrate on perfecting your own position/behavior/soul, since that is all an individual can ever really be responsible for.

Can you propose another tactic to use to achieve your political goals? If so, please describe it.

What do you think the outcome will be if your political goals succeed? Please describe it and list your evidence.

tactics

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What can we make of the left-right axis? I am not the first to complain about this atrocious thing, which pretends to explain all of our complex political and problem-solving processes according to where delegates sat in the 1789 French Assembly! Nobody you know can define the L-R Axis. If they try, their arm-waving explanations will only glancingly resemble the vague descriptions given by anyone else.

read "The Real Culture War, Part 1: Defining the Battleground"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


means to an end

ask yourself — and others

Do ends justify means? Can one justifiably limit or eliminate speech, behaviors or actions by repugnant parties/individuals if it serves a higher cause?

What methods would you use to change the behaviors of repugnant others?

What other behaviors or actions should be squelched? How would you do it?

means to an end

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There have been earlier Apocalyptic-style eruptions of moral outrage, populist religiosity, triumphalist nationalism and submission to demagogues. Cyclical outbreaks, from the Great Awakenings to the Great Depression, flared whenever the future seemed especially daunting or strange.

This time? We start with simmering worry about new technologies. Disruptive media barge into homes, where moral teaching used to be the province of parents. Add a tendency for entertainers and reporters to lean ever more toward the decadent and lurid. Now throw in talk of human enhancement and other scientific proposals to alter Creation's design. These and other factors make the future seem alienating enough, even without waves of deliberate, incendiary insult from ideological whackos, a dose of terrorism and a drumbeat of war.

read "The Real Culture War, Part 2: Fighting for the Enlightenment"

join David Brin's Contary Brin blog community


radical transparency

ask yourself — and others

Now consider Secrecy, a commonly prescribed social remedy. Will each of the four dynamic systems named above (Democracy, Science, the Justice System and Free Markets) function better if:
Most participants know MORE than they presently do about each other and whatever is going on (Transparency)?
Most participants know LESS than they presently do about each other and whatever is going on (Secrecy)?

Is your safety enhanced more by:
Denying knowledge to your enemies?
Increasing your own knowledge?

Which is easier to verify?
That your foes do or don't know something.
That you do or don't know something.

Which would you choose for yourself?
Privacy and secrecy.
Transparency and accountability.

Which would you choose for the group you consider freedom's worst enemy?
Privacy and secrecy.
Transparency and accountability.

Do you hold another viewpoint on secrecy as it relates to the four dynamic systems? If so, please describe it and list your evidence.

radical transparency

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Might society use practical ingenuity to sidestep these outrageous dichotomies? When it comes to identity, for example, is it possible to safeguard beneficial uses of secrecy without sheltering harmful acts and evil men? Common sense shows that it matters less what a person knows than what he or she does with the knowledge. It is our actions that determine both moral and legal culpability.
— from The Transparent Society, chapter 8: "Pragmatism In an Uncertain World"

read David Brin's book on THE TRANSPARENT SOCIETY

consult Brin's information page on privacy, security, accountability & transparency

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a brief intro to science fiction author DAVID BRIN

To learn more, visit his books page, or see his "about me" page or detailed biography.

DAVID BRIN author

novels

David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!). Learn More


shorter fiction

Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form. Learn More


Contrary Brin blog

Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore. Learn More


social media influencer

Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages. Learn More

DAVID BRIN scientist

scientist

David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research. Learn More


transparency expert

Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy. Learn More


speaker & consultant

Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.Learn More


future/tech advisor

Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others. Learn More


Contacting BRIN

All the Ways in the World to Reach David Brin

an ornery, contrary BLOG, and other insightful wormholes!

Do not enter if you want a standard "Party" line! Contrary Brin's incendiary posts on science, sci-fi and politics and its engaged, opinionated community poke at too-rigid orthodoxies, proposing ideas and topics that fascinate — and infuriate. See for yourself, and if you like — subscribe for more.

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