Nov 12, 2022 • 14M

Lawyers, Guns, & Money (with a side of God) versus Scientists

Serious questions require thoughtful, information-based, answers; not dogma!

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Appears in this episode

Matthew Moran
The audio component to The Arrogant Sage substack. Matthew Moran discusses songwriting, writing, creative expression, and other highly caffeinated musings.
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Note: You can listen to me read this piece using the player above. Also, if you are wondering how you got on my list, read this.

Last night Deb and I were talking about everything from my approach to solving technical problems, career development, getting my first book published, and why I stopped writing about or discussing politics or data driven solutions to issues.

“I don’t want to watch otherwise intelligent people
debase themselves on their altar of tribalism.”

How those topics relate is wrapped up in my unabated “boldness” when it comes to going after things I want. I explained to Deb that I’m less bold these days.

I’m confident in the ideas I carry. Not because I’m the smartest guy in the room - though I am the smartest guy in my loft as I write this. (don’t let the dog hear me say that - she might offer a different opinion) I’m confident in ideas I research mostly due to my willingness to lay them on the chopping block when needed/deserved.

Meaning: If there is data to move my position in a given direction, I review that data sincerely. If I am unwilling challenge myself, why would I expect others to challenge themselves?

Sacred cows are an unnecessary and unhelpful burden when it comes to self-reflection and analysis. Per the line of my song, “Ordinary Man.”

It don’t help me sleep none but I’m feeling free now
Left the altar stained with those sacred cows

But I am less bold in presenting ideas to others. I told Deb… “Why? People don’t care about data. People don’t care about reflection. And I don’t want to watch otherwise intelligent people debase themselves on their altar of tribalism.”

The quote is snobby to be sure. But, sorry kids, it’s accurate. Let me explain, just a little.

We live in a world of real problems requiring solutions. Food production. Water (and the Southwest of the US). An unrelenting stream of dangerous pathogens that can (and will eventually) cause a significantly more dire pandemic than what Covid wrought. Climate change. Billionaire bomb makers advising world leaders on foreign policy*. Famine! Authoritarianism. Easily solved starvation and clean water for many areas of the world. Etc. etc.

* To a man with a hammer, everything’s a nail. To a man with a bomb, everyone’s a terrorist.

Image of the Pillars of Creation taken by the James Webb telescope
The “Pillars of Creation” from the James Webb telescope

Who Put Lawyers In Charge?

Reviewing the education of congress, political science, law, and history seem the most prevalent advanced education. Science, research, and analysis of data - well, those skills rarely make the list.

It’s understandable, given the incredible deficit of science-based education in our country and in our public discourse.

“the conversation SHOULD be led by noted and respected scientist in their fields - not by public opinion and not by us. We are not qualified to speak on this issue”

During the pandemic, we got to watch average Joe’s attack science, NOT with science - but with angry diatribes and unfounded conspiracies.

Mind you, this is NOT a criticism of an individual’s right to question any public policy. I’m good with that. I welcome that.

It is more the amount of self-assured hubris of the critics who neither understood the most basic biology and were also unwilling to have intellectually honest conversations about public policy.

Sadly, politicians who should know better, fell inline to speak to their tribe in the most base terms. No nuance of, “We need to explore these ideas but the conversation SHOULD be led by noted and respected scientist in their fields - not by public opinion and not by us. We are not qualified to speak on this issue.”

When I say politicians should know better, let me clarify. First, I look more to the senate than the house. In general, the house contains individuals who have some of the least well-thought out or articulated positions in the country. In some states, they may get elected by as few as 60,000 votes.

They are not, typically, our best and brightest! I don’t feel our best and brightest go into politics. Which is probably why I’m not there. ;-)

What we end up with in congress, however, are mostly science and technology illiterate individuals who rarely (virtually never) admit they don’t have an answer to every issue their constituents face.

They rail on culture war wedge issues because those require nothing on their part. No analysis, no need to gather data. They only need to stick their finger in the wind, determine what similarly uninformed voters are upset about that week, and then angrily shout that they will fight for whatever gets the voter to the polls.

Science Is All We Have

I was speaking with one friend who’s primary issue was the need to stop illegal immigration. When I asked him to describe his day - in detail - starting in the morning, we agreed that it looked a bit like this:

  • Wake up. Make coffee. Shower. (water, electricity)

  • Drive to his office (transportation infrastructure, fuel)

  • Turn on his computer, check his email and calendar (power infrastructure, Internet)

And so it went until he came home, they made dinner, they ate, watched a little TV, and went to bed.

At what point did immigration impact him? I didn’t! Well, maybe if he ate produce and enjoyed our relatively low-cost strawberries…

But throughout his day, from his alarm that woke him (the science of a low-cost device that gives you nearly preci se time measurements) to every step along the way, he benefited from the last two hundred years of scientific development.

And should he run into another health issue - he had a knee replacement surgery a few years ago - he will rely on science and scientists. He navigates his world and communicates using a device he holds in his hand that receives geo/location specific data from satellites that adjust their data and signal based on and with adjustments for the movement of the earth - both its rotation and its position in space.

He will check the weather, receiving reasonably accurate data on temperature, wind, rain, etc.

The food we eat. The transportation we use. The communication tools we avail ourselves of daily. Our healthcare and the medicines we take. The electricity we use every single day. Our sewage. Our water. And even the air we breath.

All of it.

We should be thanking scientists daily!

When your anti-lock brakes stop you from losing control of your vehicle and killing yourself or someone else, you shouldn’t be say, “Thank God!” You should, instead, say, “Thank the engineers who recognized this issue and spent years of study and testing to make this magical piece of equipment.”

I know there are some who will flinch and become angry at the above… but I ask you, when your cell phone doesn’t connect, your Internet is down, or your automobile does not start, do say, “God, what’s wrong with you? Fix this.”

Nope, you call customer support and demand they fix it.

If your anti-lock brakes fail and it results in death or injury, you are not going to say, “Damn you God! I prayed this morning, why did you let this happen?”

Nope. You are going to find who/what company is culpable and sue them. And if it is due to negligence, well you should.

So, using that metric, when it works, thank the right person. Thank the scientist.

And yet, we allocate precious little funds or conversation on improving our technological and scientific education in this country. We have politicians who want religion and even “patriotism” taught in the classroom.

We have politicians who attribute the struggles with our lackluster middle-class income/wealth growth as a byproduct of a lack of prayer in the schools. They certainly do not look to economist for their conclusion. That would require analyzing data. That’s hard work and it takes time.

Rather, they are content to utter slogan-esque notions of questionable authority. They shake their heads in mock outrage and disappointment, never once considering that, as with brakes failing or their Internet being down, the solution to the problem might require experts, research, data, and analysis.

As China continues to grow and emerge as a financial powerhouse, they don’t need to fire a bullet to “win” the war of world influence. They are in the process of building modern cities, with modern transportation, and placing an emphasis on science and technology education.

Of course, they have their own challenges and in rural areas, among the agricultural class, there is crippling poverty. And their human rights record is pretty sketchy.

But so is ours in the US. We just tell ourselves differently because most of our infractions are overseas, out of sight, and against the “bad guys.”

China is clearly playing the long game.

While we debate the merits or lack thereof of transgender bathrooms (for instance), they are creating scientists. And in that, we lose the long game. Truth be told, , we aren’t even in the game.

Don’t Misquote Me

I have children that are political activists. I’m all for the justice of causes. I had a transgender person move into our home when they needed a place - not because they were transgender but because they are a human being!

Personally, I don’t understand why any person cares whether someone identifies as male/female, or whether someone marries this person or that person or persons. It is NONE OF MY BUSINESS!

Unless I’m invited to the wedding… then I need to buy a wedding gift and give up a day. That’s annoying.

In fact, I generally support the legality of polygamy, polyandry, polyamory, etc. I don’t necessarily endorse any of those marital situations. I have two divorces on my record. I’m not here to wax moralistic. I just know I wouldn’t wish two of me on any woman and I clearly could not effectively deal with one wife, let alone two.

But I did meet a man with three wives and something like 15 kids. I was in Utah! He had two successful businesses and, in talking to two of his wives, they seemed happy and their family functioned well, as far as I could see. More power to them… I don’t need to get involved one way or the other - neither do politicians.

On the other hand, infidelity is a true/actual breach of contract with fiscal and potentially health impact. Not to mention the destabilization of the family it can cause. A case could be made that the person who cheats has broken a law and could face legal penalties and even jail time. In fact, maybe infidelity should invalidate all pre-nuptials and the other partner gets EVERYTHING!

I’m not advocating for that but it makes far more moral and pragmatic sense than the ridiculous battle against two or more consenting adults getting married.

And yet I know two Christian men who have cheated on their wives multiple times who rage against the homosexual agenda. What the fuck! Focus on your anti-moralistic, anti-family behavior. You should have a lifetime of quiet humility - understanding that you are a significantly bigger moral problem than any two individual’s who get married, regardless of gender.

And the same contractual/legal assessment of infidelity can/should apply to any marriage agreement equally - same sex, opposite sex, multiple marriage partners, etc. (again, not where I want our government to spend time and energy - just pointing out consistency/inconsistency)

You see, if we focused on OUR behavior, far more than we express outrage at the behavior of others, we might improve ourselves a little and understand that our high horse is a rickety nag with a bad limp. Give that beast a rest.

“I don’t know…” and Other Things Our Our Politicians Should Be Saying

Our politicians should be more willing to say, “I don’t know but we are bringing in the top experts in this field to engage in a healthy and vigorous conversation on how to solve the big issues.”

Unfortunately, intellectual discourse is not encouraged in politics. If you can’t confidently say that you will create jobs, solve homelessness, and “put the other side” in their place, all without fronting any actual information-based policies, you cannot get elected.

Vapid slogans are encouraged and, sadly, rewarded.

My friend George, his wife, my girlfriend and I had a chance meeting with a politician who was running for Governor. We had the opportunity to speak with him at length while sipping coffee on a park bench.

George is a doctor and someone I consider both intelligent and wise.

One question he asked was, “What would cause you to reject a large political donation?”

The guy’s answer was so pandering and meaningless that we both chuckled. I’m sure this politician - who claimed to NOT be a politician but sounded just a politician - didn’t appreciate that.

Later, George said, “What I would really like to ask is, ‘When is the last time you changed your mind on an issue and what predicated that change?’”

Genius!!! That’s a real question.

Dogma Kills Progress

Sadly, the greatest hindrance to progress and science is religious dogma. And it’s always been this way. Conservatism for the sake of conservatism has proven itself useless!

I feel the same about Tarot cards, Wiccanism, Cosmic Consciousness, The Secret (The Law of Attraction), Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism… any metap hysical belief that pretends to explain the unknown without the weight of scientific inquiry and evidence.

I support anyone’s right to believe what they want - just don’t use that belief to drive public policy or create a framework for effective society. Aka: The earth does, in fact, orbit the sun and other truths. We’re still having THAT conversation - just in another form. It’s cringe-worthy and embarrassing!

People advocate for policy more due to their religious ideology than due to any information they’ve reviewed. And they carefully curate the information they consume to ensure they never have to ask themselves the hard questions.

Mind you, they do this while, hypocritically receiving medical care when they need it and using all the modern comforts of the technology that science has brought to us.

The critical part of that sentence, “that science has brought us.”

Or as I asked one “religious” friend:

Your child has MRSA (Staph infection) and is dying. You have two choices and can only pick one. You can have your most spiritual religious leader pray for them OR you can have a skilled medical team treat them with antibiotics and complete medical care and monitoring. What do you choose?

He didn’t like the question but that is only because the answer is so painfully obvious and exposes that he, like me, trusts science far more than God in the pragmatics of day to day living!

Thank God for that!