Exploration of the Political Thinker: Interview #3 - Whiteflame

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  • RationalMadman
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    Welcome to EPT, the place where we explore the spectrum of one's political outlook, not just the place on the assumed spectrum that we'd place one!

    As with the previous show, today's interview will be with a non-denominational political thinker, namely Whiteflame.
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    Would you care to explain to us why you identify without labels and what you think labels do to society and politics?
  • whiteflame
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    I would consider myself a moderate liberal, though I think that label doesn't define much of my viewpoint, just as labels like that generally fail to capture how individuals perceive the world around them. They're convenient for categorizing people, but fitting much of the population into clearly distinct boxes is pretty close to impossible. The best we can expect from labels like these is to get some idea of the leanings of a person, and while those are informative, labels like "liberal" and "conservative" can be and often are viewed as static, unchanging states. So, I suppose my problem isn't so much with the labels themselves as how they're perceived, something that political leaders, pollsters and others in society often fail to recognize.
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    The obvious motive to box people in, is to help the leaders strategise campaigns and placate the populace so that they resent and try to change each other rather than resent and try to change the system itself. This is merely how it's become a well-esablished thing though, we were already splitting ourselves up long ago (otherwise we'd be a one-world nation or a one-city reality even).

    What would you say that you identify with in the label 'moderate liberal' and what do you find is wrong with the term 'liberal' as well as 'moderate'?
  • whiteflame
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    Labeling is necessary to some degree, whether by choice or by some external body. The problem comes in when people see themselves as part of the group that they are assigned to (or assign themselves to), rather than a collection of their own views.

    Both of the terms are a bit broad. I'm solidly in the socially liberal camp, more moderate in my economic views, though I still skew liberal. For example, I would say I'm pro-progressive taxation, though I think there are limits to how much the rich should be taxed. I've got strong views about gun violence and see many possible routes forward with gun control, but I view gun rights as essential and would do little to restrict ownership of guns. In that way, I wouldn't say I align well with many liberals on these issues, and I see a lot of validity to certain more conservative views.

    In general, though, the idea that there's a solid "left" and "right" and that taking things from both sides is somehow moderate is frustrating to me, and the same holds true with the term "centrism". It suggests a sliding, linear scale, and I view political views as more dynamic than that. It's not one dimensional, and while some political spectra use other general terms like communitarianism vs. individualism to turn it two dimensional, even that seems to fall short of accuracy in interpretation of many political views. These are good terms for the sake of simplifying complex perspectives, but they oversimplify to the point that much of what it tells you isn't meaningful. 
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    --> @whiteflame
    So, you're a scientist yes? Does this play into your political views? Would you highly prioritise technological development above all else? 

    What's your opinion on Trump and NASA using their budget on SpaceX holidays during this highly chaotic time, both due to the virus and the event with the cop?
  • whiteflame
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    I am. My expertise is in microbiology. It probably shouldn't have a role in my political views, though these days, even accepting basic scientific evidence seems to be politically polarizing. What my scientific background gives me is an understanding of what good science is, and unfortunately, there are people on both sides of the political aisle that dismiss clear evidence. In that regard, it keeps me from going too far towards the fringes of either side of the political spectrum.

    I would not prioritize technological development above all else in every instance. When that technology is well tested and provides a clear benefit, I think it's usually justified to pursue it. I think that, when it comes to things like GMO foods and human cloning, people are skittish for the wrong reasons, and they are both worth pursuing. That being said, I think there are ethical layers to any such choice, and they should not be ignored. Genetic engineering is an amazing tool, but should be used wisely and we need to be very careful to regulate that use. 

    I'm generally not a fan of most of the things this president has done (his perspectives on scientific evidence being among the most galling for me). During times like these when national attention should be focused on the pandemic and serious racial issues, I don't think it makes sense to divert any of that attention or the budget to SpaceX.
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    With science, you say that we should be pretty ambitious and willing to endeavour new things so long as the ones doing it handle it wisely, yes?

    Is this your approach with all aspects of politics, such as education, healthcare, new benefits schemes etc.?
  • whiteflame
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    That's pretty accurate. I'd say that holds up for other areas as well, though the difference is that innovation in the sciences is usually based on a clear, objective improvement (e.g. a crop that resists a given pest will grow better and feed more people) with little to no negative effect, so long as appropriate measures are taken to test it before rolling it out. When it comes to things like education and health care, sometimes the better ideas may appear to be steps backwards to plans that were previously discarded, either for poor reasons or because of issues with implementation that could be better handled with hindsight. I think reexamining many aspects of society and how we implement them is valuable in all cases, but the solutions aren't necessarily going to be new and shiny. 
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    Since your ethos overall runs against 'if it aint broke don't fix it', what do you say to people who go by that?

    Also, regarding society's morality in an extreme scenario like human cloning or even testing, do you think it's correct on a moral level that the desperate poor should be willing to do severe harm to their bodies in the name of science? These are often people who are so desperate and helpless due to a lack of sufficient welfare safety net for the poor.
  • whiteflame
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    Part of the problem with that ethos is that it doesn't really acknowledge what "broke" means. Just because something has been functional for a long time doesn't mean it's the best way of doing things from here on out. Improvements can take many forms and save more than we may realize before implementing them. Deciding whether something is broken is simply a question of whether it could be better without significant risk.

    I strongly feel that consent is a necessary prerequisite to any testing on human beings, bar none. Whether consent is obtained via misinformation or coercion, it should not be treated as though the individual consented. I would say that a poor individual who is essentially coerced into being a guinea pig for a given drug treatment is an example of coercion, and therefore completely unethical. At the same time, I think it is necessary for studies to pay their participants, and that will make them a draw for the poorer people among us. That means there's a balancing act of sorts, though I think it behooves scientific researchers to ensure that any study participants are fully aware of what they are getting into and at least do not appear to be coerced by the monetary incentive. That may not be simple to establish, but it must be done.