I Beg To Differ, Dr. Tyson

With the greatest affection, I beg to differ, Dr. Tyson.

I remember one winter as a kid, having collected a bunch of change in an origami box for my church. It was supposed to help the woman who’d had her kids’ Christmas presents stolen from her car. Having done so well at collecting money, the minister at my church decided that I should step in front of the congregation and talk about why people should help. I wasn’t asked. I wasn’t warned. Just come up in front of all of these people and talk.

And so began a life where, from time to time, without warning, people would just hand me the reigns. And I, being an introvert unaccustomed to saying the kinds of things that gathered people liked to hear, did not want them. Though I appreciated the trust and recognized the opportunity to do some good, I have never wanted the reigns. Sometimes things worked out great and it was a good thing I was there. But there have also been times where I was absolutely the wrong person for that spot. Alas, there are few ways to refuse gracefully. And, in the absence of a better alternative, I occasionally find myself even stepping forward to take them in hand. But I don’t want to. I never want to.

You don’t have to want to lead in order to lead. Indeed, sometimes that results in better leadership.

I’d like to think that, at least in a few situations, I was able to get the right thing done. And this is my point, Dr. Tyson. You, and folks like you, clearly have had a sufficient breadth of life experience coupled with an appreciation for a process of coming to the right solution unparalleled in human history that you could do some real good in our hinky political system.

I think the problem with politics is that politicians are generally not representative of the population. I don’t think that the job of a politician is something that only lawyers and merchants should get to do. Politicking isn’t the same as practicing medicine or building a rocket. Being a politician (a good one) is about communicating ideas in a way that inspires people around you to act, bridging the gap between people with dissenting opinions, and being big enough to recognize when your perfectly reasonable theory has proven to be incorrect. Scientists have demonstrated themselves capable of this again and again, even when faced with the hardest hits. I have seen almost none of this in our politicians.

I agree that we should educate the electorate. The reason for keeping the vote away from groups of people throughout our nation’s history (apart from obvious -isms) has been that they were insufficiently educated to handle the responsibility. It’s the reason we still have an Electoral College. But if you educate the citizenry properly, thoroughly, and in as unbiased a manner as can be mustered, they make better political, social, and economic decisions.

But (and I’m talking directly to you, Dr. Tyson, using language you might use yourself) we cannot achieve that without the right people making those things happen. We will not have a better educated electorate if we do not have people in power who are willing to spend the money and political capital to see it done. We need… we desperately need a better pool of candidates. I think we should look outside of the standard mold (…because they’re moldy…) and take a closer look at our nation’s scientists.

I think one of the reasons so many Republicans are anti-science is because a good number of scientists are Democrats, even if they’re not outspoken about it. But I also think a good number of scientists (I would guess most of them) are a-political moderates who just gravitate toward what reason (rather than party) tells them is right.

You’ve spoken before about how nations in the middle east were centers of scientific thinking until their religion took over and turned them into an intellectual backwater.

This is how Iran looked in the 60s before it became a theocracy.

That wasn’t that long ago. You know how it looks today…

I know what a theocratic culture looks like, but maybe everyone doesn’t want to live in the Vatican or wear a burka. I know what a martial culture looks like but maybe everyone doesn’t want to live in Sparta or slice open their guts in shame. I know what a merchant culture looks like. We live in one. So did Kankan Musa. If a person’s interests are worship or soldiering or money, then good on them. But I’ve seen what happens when they take over a culture and I want something different.

I have no idea what a culture lead by scientists would look like. But I’d really like to. I don’t even know what you’d call it.

A ratiocracy – the rule of reason?

That’s a good definition but a terrible name. Or maybe… just maybe… maybe we just don’t need to have a culture where access to power is based on your job or your gang, but rather your character. Seems to me that was the plan all along.

I understand why neither you nor anyone else accustomed to a particular work environment would want to put yourselves through the scrapple-maker that is politics. It is not easy. It is not clean. It is not safe. All it would cost you is your reputation (ha). But you could do a lot of good. And you could pave the way for a lot of good people doing good things. I accept that maybe it’s not for you, Dr. Tyson. But we have to leave the door open for people that might not consider it for themselves solely because they don’t have the right pedigree.

All of this comes from a place of affection. I like what you do. I just want things to work. I just want reasonable people doing and saying what reasonable people do and say so that we can do the next things that we as humans are supposed to be doing. Because it’s 2017 and we really shouldn’t still be wrestling with the kind of bull that we still do.


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