Better Than Democracy

For the better part of a century people have believed that democracy was the best system we could come up with. And for good reason; hereditary monarchy, totalitarianism, theocracy, and oligarchy had quite a track record for being terrible. But our political religion has gone from the divine right of the kings to the divine right of the majority to inflict their whims, good or evil, on others.

The founding fathers of the United States designed our system of checks and balances and the electoral college in an attempt to get the best of democracy while restricting the worst of it. Unfortunately the electoral college today ends up mostly empowering the least competent voters, and the balance of power in the government favors gridlock in congress and demagoguery and incompetency in the executive branch.

So how can we have the best of democracy while restricting the worst of it? Perhaps a mix with epistocracy may hold the key. Epistocracy should be thought of as meritocracy of the voters and the elected. It can briefly be defined as rule by the knowledgeable. It makes sense that highly qualified voters voting for highly qualified candidates would have a positive result. But pro democracy opponents of epistocracy make several arguments, most of which I don’t find convincing.

Democrats (supporters of democracy, not the political party) see democracy as promoting the idea of equality. The thing is that the equality we all should have, equality before the law and equality of opportunity, can be achieved without pushing the false idea that we are all equally competent in politics. We are not all equal in skills, intelligence, compassion, or other similar traits. And for the same reason we wouldn’t allow a person to practice medicine without having proven themselves competent and ethical, people probably shouldn’t be able to cast ballots or run for office if they aren’t sufficiently competent. Or, if they are allowed to cast ballots, the ballots of the unqualified shouldn’t weigh as heavily as those who are qualified.

A democrat would respond with, “what, you want to implement poll tests, just like Jim Crow?” To which I would first ask, “before we even get to how to implement epistocracy, would you even support it if it could be done in a perfectly fair non-racist manner?” To which they almost always say no and cite the symbolism, the symbolic equality that democracy supposedly inspires. That answer betrays them and shows that their reference to Jim Crow was only an emotional knee-jerk; an after the fact rationalization to justify their pre-existing position on democratic rule.

To me whatever system we have, democracy or something else, is only as good as its result. Our method of choosing our government officials is nothing more than a tool to achieve a result. If a better tool could consistently achieve a better result I would say we should choose it. Conversely, proponents of democracy say that even if a different system may work better at achieving the best results we should still choose democracy because of its symbolic value regarding equality. This is where we have a fundamental difference in opinion that cannot be bridged because the democrat’s position is based on an emotional attachment to an ideology rather than carefully examining the evidence and weighing the pros and cons.

To be sure, that doesn’t prove that democrats are wrong, it just proves that they have irrational reasons for holding a belief whether or not that belief is correct.

We all are, or should be, equal before the law. The rich or intelligent should not receive preferential treatment or lighter sentences than the poor or less educated. The life of a billionaire should not be seen as more valuable than that of a coal-miner. A person coming from a “good family” should not be given extra opportunities at the expense of someone from a less prestigious family based on some assumption that the less prestigious person will squander the opportunity. And any person of any origin, poor or wealthy, black or white, male or female, gay or straight, conservative or liberal, should have the opportunity to prove that they are a competent voter or competent enough to run for public office. But that competence shouldn’t shouldn’t be assumed any more than they are assumed to automatically be competent at computer engineering or brain surgery.

Voting is not like any other thing we consider a “right.” Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of movement, freedom to hold property, etc., are all freedoms that have to do with your right to self-determination, to control your own life. Voting is something that, while theoretically increasing your control over your own life, also allows you to control the lives of other people. It is for that reason I think such political engagement should involve proving you are competent and informed.

A libertarian would suggest simply shrinking the size and scope of government to ameliorate this problem. An issue with that is it disproportionately values negative liberty (freedom from restriction) over positive liberty (increased capacity to act upon one’s free will, or otherwise being empowered to make choices and control your fate to greater degrees).

An additional problem with the libertarian answer is that the same reasoning taken to its logical conclusion could be used to advocate Anarcho-Capitalism or Anarcho-Communism; complete abolition of the state. And these utopian ideas would require the overwhelming majority of the populace to possess empathy, foresight, knowledge, and other qualities in amounts that have never occurred in history and are unlikely to occur until the warp engine is developed and the Vulcans come to take us under their wing. Epistocracy only requires part of the populace to possess these qualities.

Probably the only reason we’ve made it as far as we have is because the most successful countries are Republics or constitutional monarchies, not direct democracies. Such setups rely on the populace to voluntarily vote for representatives that they understand are probably more qualified to make policy decisions than they are. Of course problems we’ve now run into are that the populace has become anti-intellectual and begun electing the dumbest demagogues into office out of spite for people smarter than them. Additionally, party tribalism has also taken over and created absurd levels of gridlock and reactionary steps backwards to counteract progress that we had made recently. Plato’s predictions are playing out before our very eyes.

This is where epistocracy comes in. When the more informed and competent get more say, better leaders are elected and better policies are passed.

Let me emphasize, my ideal epistocracy would not be any more of a true complete epistocracy than our democracy is a true direct absolute democracy. A great deal of democracy would still make up the process.

If we were to propose a poll test the first question is “who gets to choose the questions.” This question is usually asked with the assumption that some prejudiced elites will choose the questions intentionally to exclude and disenfranchise people they don’t like. However, a solution to this is to choose 500 or so people at random from across the country (a lottery basically) and let these people deliberate and create the test based on what they think a voter or candidate should know to be qualified. People may themselves often be uninformed on the facts, but they are usually pretty good about knowing which facts they should know to become informed.

Another question asked (usually as more of an assertion with the presumption it can’t be overcome) is what about existing ethnically disenfranchised groups? For example, the black community often has fewer opportunities and underfunded schools, and as a result would be disproportionately unable to pass the test. The epistocratic response is actually quite simple: statistically adjust for socioeconomic status (SES) and other relevant factors to either weigh the votes of those groups correspondingly higher, or set the threshold for a passing score lower by the proportion to which SES puts them at a disadvantage. It sounds complicated but in reality the math would be little more complicated than what we already do with the electoral college.

Moving forward from this procedure we could do any number of things. We could either let only people who can pass this test vote and run for office, or we could simply mathematically weigh the votes of people who passed the test more than those who didn’t.

We don’t even have to do the whole government epistocratically either. We could simply replace the Senate with an epistocratically chosen body and require presidential candidates to pass a more difficult version of the test voters took to prove that the candidate has a minimum competence worthy of the office. Such a system would do a drastically better and more fair job of what the US founders attempted to do.

Ultimately, I’m not claiming to guarantee that we could implement an epistocracy in the manner I described (though I think we could). My greater point is that this worship of democracy should end. No sacred cow should be beyond criticism the way many treat democracy. We should not give up searching to develop a better system to improve over democracy the same way it was sought to improve over hereditary monarchy. A system is only as good as its results and its perfection shouldn’t be assumed based on it having been the only thing we’ve known.

You Must Be Ignorant or Dishonest to Dismiss Climate Change

There are for the most part three types of people who don’t accept climate change: dishonest people, ignorant people, and dishonest ignorant people. In all of the times someone has argued with me against climate change, they’re almost always in one of these categories (usually the last one).

Did NASA “fudge” the numbers? Well no, they didn’t. Regardless, that wouldn’t explain why the rest of the pile of evidence from independent research from the UK, Japan, Denmark, and every other science-producing nation point in the same direction. Are they all part of this conspiracy to “fudge” numbers? I can think of few more absurd conspiracy theories.

So let us unpack this “fudge the numbers” claim. What actually happened was that Goddard (where NASA gets its temperature data) had drastically different temperature results than most other countries. Berkeley scientist Zeke Hausfather explained that this was because Goddard’s measuring stations were often in completely different locations between measurements, and these measurements were not even taken at the same time of day (Hausfather, 2014). Blunders like that done over eightyish years skewed the results. This wasn’t some conspiracy by liberals to deceive the public. The process was transparent and perfectly understandable, and it showed why multi-nation projects are important if one nation gets strange results.

Moving along, deniers of climate change like to ad hominem good scientists like Michael Mann (Mann, Bradley, & Hughes, 1998), Naomi Oreskes (Oreskes, 2004), and James Hansen (Hansen et al., 1988), thinking they can justify climate denial by inventing mole-hills to dismiss the mountains of evidence those scientists have produced. All the while, they are oblivious that they would actually have to dismiss thousands and thousands more scientists in order to really justify climate denial (e.g., A. Muller, Rohde, Jacobsen, Muller, & Wickham, 2013; Christy & Spencer, 2019; Marcott, Shakun, Clark, & Mix, 2013; Mears & Wentz, 2017; Met Office Hadley Centre, n.d.; Santer et al., 2017; Stenhouse et al., 2014; Tokyo Climate Center, 2019; Verheggen et al., 2014; Wahl & Ammann, 2007). In fact, there wouldn’t be many climate scientists left to accept if they dismissed all the ones whose research confirms AGW.

“But Al Gore!” Al Gore is not a scientist, and he has no peer-reviewed papers on climate change; anything he said is completely irrelevant to whether or not climate change is real and human-caused.

“Climate change won’t cause the apocalypse!” I never said it would. My position is that the average global temperature is increasing, fossil-fuel burning by humans is the primary driver of the last 200 years’ warming, and the economic and ecological costs of this warming warrants admitting it is true and taking reasonable steps towards its mitigation. Believing that you can justify tar and feathering this reasonable position by
pointing to people who say the world will end in 12 years because of climate
change is a terrible, dishonest, fallacious argument. People who don’t accept climate change aren’t “skeptics,” they are delusional. Skeptics are interested in evidence; denialists are just grasping at anything to allow them to justify their prior political worldview.

References

There is no level of economic inequality the Right won't support

I don’t want to sound bombastic, but I’ve literally never heard of a historical period that Right-wingers consider too unequal. A reasonable person would say, “there is an acceptable and inevitable amount of inequality, and there is an unacceptable amounta high/low limit.” But ancap libertarian doctrine and Republican moral elitism causes people to literally believe the upper extreme is always a good thing, no matter what, in all situations. If you are ultra-rich it is because you are smarter than everyone else or God likes you better.

Burger-flipper can’t feed their family? Guess they should have been born into a better family, had a better temperament, or had more marketable interests. If that isn’t the case, Right-wingers literally believe there is not a level of wage-exploitation that is unacceptable; the corporate execs and big stockholders can literally take as high of a proportion of profits as they feel they deserve.

Yes, I am well aware that CEOs are businessmen that improve the product, earn money for investors, and create wealth for everyone. They aren’t evil people (not all the time anyway). But is it right if they, the board, and the biggest investors pocket 90% of the increase in profitability, leaving wage workers stagnant? Yes, says laissez-faire orthodoxy; the worker should have pulled their boot-straps harder in order to become a CEO themselves. Ancap cultists think it is perfectly fine to only raise wages by 1% after a 90% increase in profit because, after all, a 1% increase is still an increase, so the workers should grovel in unctuous appreciation rather than complaining.

This post was originally aimed towards “libertarians,” but since there are a decent amount of Left libertarians that don’t conform to this extreme depiction I changed the wording. I don’t mean all libertarians are this way. I just mean the “libertarians” who support Donald Trump, tariffs, think racism completely no longer exists, and believe the Civil War was just about state’s rights and not owning people as chattel property. In other words, the libertarians that don’t actually care about liberty for anyone but themselves.

So You Accept Global Warming but Deny the Human Component?

Many people have taken the position that the Earth is warming and/or that the climate is changing, but are “skeptical” or in outright disbelief that humans and their burning of fossil-fuels are the primary reason for this phenomenon. To some this may seem like a moderate position, but in reality, it is as extreme and ignorance-based as complete denial of warming itself. The denialist position is not a position carefully arrived at after looking through the scientific peer-reviewed data, it is a retreat. It is the position a person takes after having been dragged kicking and screaming from total denialism.

Society has itself finally accepted, at minimum, a warming in enough numbers that denialists have shifted their position to avoid looking foolish. But since they still hold the same ideological dogmas that the liberals must be wrong on this issue, they have shifted to denying humanity’s role in the warming rather than the warming itself. However, they are as wrong on this as they were when they were denying the warming.

Carbon, the greenhouse effect, and human emissions

The scientists haven’t just been predicting random warming for more than a century without any idea of a cause; a carbon dioxide-driven green house effect was the hypothesis from the beginning, and everything since then has only confirmed their hypothesis (e.g., Arrhenius, 1896; Baes, Goeller, Olson, & Rotty, 1977; Callendar, 1938; Kaplan, 1960; Keeling, 1970; Manabe & Wetharald, 1967; Peterson, 1969; Plass, 1956, 1959; Revelle & Suess, 1957; Sawyer, 1972). Titles such as The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and Its Influence on Temperature by Callendar (1938) and Man-Made Carbon Dioxide and the “Greenhouse” Effect by Sawyer (1972) make this unambiguously clear.

Newer studies such as those by Berner and Kothavala (2001), Fielding, Frank, and Isbell (2008), Frakes, Francis, and Syktus (1992), Ghosh and Brand (2003), Maher and Chamberlain (2014), Marzoli et al. (2004), Reichow et al. (2009), and Royer, Berner, Montañez, Tabor, and Beerling, (2004) are just a few examples of the continuing mountain of research demonstrating the power of CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and its role in changing the Earth’s temperature.

What about the Earth’s tilt?

McDermott (2001) explains that Milankovitch cycles (the fancy name for changes in the Earth’s tilt relative to the Sun) are large players driving global temperatures on scales from 1 to 100 thousand years, while its effects at time scales of 1,000 years and less are virtually too small to detect. Climate science textbooks summarize that the primary effects of the Milankovitch are seen at time scales above 10,000 years and are inconsequential when studying climate at time scales less than that (Ruddiman, 2000; Wilson, Drury, & Chapman, 2005).

In other words, the Earth’s tilt can have nothing to do with the drastic increase in average global temperatures in the last 150 years. Unless the Earth’s orbit around the Sun has reversed course and done more than 10,000 years worth of travel in 150 years, it cannot be the cause of the warming. I say reversed its course because we are actually in a cooling cycle as far as the Earth’s tilt goes. That means AGW is overpowering the “natural” patterns working against it.

Even at large time scales Milankovitch cycles only trigger warming, they aren’t the cause for most of it. Wunsch (2004) estimated that changes in the Earth’s tilt only account for 20% of the overall temperature change. Most of the temperature changes result from the initial warming causing the oceans to release stored CO2, causing further warming and thus a cascade of warming.

In other words, yes, the scientists have thought about the Earth’s tilt, and based on mountains of evidence, concluded the Earth’s tilt has nothing to do with the surge of warming in the last 150 years.

What about the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period?

Crowley and Lowery (2000) explain two reasons why the Medieval Warm Period (WMP) is not helpful for the denialist argument: 1. The temperature during that time period was for the most part at cooler mid-19th century levels, and 2. it was a regional phenomenon, not a global change. In other words, the WMP isn’t an example of the Earth spontaneously warming quickly and independent of CO2 concentration; it was just a short-lived moderate temperature shift specific to places in Europe and the northern hemisphere.

Further supporting this, Mann et al. (2009) used numerous data series to analyze global temperature during both the WMP and the Little Ice Age (LIA), also finding that those were regional rather than global occurrences. In short, while it was hot in Europe during the WMP, it was much colder than usual elsewhere, and global average temperature was not as high as today. Similarly, the LIA meant colder temperatures in the northern hemisphere but warmer temperatures in the southern hemisphere. Mann and colleagues further concluded that El Niño events, the North Atlantic Oscillation, and the Arctic Oscillation were important factors driving climate shifts during the WMP and LIA. So the factors causing those events aren’t exactly unknown.

And before anyone tries to dismiss that last bit of evidence simply because their boogie-man, Michael E. Mann, was involved in the study, I will point out that such results have been replicated by other scientist such as Ahmed et al. (2013). Those authors concluded explicitly that “there were no globally synchronous multi-decadal warm or cold intervals that define a worldwide Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age.”

The Sun

The Sun is not the driver of our increase in temperature. Fröhlich & Lean (1998) determined that there was no increase in Sun irradiance during the period they looked at, 1978–1996, and that the Sun contributed little if any to the global increase in temperature. Looking at possible factors affecting global temperature such as variations in solar radiation and atmospheric aerosol concentrations, Hansen and Lacis (1990) determined CO2 to be the primary factor driving temperature increase, not the Sun. Addressing potential shortcomings of previous papers and adjusting for multiple factors Solanki and Krivova (2003) determined that “the solar influence on climate (through the channels considered here) cannot have been dominant.” Yeo, Krivova, and Solanki (2017) confirmed these findings using improved methods.

Essentially, during the last 4 or 5 decades average global temperature has continued to climb while the Sun’s output has declined, deflating the position that it is the cause of our warming. Additionally, if the Sun was the reason for the warming, we should be warming from the outer layers of atmosphere inward. Instead, the outer layers of atmosphere are actually cooling while the layers closest to the surface are heating. That is a tale-tell sign that the warming is coming from within (us pumping CO2 into the atmosphere), not from the Sun.

It is not just my interpretation of the evidence

I have thus far reviewed a considerable amount of peer-reviewed information on the science of climate change. But I am not so hubristic as to assume that that is sufficient to qualify me as an expert on climate change (though I am more of an expert than any denialists I’ve encountered). The experts spend careers studying the topic. What do they say about AGW? They say the same thing I say—or at least 89-97% of them do (Anderegg, Prall, Harold, & Schneider, 2010; Carlton, Perry-Hill, Huber, & Prokopy, 2015; Cook et al., 2013; Doran & Zimmerman, 2009; Farnsworth & Lichter, 2012; Oreskes, 2004; Stenhouse et al., 2014; Verheggen et al., 2014). Average global temperatures have been increasing, and the primary cause is the production of CO2 from fossil-fuel burning.

Conclusions

The talking point that goes, “of course the climate is changing, it has always changed” needs to die. Saying it is one of the quickest ways to demonstrate that you know nothing about the topic of climate change outside of memorizing partisan talking points.

The problem is not that climate changes, the problem is that the current warming was directly driven by human burning of fossil-fuels, and that the future economic and ecological costs resulting from it could have been largely avoided. The problem is that we’ve done 5,000 years worth of changing in 150 making it more difficult and costly for humans to adapt to it, and virtually impossible for many animal and plant species.

Climate change doesn’t become false because you don’t like what liberals may suggest to do if it is true. It doesn’t matter if the liberals were wanting to institute Stalinist totalitarianism, you can’t hold the facts hostage to your fears about how your political enemies will use it.

Admitting the anthropogenic cause of our increase in temperature is imperative if we want to have an evidence-based approach to public policy relating to it. Rabid partisan denial of basic facts because they are inconvenient is never a good way to move forward.

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