What do we want? Rational Evidence based decision making.

What do we want? Rational Evidence based decision making.

When do we want it? NOW!

I want this on a t-shirt. It may not be the world’s catchiest protest slogan. I can already hear the crowd getting out of time and tripping over the detail of the chant. But really, this is at the heart of politics.

Policies these days are built firmly on the twin pillars of partisan politics and whoever lobbies the hardest. Each time I sign an online petition on an issue I feel strongly about I am conflicted. Part of me is thrilled that the internet provides tools like change.org where individuals can rally others to a cause and effect real change. Part of me despairs that this is what it takes. The squeakiest wheel gets the grease. Sure, we can squeak a lot louder now. But we have to keep squeaking. Things don’t get done because they are the right thing to do.  Things get done because there are votes in it, or because someone is paying for it, or because it’s party dogma to do it that way.

Why don’t more politicians support gay marriage, despite the polls showing that an overwhelming majority of Australians support it? Because it’s perceived to be politically dangerous. Because powerful lobby groups oppose it.

Why don’t politicians support decisive action on climate change? Because powerful lobby groups oppose it (like the fossil fuel/mining industries), and because decisive action on climate change will hurt in the short term. Nobody in power seems remotely fussed by the reality that without decisive action we are so much char grilled, cyclone battered, drought shrivelled toast. Nobody is bothered by the overwhelming scientific consensus that action is desperately needed. Our politicians look to the next vote, the next donation, the next squeaking.

Which brings me to my t-shirt. “Rational, evidence based decision making.” Sadly it seems to be a bizarre and outlandish concept, but surely it’s not so far fetched as all that. You can construct a plausible argument to justify any decision you want to make. The human brain is fantastically good at rationalising bad decisions. But in most cases the evidence is in about what works and what doesn’t. There are countries all over the world who have tried most things. There are examples of fantastic education systems – we know what works. There are examples of great healthcare systems – we know how to do that, too. And climate change? The evidence is in. We need to do everything that reduces our CO2 output and removes it from the atmosphere. Reforestation, radical reductions in energy use, renewable energy, new generation nuclear – we need it all, and we need it yesterday.

Research shows us what works. The evidence is in. This is what we truly need to lobby for – a political system that rewards evidence based action, rather than the loudest, richest lobby group, or the most marginal electorate.

Last night I dreamt that I confronted Australian Federal politicians on both sides and shouted at them to stop fighting amongst themselves and actually FIX things. Imagine that.


12 thoughts on “What do we want? Rational Evidence based decision making.

  1. Joe

    If we voted for … leaders … because we wanted wise steering in spite of ourselves, then we would expect that sometimes they did things in spite of ourselves.

    But we don’t. We don’t vote for leaders. We vote for representatives. They’re supposed to be self-servingly interested in bending to the greatest voting power.

    If you (just for example) garner the *opinion* of the 150 people I work with (mostly tertiary educated) about climate change and taking action, you’ll find outright skepticism is not uncommon, and ambivalence is prevalent. I’d say a vote-affecting support of “climate action now” is pretty much non existent here. But if you poll those same people about taking possibly bold moves that have somewhat immediate *economic* consequences, that might change the equation of people’s financial wellbeing in the more immediate term, then change is scary and to be undertaken with great caution… even if you can mount a case that maybe it’ll work out quite well.

    Whereas what we already have, economically, doesn’t need a “maybe” for most people to see it’s been working out quite well. The decision to stick to this path (economically) is “evidence based” even if it’s short sighted.

    Our *representative* politicians *correctly* reflect that mix … some minorities having passions on both sides, general ambivalence to the possibility of climate change, and huge caution about tinkering in any large ways with what is essentially the reason why Australia has the only economy globally that’s seen recent decades of continued positive growth … because we dig up rocks and sell them to people.

    (Oh, and if you want to say “but the economy isn’t everything”, now we’re moving into subjective values-based decision making.)

    Ugly as those of us with a particular passion may feel it is, you won’t get our political representatives to take action unless they think it’s the vote-affecting weighted preference of the people they represent NOW.

    It’s the community and culture that need lobbying.

    btw since eg the mining companies don’t themselves have a vote, how does a lobby organisation of mining companies work to influence politics unless they can demonstrate a ready way to influence community voting? This is an actual question of curiosity to me.

    1. lindamciver

      I’ve seen this argument before – effectively that politicians are elected to do what we want them to do – and I wholly disagree. Governments must lead, otherwise madness follows. The court of public opinion is not swayed by science and evidence. The court of public opinion is swayed by instinct and self interest.

      It’s like the quote about the leader of the French Resistance who says “there go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.” (thanks West Wing ;).
      That’s not leadership.
      Leadership is making the hard decisions. Doing what’s right, and what’s necessary, and then convincing the populace that it was both right and necessary.

      Our politicians have got it backwards. Statesmen lead. Politicians grovel for votes. I want statesmen, please. And stateswomen, but that’s a whole other conversation!

      1. Joe

        I think I just said that. Except that I’m not blaming the politicians. We, the Australian people, talk about our parliamentary representatives. We don’t really think of them as leaders of the country. And we the Australian people *intend* to elect them to be representatives (to do what we want them to and speak up for what we think) not to be leaders (who might help us in spite of ourselves).

        It’s the Australian People who have it backwards. We got who we voted for, and we knew who and why we vote for them. “I vote for [X] because s/he agrees with my opinions.”

  2. lindamciver

    I’m not sure, Joe. I don’t think we get a choice between leaders and representatives and choose the latter. I think we get a choice between representatives and representatives. Every time a party accidentally elects a leader to lead them, the same party tears them down when the polls blip.

  3. Joe

    Annnnd the polls blip becaaauuuuuse… the Australian voters don’t want “leaders”, they want people who agree with their own immediate instincts and opinions. (?)

    1. lindamciver

      No, the polls blip because hard decisions cause pain in the short term – but the polls never have time to go back up because of the knee jerk reactions.

      1. Joe

        I guess we have different personal observations. While I do know a handful of people who are willing to allow that when a political leader does something they don’t like it’s because the leader has a bigger picture / wider vision than they do themselves… and are willing at least in potential to say “kudos to them for bringing about the bigger picture that I didn’t really see”. But for the most part I find that people either merge the “I didn’t like that event” into their general feeling about the leader and don’t revisit the long term situation, or in some cases carry a long specific recall and are still saying “they did X and I didn’t agree with it” even if the long term consequences were other than they personally feared at the time.

      2. lindamciver

        mmm, I think perhaps we’re using different measures. You’re measuring what people *say* about leaders, I’m thinking about voting habits. There is surprisingly low correlation between the two. Howard, after all, introduced the GST and got off scott free.

      3. Joe

        Fair point. Howard got pummeled in the election where he was talking GST, then managed adequate distractions for the following election… with the GST having been by then a small enough issue in retrospect (to most of the punters) that it kind of fell off most of the public care factor radar in spite of Labor trying to ham it up again. Suggesting maybe more people do let old matters drop over time. Or maybe it just slid into the overall miasma of impressions, and there really were more immediately played-up or big enough issues occupying people’s minds at the following election that the GST blurk was diminished by comparison.

        But I thought your complaint was precisely that politicians react too much to what people say about them? (Which they, too, get from the opinion polls.) And that I was saying it’s their job (entrenched and codified in our political system) to care what people are saying (at any moment) about them / the issues / their policies / their decisions.

        Howard “got away with” being a leader, in this respect, by implementing a policy that he felt fit with an overall economic plan, which was his agenda, in spite of ourselves … because overall we voted for his party and from that position he did what he felt was right regardless of the thorny PR that he surely knew went with it.

      4. lindamciver

        Yep, I do feel they listen to polls so much that they don’t lead, they do what they think will win them the next election. In those rare cases where politicians have led (think Howard with the GST, think Kennett with a lot of things) it mostly depresses me what they have actually done, but I would still rather see them do what they believe is right, rather than what they believe is politically expedient. The biggest point, though, is that I would prefer what they believe to be influenced by evidence, rather than by partisan dogma.

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