Brett: This idea of questioning things that hitherto you thought were unassailable in a particular domain is really interesting.
For millennia people have wondered about the best way to conceive of what democracy is.
Plato asked, “What is democracy?” and he had the question about who should rule. That’s the whole idea of democracy, supposedly. We’d have to figure out who should rule. Should it be the philosopher kings who should rule? Should it be the population of citizens?
Plato decided that the mob would readily vote away the rights of a minority, and that’s what he thought democracy was.
But Popper questioned this whole idea of looking at what democracy was. He went even deeper and roughly said, “Democracy has got nothing to do with who should rule. Democracy is the system which allows you to remove policies and rulers most efficiently without violence. And that’s how you judge different democratic systems.”
So you can actually make a judgment on France, England, the United States, Australia, Canada. Do these places have better or worse kinds of democracy to the extent that we’re actually able to get rid of the people that we don’t like from the democratic system quickly, efficiently, easily, without violence?
That’s the measure of a good democratic system, rather than trying to figure out which is going to give us the best rulers. That’s the same mistake as saying, “What method of science is going to give us the true theory?” No method of science is going to give us the true theory.
Science is an error-correcting mechanism. All we can hope for is to get rid of the bad ideas. And by doing that, we’ve corrected some of our errors, and then we can move forward to find something that’s a better theory than what we had before.
This raises the idea of how to make good decisions when you’re at loggerheads with someone else.
There’s this idea that compromise is supposed to be a virtue of some kind, and it’s not. It’s preferable to having a violent confrontation if you’ve got two people who otherwise can’t possibly reach an agreement and they’re going to get into a battle of some sort.
If you’re in a situation where person A has idea X and person B has idea Y, the common understanding of a compromise is that it’s somewhere between X and Y: Person A won’t get everything they want, and person B won’t get everything they want. They come up with a compromise, which is theory Z.
We shouldn’t be surprised when theory Z proves not to work, because neither person ever thought it was the best idea in the first place. Person A goes back to saying, “I always told you that X was the correct idea,” and person B goes back to saying, “I always told you that idea Y was the best idea.”
They haven’t made any progress whatsoever. They’ve shown that Z is wrong, but no one ever thought that Z was correct in the first place.
This is the poverty of compromise, and this is what you get in science at certain times. It’s everywhere in politics as well.