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December 19, 2020


Russ Abbott

It feels like something is missing. As you quote Rauch, “Many people believe that vaccines cause autism, or that Barack Obama was born in Africa, or that the murder rate has risen. Who should decide who is right? And who should decide who gets to decide?

It's not clear to me that anyone "gets to decide." For many issues, we don't have an agent that makes a decision about such issues, and after that decision is made, everyone agrees.

The more relevant question is operational. In which context does it matter, whether, for example, vaccines cause autism? At a friendly dinner party, it may not matter in any operational way. People may simply continue to disagree. On the other hand, school boards may decide that kids must be vaccinated before they are allowed to attend school. And the decision is not strictly whether vaccines cause autism but whether vaccinations should be required.

We like to think that most of our operational political decisions are grounded in objective reality. But ultimately, it's the political decisions that matter rather than the decisions about objective reality. I think it's important to distinguish one from the other.

Stephen Downes

In broad strokes, Rauch's argument is sound, but in the details, it is wrong. Or, perhaps I should say that it is changing, because what it means "to organize social decision-making about what is and is not reality based on a governance framework and a set of principles" no longer means what it used to mean. Why? Because replication fails in chaotic and dynamic environments, because specialization fails when every discipline is connected, because scientific societies fail when they represent only vested interests, because voting fails when consensus matters, and because civic virtues fail when our leaders are bad actors. Rebuilding this will take time, and will require that we flip the script: we no longer say that the (one) community defines how we reach consensus, but rather, how (the many ways) we reach consensus is what defines communities.

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