Monday, May 19, 2014

Story Problem

Choose one:

The U.S. is being overrun by a wave of anti-science, anti-intellectual thinking.
The Death of Morality and the End of America.
Which headline/subtitle resonates most with you? The dueling narratives of the United States as a nation of once-intelligent people who are becoming dumber or a nation of once-upstanding people who are becoming immoral are really about searching for the answers to the following equation:

Elevating the worldview, X, to its deservedly central place in American public and civil life = The solutions to the serious problems, Y, that plague our society.

It's a longstanding disagreement, if a falsely dichotomous one, and it's unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon. Because it tends to present an apparently simple answer to a complex question - how does one create a society that works as well as it can, for as many people as it can, more or less indefinitely? For many people, part of the answer is to restrict the choices that people may make - steer them towards "good" choices and away from "bad" ones. And that's where values and worldview come in. Both sides of any debate like this have, as their foundation, the idea that a certain view of looking at the world naturally leads to people making the best available choices. But wrapped up in all of this, is a search for Truth. Or, perhaps more precisely, The Truth. And when social disputes come down to matters of Truth, not only do people feel that they're in the right, but that the opposition has sinister motives at heart.

If the devoutly religious community in the United States sees the rise of secular intellectualism as little more than a thinly-veiled Satanic plot to shift the nation away from the values that allowed it to be protected from a hostile world by a benevolent deity, the intensely scientific community in the Unites States sees calls for the restoration of traditional moral values as little more than a thinly-veiled clerical conspiracy to prevent the nation from continuing to adopting the values that allowed it to lead the way to demonstrable benefits for the human condition.

In the end, you wind up at a point that is common for people espousing mutually-exclusive paths to improbable goals - the contention that their worldview, rather than having been found to be simply good in a world that wants perfect, was never sincerely implemented with an eye towards giving it an honest chance to demonstrate its, if not perfection, superiority. Which is perhaps the root of all ideology because it always allows for failure to explained away. The story is never found wanting.

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