Saturday Essay: Most politicians embrace bad science. But New Labour embraces more than most.


We waste ten of billions of public money every year because politicians and bureaucrats are too lazy to keep up with science.

Out of Broadband’s clutches for a few hours last Thursday, I was reduced to watching afternoon daytime television. It wound up on one of those Channels showing old US detective, medical and comedy series: the ones where the process doesn’t even pretend to be about repeating stuff: it’s merely nostalgic infill television. Everyone in these shows died years ago, and even the characters aged around fifty have hair covering half their ears, with ties wide enough to act as a makeshift parachute in case of emergencies.

After about ten minutes or so of watching such shows, it dawns on the viewer that there are no mobile phones. During the in-car action, nothing rings or beeps. There is drama as the hero screeches to a halt and dashes towards a payphone. Back at the indoor sets, phones have curly-wurly wires. People stand still while using them – probably the best way to avoid pulling half the wall down.

But I was a good hour into this vaguely disturbing process before I noticed something else: none of the characters’ voices went UP AT THE END OF THEIR SENTENCES. When they were expressing views to each other, it didn’t – you know? – sound as though EVERYTHING WAS A QUESTION?

There’s more to this than grumpy old man. There is an insight, and it is this: while nobody can uninvent technology, it is not just likely but inevitable that fashions of dress, behaviour, speech and syntax will disappear completely in time. So too will silly ideas, provably wrong ideas, social trends and radio DJs as damnably irritating as Ken Bruce.

This is important, because it dictates a powerful reality: we must accept technology and adapt to it. But we are not similarly constrained when it comes to human mores. Cultural attitudes can be changed; saying “Yes, but it’s the way people are these days – you have to accept it” is not only wet, it’s also completely wrong.

Technological change will always be a curate’s egg requiring selective consumption. But Homo sapiens can be studied – and prepared for new challenges – using three excellent sciences: neurology, genetics, and social anthropology. These too have concrete findings which cannot be uninvented, although the more pc-potty end of New Labour would prefer it if they were ignored.

The species wiring behind such findings cannot be altered without evolution. I think it is possible we will eventually become the first species on the planet to evolve ourselves using genetic manipulation; but the practicalities (and dangers) of so doing are too onerous for consideration in the foreseeable future. So for quite some time yet, we will have to make the best of what we were given.

This has pressing political significance. New Labour instinctively (but irrationally) has two ignorant elements in its flawed belief system. First, it thinks our dysfunctional human wiring can be dealt with by thousands and thousands of laws telling us variously to do or not do just about everything. Second, it has paid almost zero attention to the recent developments in the human sciences referred to above.

The flaws in turn produce two disastrous results: an erosion of liberty, and hugely expensive mistakes in socio-economic strategy. Specifically, it has produced (in no particular order) overpaid GPs, overworked and muddled social workers, laws telling us how to feel about other cultures, overcrowded prisons, medical treatment rationing, misguided responses to the econo-fiscal crisis, and appalling judicial abuses of society’s most vulnerable members.

In turn, ignorance underlies several feminist precepts, most of the prison system, and all policy debate about how we raise finance for capitalism.

The Conservative Party under David Cameron has caught this same insight-attacking virus, but as a political grouping it remains correct about one thing: you can’t evolve human nature by putting up notices, having inquiries, erecting vast bureaucratic systems, and passing anti-libertarian laws. The Libdems (a hybrid result at least partly of the Grimond tradition of liberalism) should also accept this natural, empirically proven genetic law entirely, but they don’t. However, both Clegg and Cable seem to get the money thing – as of course do the Tories: they just all lack the character and cojones to say so publicly.

But almost none of these people – right across the Commons spectrum – are up to speed with relevant human sciences. They are largely clueless about attitude change, social behaviour, the anthropology of commerce, learned behaviour, media effects, instinctive and hormonal influences, and an array of other learnings.

There’s an excellent reason for this, and I’m afraid it’s the same old same one. The Establishment (and especially the pc Establishment) has a vested interest in leaving the mists of bigoted nonsense that disguise contemporary social problems precisely where they are.

If we’re going to have a hung Parliament, then I stick with the preference I expressed ten months ago: a Tory Government kept in power (and in line) by the Liberal Democrats. Not only will this block the Mad Hattie’s Tea Party from access to power. It will also, I think, start the death-throes of The Labour Party…..and who knows, with proper constitutional reform, thus provide the catalyst for a new grouping to arise.

It’s not ideal, and it’s not even very likely. But we must above all have hope.