Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Are some things just too important for politics?

“Imagine how our view of the human condition would change if we ever found a cure for racism, xenophobia and other forms of bigotry. What if there were perfectly safe ways to increase feelings of compassion and altruism? I think interventions of this sort—pharmacological and otherwise—are probably in our future. We will probably develop reliable lie detectors, so that when the truth really matters, it will be impossible for a person to lie. This will change politics and diplomacy rather profoundly. There is no telling how developments of this kind could put pressure on popular beliefs.”
—Sam Harris, author of “The End of Faith,” in an interview with Martin Levin. Click here:

The limits of politics are not static. We’re close to politicizing the weather. As technology advances, will political parties divide over favouring farmers or the tourist trade? Will depressives try to organize for more sunshine? On climate change, conservative skepticism may sound like foot-dragging, but eventually conservatives will participate. However, there are places politics should not go. Imagine a new frontier of drugs to modify human temperament and our political relations with others, regulating drugs not to make life bearable but to make us better citizens?

Who would guard the guardian? Who would decide how open, closed, generous, self-serving, optimistic, or suspicious we ought to be? Would we disarm our dark side unilaterally or in concert with the UN and our allies? Would simple majorities or super majorities and plebiscites be required? Where would we find political leaders we could trust with these questions?

What we do collectively—the social, cultural, and economic environment we inherit and try to improve—does influence what individuals feel and accomplish. It’s quite another thing, however, to short circuit that mysterious process with direct measures to alter human preferences. As with the separation of religion and government, maybe we should erect a new taboo: politics should only speak to our better angels.

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