Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Thoughtful Guide to Political Types

There are two characteristics that have the most direct bearing on people’s political dispositions. If we want to know how we should engage with different people politically, we should begin by understanding them in terms of:
• Interpersonal Thoughtfulness – do they have relatively high or low propensity to care about the needs of others, empathise with others’ feelings, and stand up for those who are treated badly.
• Rational Thoughtfulness – do they have relatively high or low propensity to grasp arguments, reason logically, digest explanations, and cut through irrelevant materials to consider the pertinent evidence.

While there is no exact measure of these propensities, each can be gauged with a mix of proxy assessments:

Interpersonal Thoughtfulness
We can rate people’s interpersonal thoughtfulness in terms of their tendency to, for example:
• Give some of what they have earned to help others in need;
• Feel empathetic pain and sorrow when aware of others’ pain and sorrow;
• Respect others without succumbing to negative stereotypes or prevailing prejudices;
• Stick up for the weak against the strong, rather than join the strong in bullying/ridiculing the weak;
• Share what they by luck acquire with others.

Rational Thoughtfulness
We can also rate people’s rational thoughtfulness in terms of their ability to, for example:
• Respond correctly to logical reasoning questions;
• Summarise arguments presented in articles/reports;
• Carry out sophisticated analysis of learning materials (educational attainment can be a proxy measure);
• Understand how scientific consensus is developed and draw on it in the face of dogmatic or sensationalist claims;
• Follow where the evidence leads without being deflected by arbitrary assumptions or irrelevant digression.

Based on the above we can map out four broad political types:
[A] High Interpersonal Thoughtfulness AND High Rational Thoughtfulness.
[B] High Interpersonal Thoughtfulness BUT Low Rational Thoughtfulness.
[C] Low Interpersonal Thoughtfulness BUT High Rational Thoughtfulness.
[D] Low Interpersonal Thoughtfulness AND Low Rational Thoughtfulness.

Whatever their age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, professed party affiliations, people in each of the four categories we have identified will have in common an important set of political dispositions. These may be summarised as follows:

[A] High Interpersonal Thoughtfulness AND High Rational Thoughtfulness:
Type A people care about others, are inclined to examine the real causes of suffering and deprivation, and want to explore and pursue the options most likely to improve the quality of life for as many people as possible. What will appeal to them are properly argued policy proposals that will enhance the common good, help those in need, and minimise the risk of negative consequences.

[B] High Interpersonal Thoughtfulness BUT Low Rational Thoughtfulness:
Type B people care about the wellbeing of others, but they are not the most rigorous when it comes to scrutinising options, and can be susceptible to follow superficially attractive ideas that are in fact counter-productive. What will appeal to them are easy to understand policy proposals that strike a chord with their emotions, and a sense of togetherness in tackling shared problems, without being bogged down in complex facts and figures.

[C] Low Interpersonal Thoughtfulness BUT High Rational Thoughtfulness:
Type C people care predominantly about themselves, or at most the people who most closely resemble them (through family ties, race, class, religion, or shared objects of hate), but they are adept at reasoning what will get them what they want, and also what will lead others to help them even at the expense of those giving help. What will appeal to them are policy proposals that will offer them something they want for themselves, and while they are unlikely to respond to requests to prioritise those in the greatest need, they might concede if it they were plainly told how they would lose even more if they did not.

[D] Low Interpersonal Thoughtfulness AND Low Rational Thoughtfulness:
Type D people also care mainly about themselves (and perhaps those who they regard as ‘close’ to them), but their relatively weak reasoning powers made them susceptible to misunderstanding (of what is offered by those who want to help them) and manipulation (by those who want to exploit them for their own ends). What will appeal to them is emotive proposals that make them feel that they will get the attention they deserve, and their concerns are respected and will accordingly be addressed.

It follows from what has been outlined that the contrasting characteristics of political types, A, B, C, and D, must be taken into account if any political campaign is to succeed. It can also be seen that political groups/parties tend to gravitate towards those led by type A and those led by type C. Strategies deployed by type C political leaders would be familiar to many observers: mock/attack type A people as ‘out of touch’, ‘soft’, ‘disrespectful’; deceive type B with well disguised and fallacious arguments that their policies will help most people when in fact it will help the privileged few; and stir up type D to channel their anger and frustration at a variety of scapegoats and mislead them into backing what does not in fact help them at all.

By contrast, type A political leaders often suffer from the blind spot of not seeing that intricate explanations of what will best serve the common good will only work for those who are also type A people. To win wider support, they need to adapt their strategies to take account of what we have set out are the different ways to engage types B, C, and D people.

Note: The four types have in this context been sketched in very broad terms. Within each category, it is likely that some will have stronger or weaker propensities in relation to one factor rather than another. So a deep analysis may further subdivide each type into, e.g. B+, B, and B-. But while this may be appropriate for a detailed sociological study, the simpler classification may be sufficient to inform most political strategies, unless there is practical scope to differentiate a target population quite precisely. In most cases, a political leader should just aim to make the offer in the different ways suggested, and ensure that the overall campaign contain sufficient output of each form to reach and connect with all the main political types.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Terminate the Machines?

Add ever more complex programming to automated design and production processes for a constantly widening range of machines that are sustained by renewable energy, and we will soon arrive at a fork road for humanity.

One path leads to the utopian world in which machines will take care of us by doing virtually all the work that needs doing (including their own repair and maintenance), leaving us to pursue whatever will bring us true fulfilment. The other route takes us to a dystopian cliff edge over which the machines will exclusively serve just the few who created them, leaving everyone else with no paid work, no resources, and little hope of a passable life.

So what should we do? The neoliberal option would be to let a tiny elite of human beings control and benefit from the machines, accept that most others will consequently have no paid work to obtain, and will starve to death, become stigmatised as permanent welfare claimants, or be given a small crowded area where they can blame and attack each other interminably.

The Luddite strategy would be to stop these machines from being developed, and insist that a sufficiently large number of paid jobs are reserved for humans irrespective of how much cheaper, quicker, or more reliable they can be carried out by the next generation of machines.

Or we can explore with the inventors and makers of these complex machines if they are willing to follow the example of those who brought humankind advances such as the penicillin or the world wide web – in other words, bequeath the legacy of their genius to humanity, so anyone can add to the functionality of these machines, but the work done by them will benefit everyone.

It won’t be easy to reach agreement about the arrangements to be devised under the third option, but it is the only one that can embrace invention without opening the door to unprecedented polarisation. So long as those with technological creativity are not consumed by insatiable greed and the vast majority of people are not strangled by the fear of extinction, a collaborative future can evolve. There is no reason why the inventors – and anyone who adds to the machines’ performance and functionality – should not have more rewards than others, provided the differentials can be set with the input of everyone reflecting what would be a sustainable consensus for all.

Ultimately, anyone who thinks that the few winners blessed with technological know-how should take it all, must recognise that the vast numbers who would thus be reduced to comprehensive losers would not be content with being shut out in the wilderness. If we don’t want to halt the advancement of technology that can potentially benefit us all, we’d better terminate any attempt to hand absolute power to the elite corporations that seek to take command of all vital machines.