Society as a Failed Experiment

There’s little dispute among social scientists that most of our major public programs are counter-productive on their own terms. There is also little analysis of this phenomenon as a pattern in need of an explanation and a solution.

Prisons are supposedly intended to reduce crime, but instead increase it. Young people who when they commit crimes are arrested and punished become much more likely to commit crimes as adults than are those young people who when they commit crimes are just left alone.

Fixing public schools by requiring endless test-preparation and testing is ruining public schools. Kids are emerging with less education than before the fix. Parents are sending their kids to private schools or charter schools or homeschooling them or even pulling them out of school for a few months during the worst of the test-preparation binging.

Free trade policies are supposed to enrich us. Trickle-down tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations are supposed to enrich us. We keep trying them and they keep impoverishing us.

War preparations are supposed to enrich us, but impoverish us instead. War is supposed to protect us, but generates enemies. Or war is supposed to benefit some far away place, but leaves it in ruins. Is more war the answer?

When a road gets crowded, we enlarge it or build another road. The traffic responds by enlarging to fill the new roads. So we cut funds for trains in order to build yet more roads.

We’re several times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. So, we give police officers weapons of war to make us safe.

We’re making the earth’s climate unlivable by consuming fossil fuels. So we ramp up the consumption of fossil fuels.

Guns are supposed to protect us, but the more we spread the guns around the more we get killed intentionally and accidentally with guns.

What causes us to pursue counterproductive programs and policies? And why does it seem that the bigger the program is the more we pursue its counterproductive agenda? Well, let’s look at the above list again and ask who benefits.

We’ve made prisons into a for-profit industry and an economic rescue program for depressed rural areas. Enormous profits are being made from children who abandon public schools; from the point of view of those profiteers there’s every reason to fix schools in a manner that actually makes them horrible. Corporate trade pacts and tax exemptions for billionaires don’t impoverish everyone, just us non-billionaires. Some people get rich from road construction. Weapons companies don’t mind when one war leads to three more (especially if they’re arming all sides), or when police pick up used weaponry that can then be replaced. Oil and coal profiteers aren’t focused on the inhabitability of the earth. Gun manufacturers aren’t worried about how many people die so much as how many guns are sold.

What keeps us from seeing this as a pattern is the myth that we live in a democracy in which decisions are made by majority opinion. In reality, majority opinion is badly distorted by anti-democratic news media and largely ignored by anti-democratic officials.

Major public pressure will be needed to change this situation, to strip corporations of power, ban bribery, provide free media and public financing of elections, and create a democratic communications system.

We should begin by dropping the pretense that we’re rationally testing policies and adjusting them as we go. No, the whole thing is broken. Experiments keep failing upward with no end in sight. Enough is enough. Let’s change direction.

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  • elizabethhanson

    Thank you David for the excellent essay. I was telling my partner today I don’t know if we will get this ship turned around. The whole thing is broken and the billionaires have won so far. I think if there is a catalyzing event, the ship may turn. Otherwise, we watch and wait in horror and speak out mostly to people who understand as we do or to those who simply don’t care. Here is an article I wrote yesterday-

    • Hanson for President!

      An utterly superb article. THANK YOU Elizabeth. Sh!ne on thru the shit

  • Collin237

    Yeah, end society as we know it? So everyone says. Show us your plans. Let us see your insanity. Let us see what zealotry you adhere to.

    When someone who is a scientist, mathematician, and philosopher arises to save the world, I’ll sign on. Until then, I’d rather bear those ills we have.

  • jandr0

    [Free trade policies are supposed to enrich us. Trickle-down tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations are supposed to enrich us. We keep trying them and they keep impoverishing us.]

    I only picked one item from the article to highlight some of the fallacious argumentation.

    There are NO free-trade policies in the USA. Don’t be fooled by people (politicians are supposedly people too) who call things free-trade policies. That doesn’t make them free-trade policies.

    If there was REAL free trade, then there would be NO penalty tariffs, duties, subsidies and the like. It should be obvious to David Swanson that the US is overwhelmed with penalty tariffs, subsidies, regulations, etc.

    So, the author’s premise is complete and utter nonsense.

    And then the author tries to draw a conclusion from the false premise by only claiming correlation (also allegedly with the “trickle-down tax cuts”).

    I challenge the author to actually show causation (for the scientific amongst us and the logicians, that means he should address the temporal antecedence condition and the lack of alternative explanation condition as well, not just the relationship condition).

    Until then, the author’s reliance on unsubstantiated rhetoric has severely detracted from his own credibility.

    • 77Jack

      I was going to say pretty much the same thing.

      Politicians always associate “freedom” with control so that when the policy inevitably fails the public will then associate freedom with chaos. What better way to get a population to demand their chains.

  • 77Jack

    The title should really read “The State as a Failed Experiment”…except that he believes that the State will solve the problem, if it’s fixed first of course.

    The problem with that though is that the State isn’t broken, it works just as it is intended to. The State isn’t here to educate our young, protect us, solve carbon emissions, build roads, ban this or that; the State’s sole purpose is to keep one group in power at the expense of everyone else. It’s a psychopathic entity created by psychopaths for psychopaths.

    We have a hard time spotting them but they can spot us easily and won’t let us anywhere near the centers of power. They’re more than happy to let us believe we can get there, though, while they drain us of everything we have and turn us all against each other.

    They may be insane but they’re brilliant.

  • ed

    The government is not the solution to all of our problems, it is the cause of them.

  • lew512

    Not ‘anti-democratic’, rather anti-freedom. I think they are violently democratic, as that is the ideological cover for all that they do against the late, great Constitution. The media and std political processes give the populace the emotional responses to simple stimuli such as ‘Muslim’, and all else follows.

    Stop hating as they want us to hate, we might have a chance to straighten all this out.

    He is wrong on global warming and guns. Those are both areas where you have to know how to study and evaluate physical evidence, serious statistics and understand computer models, none of which are this political reporter’s strong points.

    We all have areas where we really know the issues, can tell whether someone else does in a few sentences, and the depth of their knowledge in a few more. The obvious corollary is that we should carefully refrain from having opinions on issues we have not carefully studied. Not many do.

    In areas that we know, we know there are right answers, or at least less-wrong answers. Both guns and AGW have right answers, and they are the answer that everyone who carefully evaluates the evidence understands. The opposite of what our political masters wish us to believe, of course.

    And if you don’t agree with that, you haven’t studied the evidence and should not allow yourself an opinion. That is obviously true, btw, from the mere fact that the pro-AGW people quote the UN reports, the serious skeptics quote contrary evidence, flaws in data sets, problems with stand-in measures of temperature, the problem of temperature as a standin for the important variable of heat balance, the impossibility of building and separate impossibility of validating a climate model, on and on and on. Sure there is a concensus.