Reasoning according to what Aristotle called first principles, is all the rave in Silicon valley. Musk, Hastings, Rose and every other high powered startup CEO you can think of, preach the gospel from their TED stages and in their podcasts.
What it means in engineering is that instead of sticking to process, you break every issue down into its core components, question everything, don’t stop until you arrive at the most fundamental truths, and build from there.
You can do the same thing in politics, you just have to swap out the laws of physics or the price of raw materials, for ideological beliefs. The other day this radio show which is usually all about science, took a hard look at how ideology influenced the political parties when it came to climate policy. As a twist, a philosopher was invited to to the studio to comment on each politicians answer. It turned out to be rather interesting.
Here’s a brief summary, from right to left:
Conservatives prefer incremental progress over radical transformations. They tend to favour the tried and true over what’s new. They acknowledge the need to tackle climate change, but aren’t too keen on measures that infringe on our way of living.
What the philosopher says: In the context of contemporary Swedish politics, conservatives have come to focus primarily on protecting the right to carry on with limitless consumption. This has not always been the case – historically it’s actually been conservatives who have campaigned for creating wildlife reserves and during the 60’s and 70’s green issues was generally seen as right-wing concerns.
Liberals see growth as an absolute priority in order to create the kind of wealth that is needed to invest our way out of the climate crisis. There’s no theoretical limit to this, as growth isn’t a zero sum game. They also place a lot of trust in the ingenuity of the individual, and think the government should stay out of the way of free market initiatives, so that innovation can bloom. Like their conservative brethren, they also want to protect the right to uphold our consumerist lifestyles.
What the philosopher says: At the core of Liberalism is the belief that the individual should be free to do whatever he likes as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. However, when 20 percent of the world’s population consume 86 percent of its resources, it could be argued that the liberty of the few comes at a high cost for the underprivileged masses. Therefor it would make perfect sense from an ideological standpoint, for a liberal policy to put limits on consumption or even to redistribute means.
Pragmatists… Wow wow, wait a minute, weren’t we talking about ideologies here?! We were, but interestingly enough Sweden’s ruling party thinks of its core political belief as pragmatism, and claim that this makes them exceptionally well suited for leading the country through the most profound transformation since the industrial revolution. The logic goes: there’s a job to be done here that’s too important to turn into an ideological tug-of-war.
What the philosopher says: Maybe so, but the problem with pragmatism is that it’s pretty much the opposite of ideology. In fact, in many ways it’s just a different word for populism. Meaning that it’s very hard to tell what a party like this will do when the wind turns.
Ecologists see the amount of available resources as finite, and think that we need to change our lifestyles so that we consume less of that which harms the environment, but also that there are plenty of services that we can safely consume more of. They also believe that politics need to take the full ecosystem into account, which means all species have a value in their own right.
What the philosopher says: This is the only ideology which is not by default human-centric. It’s also the only one that clearly sees over-consumption as a problem that needs to be dealt with politically.
Socialists see the need to deal with climate change, but prioritise the redistribution of resources (which like ecologists they see as being finite). That is to say: it wouldn’t be fair to force the working class to change their lifestyle, as long as the super rich get such a huge slice of the pie.
What the philosopher says: What socialism share with all other ideologies except for ecologism, is the idea that we first need to achieve a pressing primary goal – in this case the class-less society – and can only then start dealing with climate change. It’s also interesting to note that when environmental issues was first brought to the attention of politicians in the late 60’s, socialists saw them as bourgeois distractions. The fact that contemporary left-wing parties tend to have more ambitious green policies is a rather recent phenomenon.
One thing that particularly stayed with me was the fact that *all* politicians that were interviewed, placed extremely high hopes in new technologies and innovation. That makes me nervous.
I happen to work at the bleeding edge of technological innovation, and I see a lot of wonderful things coming out of the labs. However – and I think I share this view with fellow technologists and scientists: no amount of innovation is going to save the world from climate change, unless politicians across the ideological spectrum also do their part. Which will *have* to mean changing the rules of the game so that we’re incentivised to adapt our lifestyles.