Empirical Politics: Why We Need A Peer-reviewed Society

Our work, as metamodern philosophers and scientists, is to rewrite the very fabric of what is real, as our participatory perspectives ex­press higher truths, as they mirror more profound insights—and land us in a vast landscape of reflections, gazing deeper into the abyss.

Science is the process of building upon what we know, which ultimat­ely always tears down the previously known. It is a dance of conscious­ness, always delving into a deeper mystery. We don’t live in a universe where “science” tells us “the truth”. We live in a universe where the truth always lies beyond us as we plunge into its mystery.

This part of the story is relatively straightforward—and yet it is far from. On the one hand, the aim of Empirical Politics is something that is already an accepted norm in pretty much all societies—simply that poli­cies, regulations and practices can and should be based upon the best available information and empirically tested knowledge. For instance, if patients are granted the right to get Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for depression, it is in the interest of most everyone involved that CBT can be shown to work to reduce depression. Nobody would argue with that.

On the other hand—and this is where things get interesting—defining what is “good science” and what level of empirical foundations can reas­onably be expected within each field of decision-making, and how such empirical support should be cultivated, is difficult. It is, one could say, a whole science in its own right.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. 

Not Obvious, Not Naive

And that’s exactly why we need Empirical Politics; we require an on­going, deliberate and explicitly planned process for making society more scienti­fically driven and empirically tested.

If making society as em­pirically solid as possible was an easy or obvious thing, we could “just do it” and be done. But since it is such a highly ab­stract and difficult thing, we need a wide-reaching process through which differ­ent paths to val­idity, reliability, consequentiality and truth­fulness are suggested and tested ag­ainst each other.

We need to perpetually answer and re-answer questions about practi­ces in society. This points us towards more reliable empirical results.

For example, which kind of didactics should be used for which kids in school when they learn to read? Given that we can agree on some basic aims (high infor­m­a­tion reten­tion, concentration, good reading speed, good aware­ness of one’s own reading style, etc.)—it’s an empirical quest­ion. How should we use pol­icing and social work to reduce crime rates? Empirical question. What level of social welfare optimizes security with­out being financially unten­able? Empirical question. How do we improve the quality of demo­cratic delib­eration and the average political engage­ment of citizens? Empirical question. How do we reduce the level of false infor­mation and increase people’s ability to critically evaluate sour­ces of infor­mation (as well as one’s own beliefs and presuppositions)? Em­pirical que­stion.

You get the idea. The core issue of Empirical Politics is how to optimi­ze the process of getting the best possible empirical knowledge and to get all parts of society to commit to using that knowledge. And that, my sus­picious friend, is far from a no-brainer.

The societal value of empirical science and knowledge cannot be over­stated. Even if we get a deeper form of demo­cracy, people will still need to base their shared decisions upon as sound evidence as possible. The whole point of having a better decision-making process is to come closer to a shared truth; so in the last instance you will still be dep­endent on evalu­ations, cost-benefit analyses, facts, second opinions, addi­tional tests and so forth. What does “an opinion” help, or someone’s “feel­ings” for that matter, if the facts speak against it? Should we treat people with vaccines? Are GMOs dangerous? Are the Jews conspiring ag­ainst our race? Does im­pri­sonment of convicted criminals help; if so, whom, how and under what circumstances? Whatever feelings or gut react­ions we may have to­wards these issues, it is in our common interest that the most valid and reliable data are pro­duced, presented and rigorously (but not conclusi­vely) inter­preted for us.

Precisely because a completely science-driven politics can only ever be a naive fantasy, we must continuously bombard the entirety of politics and bureaucracy with new and critical empirical evidence. “Ideol­ogical posi­tions” in the bad sense of the word (holding on to simple, pre­con­ceived supp­os­itions about complex issues, where our ideas about em­piri­cal truth follow our values rather than the other way around) are often due not only to our cognitive biases, but also simply to lack­ing em­pirical data and a rigorous discussion of all relevant in­for­mation. As em­pirical knowledge grows, and the demands to cast one’s arguments in ver­ified facts increase, the inner pressure to adopt ready-made template ideol­ogies decreases. It should be pointed out that, at some level, most atro­cities have relied upon false assumptions about factual affairs: the Jews weren’t actually conspiring against Germa­ny, and no soc­ialist utopia emer­ged if you just whacked the kulak farmers hard enough by forcing them to collectivization, and you couldn’t actually resha­pe hum­an nature at will by brainwashing folks. These were false ass­ump­tions about fac­tual matters.

If you look at the great theorists of science, from the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle, to Steven Jay Gould’s witty histories, to Thomas Kuhn’s and Karl Popper’s philosophies, to Richard Feynman’s ingenious commen­tary, to Steven Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now, to all the critical voices from the sociology of knowledge and ethnographic stud­ies of science as a social practice—at the very least all of these agree that sci­ence isn’t stra­ight­for­ward, that it must be upheld, maintained, defended and re­newed. Achie­ving a scientific society isn’t easy.

In advanced late modern countries, politics is already to some extent data- and science-driven. When national politicians are ask­ed what they are going to do about this or that complex problem, a common reply is that they are going to pay a bunch of university professors to initiate an invest­igation into the matter and come up with sugg­est­ions. Then the par­liamen­tarians, sooner or later, usually follow through on these suggesti­ons, often in broad consen­sus from left to right. Like­wise, more and more of decision-making is dele­gated to meritocrat­ically selected but unelected ex­perts, consultants and technocrats. In a way, then, such soc­ieties are al­ready slipping into an early form of Empirical Politics—often, however, partly at the expen­se of demo­cratic legitimacy and transparency. As the systems of governance are tasked with tackling greater complexity and more issues that require technical detail, they tend to slide towards tech­no­cracy.

Empirical Politics is the process through which the long and tricky path to a scientifically sound society is discovered and traveled. It should be obvious, after all, that today’s society is still largely unscientific: Massive institutional practices are kept alive without a shred of evidence for them being the best alternative, most peo­ple are relatively poor at sci­entific reas­on­ing and critical thinking, and the poli­tics of the major parties are largely based upon loose “opinions”. Most of life goes unex­amined (Socrates turns in his grave) and the unexamined life gets away with it—most fatefully, per­haps, the criminal justice system. Given the very power­ful tech­nological forces that are about to be unleashed upon the world, the fail­ure to seriously up­grade the level of sci­entificness in society is danger­ous, bordering on sui­cidal.

Yet, societies of today are, in a variety of ways, “more scientific” than those of a century ago. Still we should make certain that it is an explicit and prior­itized goal to make tomorrow’s society yet more scientific than today’s. Do we know that this kind of schooling is the best in terms of sec­uring long-term human happiness? Do we know that this prison time for this crime is appropriate and leads to the most desirable consequen­ces? The truth is that most of the time we simply don’t know and we’re pretty much guessing as we go along.

Empirical Politics may sound drier and less exciting than the Politics of Democratiza­tion, Gemeinschaft, Existence and Emancipation. But what is any radical transformation of governance worth without a solid relation­ship to the truth? What is freedom without an intimate connection to the falsifiable search for truth? What is the inner growth of the popula­tion, if it cannot be shown to exist? In fact, I could argue that Empirical Pol­itics is the most radical of all that have hitherto been mentioned—the politics, if you will, of truth itself.

What could be a wilder ride than to align society with the verifiable regu­larities of the cosmos? After all, scientific discovery always surprises us in so many and so earthshattering ways. If madness is civiliza­tion’s sha­dow, our only hope for sanity may lie in increasing our ability to cross­check and fals­ify the proposi­tions of one another. It’s not obvious and it’s not naive.

Higher Levels of Truth?

So what does it mean for society to be “more truthful” or “more scienti­fic”? Here’s what it doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean that there is one catego­ry of “serious, academic, scientific, rational, empirical, logical and rigor­ous” in­qu­iry and another of “weak, emotionally driven, woo-woo, sloppy” cate­gory, and that the first should displace the second in the highest de­gree poss­ible. In the minds of a lot of stupid people, the first category is good, strong and respectable, while the second is despic­able and feeble. And “I” am of course, always and forever, on the first side, because I have the guts to stand up straight and sober and see society for what it damn well is! And those others are delusional and cowardly. Yeah! If only every­one were like me, all would be scientific!

What is wrong with that supposition? In The Listening Society we discussed the different systems of symbolic code (Modern, Postmodern and Metamodern), the fundamental feature of modern science is inter­sub­jectivity, meaning that science progresses by the act of people verifying or falsifying the findings of one another. Is there an elephant in the room or not; or a rhinoceros, as Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein once discu­ssed in a Cambridge office? Do you see it too? By what method can we reasonably find out? How sure can we be? And have we asked the right question to begin with? All of these quest­ions each offer a step at which others can come in and burst our bubb­les and perhaps convince the audi­ence that we are wrong—even showing ourselves that we are mistaken.

The level of “scientificness”, then, is not about people thinking more like yourself. How would we know exactly who is that super-scientific and crit­ically minded respectable person that we all believe ourselves to be? I mean, I know that you are, but how do you convince all those other buckos of that obvious fact? They all seem to believe—preposterously and arrogantly—that they are the scientific and empirical ones! But without a God as ultim­ate umpire, the only claim for universality and truth can come through hav­ing the most power. And if it turns out that Stalin has the most power, his truth will reign—and we will all be reading his Dialectical and Historical Materialism and clap until our hands swell.

No, the level of scientificness of society can only be measured by the density and complexity of the meshwork of intersubjective verification and falsi­fication. Fundamentally, that’s what it means: the degree to which we—collectively as a society consisting of a network of people referring back and forth to one another—manage to check, double-check and triple-check the information, suppositions, methods, claims and ideas of one an­other, and the quality, efficiency and systemic optimization of said checks. A peer-reviewed society? Yes, why not—given that the peer-review system itself is criticized and upgraded.

I have already argued that freedom is a collective good, as are the high­er reach­es of human freedom—well, so is truth. Truth is not due to your intelligence or the honesty of your beauti­ful soul. It depends on how hard and often and fairly and efficiently and rig­orously you are check­ed for bullshit and mistakes, and how often and well those that check you in turn are checked themselves, and how often the check­ers of the checkers are checked—and so on. The finer and more opti­m­ized and har­monic this resonance of inter­subjective verification and/or falsification is throu­gh­­out society, the closer society is to the truth.

Is our present society close to the truth? To get an idea, we can take a look at the field of science itself. There are about 50 million pub­lished “sci­entific” studies at the time of writing, with about 2 million being add­ed every year. On average, only 40% of these seem to produce rep­licable results (and that varies across fields; social psychology is dismally low). And if you look at how many of these research findings are “trian­gulated” (mean­ing that you can see the same finding by use of another, indepen­dent method, as to avoid any biases due to your way of meas­uring), you under­stand that much of science amounts to rather faulty towers. Critical social science and hum­anities are even worse off. Of all papers published in the humanities, in peer-reviewed journals, only about 20% are ever cited. The rest just pile up. Many are only ever read once or twice; whole careers go on like that.[i]

We seem to have reached a systemic limit in terms of sheer “know­ledge prod­uction”. As an emerging global society we need to start think­ing about how to corroborate and solidify knowledge, how to make it tra­vel across discip­lines and social settings so that it lands in the right place, how to invent new applications and combinations of knowledge—how to in­crease the quality of knowledge in a general sense. Most likely, this would involve lowering the (relative) number of pure researchers and in­creasing the auxiliary professional functions.

The fact that science and truth are shaky is a serious matter. The great­est terrors and the darkest nights of history are born from jammed infor­m­ation feedback syst­ems, when glaring truths are systematically supp­ress­ed and ignored. Com­munism, fascism, the animal slavery of today—these evils are, funda­men­tally, direct consequences of unchecked hypoth­eses, of terrible trans­figur­ations of the processes of truth-seeking, of intersubjecti­vity vio­lated.

From an informational perspective, the very reason democracy works (somewhat) is the same reason science works in the first place: It allows for ideas and claims to be intersubjectively scrutinized and check­ed. The developmental direction, in terms of attractors and “relative uto­pia”, could not be clearer than in this case: The society of the future, meta­modern soc­iety, must be a society closer to the approachable but always unattainable truth.

Yes, we live in a universe of multiplicity, a universe of perspective. Yes, there is a multiplicity even of truth itself. Yes, actualities and facts are always but thin slices of a greater pie of potentialities that make up reality in the absolute. And yes, our truths are always relative, dependent upon lan­g­uage games, and we can never speak to the word of God, to an ulti­mate point of reference.

But that doesn’t leave us in darkness. On the contrary, the radical in­sight that all truths are constructed, relative and multifaceted leads us towards a more profound relatedness to the collective seeking of truth: The ability of a society to manage, evaluate and coordinate the greatest possi­ble number of injunctions into the truth is a measure of how truth­ful that society is.

Some societies are more empirical than others. Which ones? It’s an em­pirical question. How do we find out? It’s an analytical question. How do we organize a process of finding out how to be more empirical? It’s a poli­tical question.

An Appalling State of Affairs

Just how unscientific are we, really?

Com­par­ed to an imagined future van­tage point, we can be seen as liv­ing in medieval times in which people think irrationally and superstiti­ously, in which we know too little about most anything. We take all sorts of ad hoc decisions with huge con­sequences and most of our activities are never seriously scrut­inized. The idea is to change that situation, gradually but forcefully. And this process of “truthing” society relies not upon doing what this or that “des­ig­nated smart person” thinks, but by increasing the overall capacity of soc­iety for inter­subjective verification.

Think about it. Each of us are very limited in scope, time, attention, patience and capability, so in almost everything we “know”, we must rely upon the expertise of others. In any and all matters where such expertise does not exist, is scantily clad, or where enough people dispute it, we’re simply left guessing. And still we manage to believe ourselves while we’re making all these horrendously unqualified guesses!

It is often held that supporters of the populist Right are “fact resistant” when it comes to climate change, while they in turn say that the Left den­ies obvious facts about links between e.g. criminality and immigration from the Middle East into Europe. What has happened in these cases is that the civil sphere has been fractured: Different segments of the popula­tion with diff­erent sets of values (and interests) refer to different “authori­ties and ex­perts” who reinforce certain worldviews and preconceived no­tions. Let’s face it—you and I do believe in climate change, but it’s not because we can figure it out ourselves, but because we believe in people who are seen as auth­orities by other people we respect and trust. In the world of the populist Right, another set of people are trusted and cross-referenced, so they can feel safe that they’re right about their worldview. Science outside of the research itself is fundamentally a reference system, and if enough distrust polarizes civil society at large, it will frac­ture what­ever can be seen as “scientific consensus” as well. That’s what’s going on.

But the appalling unscientificness of e.g. Trump voters is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of us aren’t doing much better. In fact, the differen­ces are marginal if you look at the big picture. Take these (simpli­fied) 2013 forecasts published in Science: If we are to globally make the cli­mate goal of keeping the temperature below a 2°C increase (which is still possi­bly catastrophic, as we’ll have more carbon in the atmosphere than for millions of years), we need to re­duce our carbon emissions by something to the tune of 25 billion tons per year before 2060 (as compared to the “bus­iness as usual” scenario). Now imagine this. Re­ducing with one (!) bil­lion tons would require either doub­ling the world’s nuclear power output, or expanding our wind power output by 50 times (some two million new mills), or expanding solar pow­er by a factor of 700, or using a sixth of all globally available arable land to grow biofuels to replace fossil fuels… And if we do all four (linearly increa­sing the output over the period 2013-2060), we are still only done with a small fraction of the overall necessary carbon red­uction; four out of the nec­ess­ary 25 billion tons reduced. And as things stand today, carbon emiss­ions are still grow­ing according to the “business as usual” scenario.[ii]

Most people aren’t responding to this, to the sheer quantitative immen­sity of the task and its rising stakes. They don’t care, they don’t under­stand, they don’t inform themselves because they’re not incentivized to; they don’t pol­itically support serious decisive action and they don’t adjust their life­styles. Many people I talk to really don’t worry about it. Travel by flight is boom­ing glob­ally, as is meat consumption. None of the political parties, inclu­ding the Greens, are advan­cing anywhere near the necessary meas­ures. The media talk about trivialities such as making “conscious choices” and not throwing away good food. This amounts to just another splash of piss in the Mississ­ippi.

That, my suspicious friend, is cata­stro­phically unscientific behav­ior—and it’s not a few hillbillies on the red hills of Georgia. It’s the establish­ment; most people you will meet. It is an indication, if any­thing, that we live in an un­scientific society—leading lives far, far removed from empiri­cal science. It is, frankly, an appalling state of affairs.

And yet, science itself doesn’t point us towards appealing to human ration­ality as the best means for transitioning to sustainability. Within dis­cip­lines such as environmental psychology and behavioral economics, it is becoming abundantly clear that emotional and personal development evolves our values, habits and goals in terms of sustainability. Consequ­ently, science itself seems to point us beyond “rationality”, and towards a meta-­rationality that includes our emotions, relations and narratives. A scien­tific society would not only change our minds, but also our hearts.[iii]

Breathe it in. We are far, far, far away from a truly scientific society. We are medieval.

The Ten-Fold Path to Enlightenment (2.0)

So much for the Enlightenment and its modern project. In short, we must “truth” society. It must be properly truthed. It needs a good and thorough truthing. I give you… the ten-fold path to enlightenment! Enlightenment 2.0, that is.

As with so many other things this is not a bin­ary matter, a matter of either-or, but a developmental matter, a matter of soci­ety advancing to higher stages of empiricism and critical self-scru­tiny. The radicality of this process lies not so much in the general idea that polices should be “evi­dence-based”, but in the thrust to make it an ongoing politi­cal pro­ject to make society more scientific in a wide and pervasive sense.

Here and there, proto versions of Empirical Politics are cropping up. In 2018, the French president Emmanuel Macron annou­nced that his coun­­­try will combat “fake news”. This, of course, begs the quest­ion about who knows the truth, and who gets to say what’s fake, and how fake it has to be? His taken path is much too linear, much too naive and bound to pro­duce self-contradictions and censorship, perhaps in the hands of less libe­ral pow­ers. Clearly, he does not see that truth­­ing society is a long-term non-linear process. You can’t just “press the truth button”. Like I said, Em­pirical Pol­itics is not obvious, not even to the prodigies of progressive Euro­pean pol­itics. And in cases like Macron’s, it does get naive.

What, then, are the major areas of Empirical Politics? What exactly would our Ministry of Empirical Politics—or maybe just the Ministry of Sci­ence or something similar (Orwell’s 1984 had a “Ministry of Truth”)—be up to? I’d like to mention ten categories of things to do. We won’t dis­cuss them in detail because expanding them is itself part of the political process, and because there’s ten of them. The ten-fold path.

Numero uno: The Ministry of Empirical Politics would evaluate, sur­vey, rate and publicize the degree of evidence-based practice in all areas of pub­lic sector work and civil service. This would include every­thing from edu­cation to healthcare to social work to policing and forensic practices to envir­­on­mental protection to all of the other forms of politics that we have mentioned thus far. What can be shown to function in a replicable man­ner, and what cannot? How can big data be accumulated and analyzed in each of these cases? In which areas are we driving in the dark? Together with people on all levels of society, the ministry should also be charged with mak­ing plans for how to improve the empirical rigid­ity of what is going on. Step by step, all public activities should become more know­ledge-driven and well-infor­med—meaning they should be intersubjecti­vely scrutinized, again and aga­in.

Number two: Empirical Politics would aim to improve the quality, rel­evance and reliability of science, throughout all branches. It is an uncon­tro­versial fact that univer­sities and other institutions generally function far from optimally. Society as a whole has a lot of science out there, and this entity, viewed as a massive entirety of enough frontiers to explode any human brain, can of course be more or less efficient, well-coordinated and in line with human needs and goals. It’s not just a question of how much funding science gets; it’s a question of what level of quality science—this most crucial of society’s projects—has. There is a lot of low-quality res­earch that is just too sloppily made, made for show, never re­prod­uced or double-checked, and simply never read by anyone. And there is so much stuff which needs to be done but never is, “because we don’t have the res­ources”. Science and research of course require a good amount of auto­nomy to function: Naturally, we want evidence-based policy, not poli­cy-based evidence! But even that is a question of Empirical Politics: If we want a society informed by the best possible knowledge, how do we make certain that such knowledge is produced autonomously and reliably?

Number three: a cultivation and development of the critical meta-dis­cussion about science and its role in society. Basically, if we are to have a society where things are always evaluated against the benchmarks set by scientific inquiry, we should better make certain that science as a whole and our “politics of science” are properly critiqued from as many and sys­te­matic angles as poss­ible. This is where activities such as the philosophy of science, the soc­io­logy of knowledge (and of science, and of philosophy), applied cognitive science and the discipline that is sometimes called “soci­al episte­mology” (pioneered by Steven Fuller) are granted plenty of res­our­ces and a central role in society. This concerns such things as seeing which trends and norms are dominating within the scien­ces—and why—and how this spills over into society at large; or how politics and econo­mic interests may be undermining the autonomy and validity of science; or how certain sciences unduly get more resources and attention than others; or how certain research programs may be built on shaky pre­mises in the first place; or how certain ethical codes are not being observ­ed… You get the picture. There’s really no limit to how deep you can go on this one. Under the umbrella of all projects we think of as “sciences” (and huma­nities) there is just so much crazy and unfair and irrational tunnel vision stuff going on that we must make certain there is a proper crit­ical discuss­ion about science-in-society. Science is not a straightforward affair, some­thing “obvi­ous” that you can “just do” and then “get know­ledge”. It never was and never will be. New questions always arise: what is worth knowing, why, and how highly should it be prioritized, and by what processes should we decide, and how should the research be organized… Tough questions.

Bruno Latour, the philosopher and anthropo­lo­gist who wrote Labora­tory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts in 1979 (with Steve Woolgar) pion­eered the practice of studying the everyday life of scientists and their research tools and environments; today Latour’s tradition is called “Actor-Network Th­eo­ry”: scientists whose specialty is to study scientists. People like to joke—some­times scorn­fully—that then there are scientists who write about scientists who study scientists, and scientists who write about scientists-scientists-scientists, and so on. But yes, that’s pretty much the direction society must take: a peer-reviewed society. It’s no joke. Society must be sci­entific, and science itself, viewed soberly as a part of society, must also be under con­stant critical siege from a rich multiplicity of inter­secting per­spec­tives. Science isn’t too sacred to be scrutinized: It becomes sacred thr­ough scrutiny. An intell­igent Empirical Politics would fund and cultivate such a process of the sociology of know­ledge throughout society.

Number four: We should increase the number of networked contacts and exchanges between the scientific fields—there’s that magic word inter­disciplinarity (or crossdisciplinarity)—as well as between the sciences and the industries, both private companies, social entrepreneurs, the pub­lic sec­tor and other agents. You may recognize this line of thinking in eco­n­omic geography, where people study things like innovation clusters, triple-helix models (the synergy of university, business and city admini­stration) and incubators for high-tech industries. The point is that if an economy spec­ializes within some branches of science in the global know­ledge economy, say solar power or nanotech, it should also try to create pathways to putting this knowledge into the right contexts and uses. Science is one thing, scien­ce-in-society is another; it’s the rich ecosystem that feeds upon the juices of discovery and in turn creates fertile soil for further research. Not only should science be improved upon and opti­mized, so should science-in-society. These knowledge ecosystems should be improved upon, and that requires smart Empirical Politics.

Number five: increasing the average ability for critical thinking and logi­cal reasoning in the general population. There are, natur­ally, many ways of doing this. One way is standardized tests in schools that include techni­ques of “fooling” the minds of students, so that they must be con­fronted with how they bought into an illusion, an apparent surface pheno­menon or a case of downright trickery. Creative projects that cultivate the public’s logical and critical thinking could be funded, e.g. by means of prize con­tests and so forth. Coaches in logic and critical thinking could be educated and be em­ployed as teachers or advisors within many fields. If more peo­ple iden­tify as crit­ically minded and “logical”, this will make such norms more pervas­ive—and hence quackery and false inferences will be more difficult to get away with within all fields of society. Not only should more peop­le be more apt at busting bullshit arguments—this being a skill we generally lack to a truly deplorable degree—but more of us should cultiva­te a deeper search for truth. This includes increased inner self-awareness; that we are trained, for in­stance, to catch our own minds making false im­plicit infer­ences (“this person is bad at playing the violin, so he’s probably a shallow person” and all other sorts of things we make false assumptions about).

It has been shown that it is not enough to inform people of our own biases; we must be actively trained to catch ourselves before such biases curtail our reasoning. Our fundamental rel­atedness to reality as a myst­ery is one of the forms of inner personal depth that we discussed in Book One; and by finding ways to awaken this spark within more of us, we can bring into being a more pro­foundly truthful society.

Let’s speed up.

Number six: the founding of crosschecking media institutes. When Pre­sident Macron wants to combat disinformation and fake news, he is not entirely off mark. But the way to increase the reliability of the media and the general discourse long-term is through cross-referenced re­views of the qua­lity of reporting and journalism. Media outlets, journalists and writers should be checked for factuality, reasoning and presentation and be given rates and rankings. Low quality journalism should not receive public supp­ort. Again: a peer-reviewed society. How to do this in a depoli­ticized, fair and “objective” manner is a question of Empirical Politics. May the best suggestions win.

Number seven: the support of a co-developmental political culture. We don’t want the sneakiest and most loudmouthed to rule us and gain power; we want the best possible common truths and solutions to emerge through the rich processes of competition, understanding and deliberati­on. So we need our political culture and debate to take on more civil and respectful forms. There is a tendency in all of us to admire the dashing, the confident, the winners of exchanges of clever retorts. But in an advan­ced and complex society, such competitions are little more than a signal inter­ference in the information-processing that makes up society’s self-organi­za­tion. We need to find ways to develop beyond it, to develop poli­tical culture itself; from snide remarks and sly competition, to earnest co-dev­elop­ment. I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m say­ing do it or die trying.

Number eight: We could support the development of popular culture in an empirically correct direction. Whereas the arts must always remain free, it should be noted that blockbuster movies and popular outlets play a crucial role in forming people’s background understanding of reality. If physics and history are presented with glaring faults in movies and books, this certainly affects the overall level of realism that can be expected from the public. Efforts could be made to support the proli­feration of more fac­tually correct stories. If people are soaked in prepos­terous movies 24/7, should we be so shocked that many don’t react when leading politicians deny climate change?

Nine: the development of the precision and reliability of everyday lan­guage. Since so much of our lived and shared reality is mediated through language, many of our political problems, conflicts and misunderstand­ings stem from linguistic imprecisions and the vagueness of words. It could be a long-term project to make language more coherent, exhaustive and pre­cise. It’s one of those things that’s almost impossible to measure, but the impact of which must undeniably be vast.

Ten. Phew. This one links back to Existential Politics: support of the “ontological security” of the population. Ontological security is a term coi­n­ed by the sociologist Anthony Giddens, and usually refers to “the sense of order and continuity in regard to an individual’s experience”. The point here is that our commitment to truth and our abili­ty to challenge our own opinions and conceptions depend upon how safe we all fundamentally feel in the universe. By strengthening this sense of sec­urity, we serve truth-in-society at its most essential level.

Ten things, my suspicious friend. Feel free to add more, or to exchange this list for a better one. But the issue remains: We need to find ways to be better at sticking to empirically sound assessments of reality.

Ice-cream does not make mach­inery work better, not even computers, I am not Napoleon, vaccines don’t cause autism, climate change is not a hoax. If we’re wrong about these things and if we make the wrong predic­tions, we pay an enormous price. It’s that fundamental. All things tend to work poorly with­out good predictive models of reality. And yet we are always at some distance from knowing any number of very relevant, life-changing truths.

But you’re getting the drift, aren’t you? The point is that if you do these ten things in a smart and organized manner, and you coordinate all of them with each other, and you love them long-time, you will wake up one morning to a more truthful society. And I hope I’ve shown you that this isn’t an “obvious” thing that “we’re already doing”. It isn’t and we’re not.

We really need to kill off all the excuses our lazy minds can come up with for not being scientific and committed to truth. I am not proposing scien­tism or crude reductionism; I’m talk­ing about finding the best pos­sible explanations and solutions and using them in all parts of society. There isn’t a place in the world, not even within the arts, psychedelic trips or spirit­uality, where the truth has no relevance.

In metamodern society, “truth is God” (Gandhi said it). The point is not to obsess about “hard, rational empiricism!” with those strict eye­brows of a narrow-minded modernist, or to reduce the richness of life and exist­ence to hard, crunchy data and chew it like a jawbreaker until the end of days. To the conventional moder­nist mind, truth is binary: To them, there is “the real world” and then there’s the cheap copout fluff of weaker and dumber spirits. This stance is sometimes called “scientism”, some­times “naive real­ism”.

That’s not what metamodern Empiri­cal Poli­tics is about. The point is to gradually increase society’s capacity for info­rm­ation processing and event prediction by developing our collective capacity for intersubject­ive cross­­check­­ing. This must happen at all levels of society.

Although we must all bow before the dazzling elegance of science, it doesn’t offer us a safe “ground of reality”, just a strange space that tun­nels in all directions. Yet, in this magnificent and frightening hall of mir­rors we must still latch on to the best models of reality, and we must still res­pect the authority of science, but only if it can be questioned by yet more universal authorities of science creation.

Empirical Politics is the cult­iv­a­tion of our shared commit­ment to an honest exploration of the mysteries of reality. Imagine waking up in a world truly committed to science on a new and higher level.

And what a wonderful world that would be.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Alvesson, M., Gabriel, Y., Paulsen, R., 2017. Return to Meaning: A Social Science with Something to Say. Croydon, UK: Oxford University Press.

[ii]. Davis, S. J., Cao, L., Caldeira, K., Hoffert, M., 2013. Rethinking Wedges. Envir­onmental Research Letters, vol. 8(1).

Also, see this 2004 forecasts for reference—things have gotten way worse since then: Pacala, S., Socolow, R., 2004. Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies. Science, vol. 305(5686), pp. 968-72.

[iii]. Menzel, S., 2013. Are Emotions to Blame? – The Impact of Non-Analytical Decision Making and Implications for Fostering Sustainability. Ecological Economics, vol. 96, pp. 71-79.

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