01 April 2012

Another World Of The Future Wish List

It's that one day of the year where statements of fact are not reliable, so another list of discoveries and advances that I'd like to see, whether or not they are likely or viable, seemed to be in order:

* Common source purging news Internet searches. If you've ever done a Google search of a news story, you quickly discover that there are vast numbers of hits that do essentially nothing but restate a single news story that is the common source of vast numbers of hits with longer or shorter quotations from it. In a better world, all of that would be swiftly purged so that out of all those hits, only the common source would come up, and independent sources about the same story which offer additional information would all appear at the top of the results next to each other in reverse chronological order. It is possible to do this by hand, and now and again I do it, but a lot of its seems succeptible to automation.

* Free online white pages type information. One area where the Internet is vastly worse than the pre-Internet era is in finding the telephone number and address of someone whose name and general place of residence you know. The white pages of the telephone directory used to do this very effectively for free. Now, any Internet search seems to turn up only a mountain of fee for service companies selling information that isn't even protected by copyright. Would it be so impossible to type in a name and a city and to expect a white pages directory listing to show up for free?

* Widespread predictive genotyping Imagine if all genotype profiles with interesting known or suspected phenotypic consequences were easily and cheaply available and if those profiles included major personality and mental health related genes, genes related to physical development and appearance, and genes related medical health. Wouldn't it be nice to know yourself better?

* "Scientific education" For all of the research that has been done in educational psychology and instructional methods, you'd think that it would have had some impact on actual pedagogy. Yet, the vast numbers of publications in the area, thousand of PhDs in pertinent fields, and substantial efforts devoted to research don't seem to have had much practical impact. Even in fields where the bottom line conclusions seem clear (e.g. foreign language instruction is more effective in immersion like experience for K-12 aged people than it is in classroom type instruction for college students or worse yet, graduate students), nobody seems to be doing anything about it. Wouldn't it be amazing if some strongly empirically supported conclusions could be collected, used to generate a new consensus on how we educate people, and synthesized into a new standard that was widely adopted and actually improve the quality of education for most people?

* Politically punishing candiates for idiotic ideas and ideas contrary to the rule of law. Wouldn't it be great if the major political parties each developed effective means to politically punish candidates who support ideas that are wildly off base? Imagine a world where it would be political suicide to suggest that judges should be arrested for writing legal opinions that the candidate disagreed with, or suggesting that a U.S. state's secession from the United States was a good idea. Imagine a world where people who suggested that lowering taxes would increase long term tax collections would receive the ridicule they deserved. Imagine a world where people who simultaneously proposed more spending, lower taxes and reducing the deficit would be told to take remedial math classes instead of elevated to positions of power. Imagine a world where suggesting that Iraq's regime was behind 9-11, or that President Obama was not a U.S. citizen or was a Muslim would be a sure ticket to a dead end political career. Imagine a world where people cared more about offending the 95% of the population that uses birth control and not the 5% of the population that is anti-birth control. Imagine a world where it wasn't so hard to acknowledge that equal quantities of crack cocaine and powder cocaine are equivalent drugs. Imagine a world where calls to violence directed a political opponents undermined a candidate's political support. Imagine a world where the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world were irrelevant crackpots who couldn't get anyone to pay to listen to them rather than massively influential political forces.

Yes, to a great extent, we elect politicians who make stupid proposals because "we the people" are stupid. But, is it so impossible to design a political system that creates incentives for politicians not to adhere to proveably stupid ideas? Is it impossible to imagine a more reality based, rule of law rooted, humane political discourse emerging?

I'm not asking for differences in political ideology to disappear. I'm not asking for a world where people are always nice to each other (although some veneer of civility would be pleasant) and certainly not for an end to negative advertising or legal prohibitions on certain points of view that send people to jail. I'm just asking for the political system itself to be better at imposing political consequences for certain kinds of rhetoric in a way that would reshape our political culture, and a world where the prejudices and ignorance of the least of us would not be the driving force behind our leaders.

I'm honestly quite unsure what precisely would have to change to make that kind of a regime work, but it would be worth a lot to find out.

* Creationism and similar counterfactual religious ideas cease to be respectible. I don't think we should persecute people who hold weird religious beliefs. But, I do think it would be wonderful if blatantly counterfactual religious beliefs became less popular to the point of being unrespectible in the absence of government coercion. Wouldn't it be great if young earth creationism were as rare a belief in the United States as it is in Europe or China? Wouldn't it be great if belief in an actual global Noahic flood as a historic event was largely confined to ranting loonies in communes hidden away in the wilderness and divorced from the world? I don't have any real hope even that the world become truly secular, but it would be nice if some of the more crazy ideas would collapse under their own weight among members of the general public. Wouldn't it be great if supporting creationism was political suicide for a candidate?

* Incarceration is used more selectively. Wouldn't it be great if drug users were directed to effective treatment rather than having their lives ruined? Wouldn't it be great if we could manage in a society that didn't lock people who were minor participants in a robbery or burglary where they didn't kill anyone, ask that anyone be killed or expect someone to be killed to be punished for robbery or burglary instead of murder if someone else they associated with killed someone? Wouldn't it be great if we didn't send people to prison for decades for being negligent parents who were genuinely heartbroken at their children's deaths or serious injuries and regretted their mistakes? Must we continue to sentence people who consume child pornography to longer prison sentences than people who personally molest children?

* More Entitled Orphans Most modern orphans (i.e. currently legally parentless minors) aren't people whose parents are both dead while they are still minors. They are people for whom one or both parents have had their parental rights terminated by the state for abuse or neglect. They are victims. Some are swiftly adopted, but many aren't.

Yet, the foster care system into which we dump them into typically provides them the bare minimum of fiscal resources until they are left to fend for themselves upon attaining an age of majority if they aren't adopted. Don't we owe people whom the state have declared to have been victimized and who generally inherit nothing in terms of property from their parents a better deal than what we give them now? Since we have made them orphans, shouldn't we take responsibility for leaving these kids who have been through more than the average kid better off materially than the average kid once we find replacement care for them? Shouldn't we have an even higher imperative to prevent them from being revictimized in their new situations than we did to remove them from the situation we declared to be intolerable in the first place? Along the same lines see this law review article: Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, ""State Orphans" in the United States: A Failure of Intergenerational Solidarity."

We are talking about less than 409,000 kids in foster care at any one time, of whom about 64,000 were legal orphans, in a country will more than 300 million people. Would it kill us as a society to be a little more generous towards them?

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