17 April 2017

Why Democracies Never Move as Fast as Business, Science, Technology or Culture

Politics is likely to progress at a glacial pace compared to every other important way that the modern world is defined and created.

Architecture, music, business, science, athletics, engineering are all examples of fields that are defined and furthered by elites, by people who are in the top 1%. You don't have to get 55% of your population to master genetics in order to enjoy the benefits of genetic engineering. If even 1% of your population becomes skilled in genetic engineering, you can see transformative benefits.

By contrast, political policy and philosophy in a democracy depend on the majority. It's not enough for an elite few to gain special compassion or policy wisdom. Whatever story encapsulates this compassion or wisdom has to translate into the language of the crowd.

We are motivated by impulses that we don't really understand, impulses like the ones that make TV reporters, crowds and columnists cheer bombing raids, impulses that make us more distrustful of people with different coloring than us, impulses that make us more likely to empathize with someone beautiful with a petty need than someone ugly with a great need. Worse, we live in and depend on systems as complex as global climate, local ecosystems, a global economy and local housing market and our understanding of these systems is at best partial and at worst distorted. Even the best among us take on policy questions with some mix of distorted personal judgments and poor systems appreciation. And it is not our best who determine votes: it is the 51%.

It's a scary combination. Our technology advances at the speed of the top percentile and our policies advance at the speed of the 51st percentile.

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