The Church of Objective Evidence
Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Antiquated and adulterated respectively, “survival” and “truth” are concepts worth rethinking.
The word “truth” is no longer meaningful, so let’s quit using it as if it is.
In the intro to his Master Class on how to think critically, Neil deGrasse Tyson explains there are 3 kinds of truth: personal truth, political truth and objective truth. I don’t know exactly when this happened, but it used to be that the word “truth” only applied to the latter. But today, the word has been so profoundly adulterated that it carries no meaning at all and has absolutely nothing to do with its first dictionary meaning “in accordance with fact or reality”. And if you accept that adulteration, then the words “fact” and “reality” become likewise subject to interpretation. This is, from a social evolution perspective, extraordinarily dangerous because once we start confusing objective fact and mythology we are lost. This can only lead to from whence we came and will inevitably result in a modern stone age. The human condition relies on the evolution of social structures (in a Darwinian sense, more on this later) to advance the principals of humanism, so I’m going to start one of my own whose leaders are scientists and engineers, the constitution is the scientific method and the preamble reveres “objective evidence”.
empathy and the social organism
Before jumping to the conclusion that what I’m advocating is a society that is run by calculation, rest assured that is not what I’m advocating in the least. In the fabulous sci-fi classic “Contact”, the challenge is posed to the scientist protagonist - “prove” that you love your father. Of course this is an absurd notion, akin to endeavoring to discover the calculus of beauty. Although there someday may be a way for us to “understand” these concepts, their importance transcends even the laws of nature.
But I would argue that empathy is both a means AND an end for our social structures. If we look at social constructs such as governments, religions, clubs, etc. as “organisms”, we find all those with long-term success have empathy as an insufficient but mandatory component. All others die off, and most quite quickly. This doesn’t seem particularly mysterious if you note that the reason social structures exist in the first place is because their constituents want a better life for themselves, oftentimes (in the beginning) at the expense of some subset of that society. But just as a species doesn’t survive if it turns on its own kind, or destroys its own means of (physical) survival, the same holds true for social organisms. Those that forget the reason they exist in the first place die off by necessity, usually at great loss of life and unimaginable suffering. Because of this positive (although draconian) feedback loop, I’m confident that as technology improves and we evolve socially to the collective realization that a lack of empathy and survival are antithetical, not the other way around, we will eventually shed our need for social structures of any kind. Biological organisms have only biological evolution to guide them – a brutal, time consuming, clumsy process. But our social organisms have the benefit of independent thought and self awareness. These gifts of our Darwinian evolution change everything.
The power of objective evidence
So what’s so great about “objective evidence”? Applying empathy in a way that feeds the social organism rather than destroys it is an extraordinarily complex problem. The microcosms of bridge clubs and soccer teams are testimonials to this – anybody that’s ever tried to run one knows that even at this microscopic level, keeping everybody happy is tough. And we have good clear and present examples where this has gone astray for opposing reasons (Germany leading up to WWII, Venezuela under Chavez, for example). This is a multibody problem on steroids, and just like any other complex problem, rigor needs to be applied to have any reasonable chance of success. This is a key point. As a thought experiment, how would the world be different next week if tomorrow everybody woke up with an understanding of the laws of physics and the nature of the universe? Would humanity continue to cling to the false narrative of a zero-sum game? Or would that insight propel a more enlightened and certainly more accurate assessment of the value of working together? We’ll probably never know, but I propose that having such a deep connection with reality would make it plainly obvious that using violence for anything other than correcting a greater injustice is nothing short of a collective insanity because it is ultimately self defeating. The secular humanist movement is a step in the right direction but lacks focus on how to achieve these lofty goals.
The church of objective evidence (COE) takes this as its primary organizing principal – humanity will never achieve its potential without a return to reverence for the objective truth, and that empathy as a social organizing principal is one of those objective truths. The evidence is overwhelming, undeniable, and makes perfect sense, but getting there will require data-driven engagement and thoughtful cooperation. We all have a profound responsibility to everything and everybody we hold dear to adopt empathy as our own personal organizing principal and recognize that application on a global scale demands application on a local scale and objective evidence is the only path to that end. Here are the articles of organization:
1. Peace and opportunity are inalienable rights for each and every individual.
2. In objective evidence we trust.
3. Empathy for others is a survival instinct.
4. Empathy for others demands a high regard for personal responsibility.
5. Thou shalt logically and respectfully defend your opinions.
6. Seek first to understand, because even the application of logic and reason to the objective evidence can lead to different conclusions.
7. Optimal outcomes are impossible without a diversity of opinions.
our extinction event
But none of this matters if we cannot convert these principles into policy, and to do that we need a return to civic dialog. The dinosaurs died off because of an asteroid, but our extinction event will be something entirely of our own making – our inability to communicate with one another. In today’s day and age where technology makes this mechanically easier than ever, the irony is almost comical. The internet extends our reach to virtually the entire planet, universal translators make language barriers go away, and so on. But it seems we cannot even reach out to our next door neighbor and have the simplest conversation about anything substantive just because they voted for a different president. Human activity is not the root cause of global warming – the root cause of global warming, riots, hunger and every other challenge we face is bad policy set in motion by ignorance and our inability to have a thoughtful and respectful dialog on finding solutions to the complex problems that we all have in common. Let me emphasize that last point – all of these challenges can be traced to common ground that can and should be used as a starting point for a conversation. For example, we can ALL agree that we don’t want our kids dying due to mass shootings. We can ALL agree that we don’t want sea levels to rise 20 feet. Tomes have been written about effective communication and resolving conflict, and it’s high time we start becoming better at it. Each and every time I have a conversation with somebody on the other side of an issue I learn something new, or gain some insight that equips me to be more empathetic and informed, and thus allows me to make better decisions. This is not easy – having your long-held assumptions challenged can be humbling to say the least, but also, frankly, obligatorily patriotic. If you believe that patriotism is “exalting nation (or its symbols) above individuals”, then you’re actually (literally) a fascist, and America is probably not the right place for you. When we pledge allegiance to the republic, we all accept a responsibility as “we, the people” to take an active role in our own thoughtful and peaceful governance, and tweeting unfounded vitriol spits in the face of this responsibility, and is decidedly unpatriotic. Colin Kaepernick is a true patriot, because he risked and lost everything to peacefully demonstrate his allegiance to the principles of Democracy rather than its symbols, his firing being an egregious miscarriage of justice that was finally and correctly acknowledged, if not made right, by the NFL in June of 2020.
Although I consider myself a social liberal, I’m not particularly altruistic. If I were, I would be living the life of Mother Theresa. In my view these principals are self-serving in a very practical sense. If we can all agree that Article 1 describes the future we would like for future generations (the goal), and that this goal is the only way to ensure our “survival”, then the remaining articles, based upon the objective evidence, are the objectives (that is, the means to achieve the goal). Those that don’t have not advanced beyond the brutality of biological (as opposed to social) Darwinism. In this sense, “survival” takes on a new and more enlightened meaning that recognizes our responsibility to the miracle of our existence, and perhaps we should find a better word. Procreation is necessary but no longer sufficient to describe our “survival”. Perhaps if we combine “empathy” and “survival” – empival.
In summary, we have a choice. We can either hang our heads in despair and keep blaming others for our seemingly intractable issues, or we can put the 7 Articles of the COE into practice in some simple way every single day (a hot topic in organizational management is “design thinking” and is one valid framework). This all starts with a reverence for objective evidence and a return to civic dialog, but this is hard work. Then again, this nation is great because of opportunity and hard work, and in this case we have no excuses. We’ve become victims of our own success, taken to wallowing like pigs in the mud of our own self-pity and feasting glutinously on nonsense that reinforces our own personal biases and ignorance. While this is easy and feels good, it is a path to oblivion. Do you consider yourself a patriot? Then get to work and prove it - our empival depends upon it. .
Founder and CEO, Aug mented Sense Technologies