DAVID BRIN's world of ideas

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

By David Brin, Ph.D.

When I'm called on to provide speeches and consultations regarding certain "fundamental questions" of Politics, Ideology & Human Destiny, I often frame the discussions around these themes, which I assembled into a questionnaire.

Please choose the statement which most closely models your own point of view, or provide a response in the space provided. If you click "submit," you can email me your response -- which would be much appreciated.

THE TIME FLOW OF WISDOM

How do you feel wisdom is acheived?

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?

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

PROPAGANDA

Are members of our present culture subjected to propaganda? 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 films in which these propaganda messages have been promoted?

POLITICAL BELIEFS

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?

THE TOXICITY OF IDEAS

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?

Yes No

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

Yes No

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

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

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?

DYNAMIC SYSTEMS

What are the attributes of these four societal innovations -- Democracy, Science, the Justice System, Free Markets?

How are the four attributes listed above similar?

How are the four attributes listed above different?

PROGRESSIVE WISDOM

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.

HUMAN NATURE

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?

THE WISDOM OF HISTORY

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?

PROBLEM-SOLVING METHODS

Consider the following two approaches that have been used for many generations by people and societies attempting to solve problems or change their world:

  • 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.

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.

Which approach do you prefer?

the left-handed approach
the right-handed approach
neither/both

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.

STRATEGY

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?

TACTICS

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.

MEANS TO AN END

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

Yes No

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?

RADICAL TRANSPARENCY

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/secrecy.
transparency/accountability.

Which would you choose for the group you consider freedom's worst enemy?

privacy/secrecy.
transparency/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.

   

THE END. THANKS FOR TAKING MY QUESTIONNAIRE.