Thursday, June 6, 2013

Science Party!

No, not this kind of Science Party.

It is sometimes painful for me to listen to certain political enthusiasts. From the Far Left, I'll hear either "Our ancestors had all the wisdom we ever need to know!" or "Big Pharma is suppressing the truth!" From the Far Right, it's "Academia is a liberal stronghold!" or "Your science is an assault on my faith!" Where, I ask myself, is the political party of dedicated and thoughtful scientists?

And then I think about it, and I realize that this hypothetical group of scientists wouldn't bother trying to put together a political party. If your goal is to govern the country by scientific principles, you have to confront the fact that a representative democracy is the wrong form of government. Science isn't a popularity contest. Science is about tests and studies and mathematics, not about who looks best on television or who can scare the voters most effectively.

If you want to improve the country, is gaining control of the government even a appropriate step toward your goal? First of all, in the world of the 21st century, the fate of our nation is tied tightly to the fate of all of our global neighbours. So fixing just one nation's government isn't sufficient. And, possibly, working through the conventional established means of government isn't necessary.

And what is the goal? A rational group of scientists would first clearly articulate the effect that they want to create, and then determine the appropriate means to achieve that effect.

Let's assume that our group of scientists wants to change the world for the better. Can we define that in more concrete terms?

A simple, reasonable mission statement might be "to ensure that humanity survives indefinitely, and that all human beings are able to enjoy excellent physical and mental health." That seems like a goal that's difficult for anyone to find fault with. It seems to suggest other smaller goals that our existing political parties claim to be working toward, like health care, and environmental conservation, and the preservation of liberty and privacy.

But let's stay focused on the big picture: guaranteed survival of the species, and guaranteed mental and physical health for all. Looking at this statement alone, it looks like we're not talking about gun legislation or intellectual property rights. It looks like we're talking about re-engineering the species.

Because, of course, the human animal is a pretty fragile thing. We can only exist in an extremely narrow range of environmental conditions, and if any of those conditions change in the slightest, it's bye-bye humanity. If the world's climate changes, or some lethal new disease breaks out, or a giant rock hits the planet, or we run out of fossil fuel, or whatever, we humans need to survive.

We need to be able to power and repair ourselves with simple and sustainable means. We need to be able to correct serious mental issues through processes that are more effective than cocktails of pharmaceuticals.

If each of us was indestructible, self-repairing and self-powering, independent from complicated food chains or medical procedures, how does that affect the world? What if you don't need shelter, or food, or water, or air?

It's not quite sufficient to solve all of our problems, I think. Poverty is no longer a curse for these version 2.0 humans; they will survive in perfect comfort without houses or antibiotics or macaroni-and-cheese. We've eliminated need; but we haven't eliminated want. People will still want to build things, to travel, to dress nice and watch HBO and trade up to the latest iPhone. All of those things still require labor and resources, which means that there's still room for the haves and the have-nots.

Not to mention that we humans don't really need excuses to fight with each other. We will gladly kill each other based purely on our belief systems. And no matter how indestructible we make ourselves, we'll always find a way to destroy each other.

Which means that either human re-engineering is not the solution, or it's not the whole solution. I'll have to consider a little further; clearly our hypothetical team of scientists has quite a lot of work ahead of them.