Will data vs magic replace right vs left in politics?

For most of the 20th century politics was defined by a left vs right paradigm. The left generally representing more socialist and collective policies, the right generally representing more individualist and capitalist policies. However, that fight is sort of played out.

Most people now recognize that some combination of the above is needed, that neither socialism nor capitalism, individualism or collectivism work when taken to extremes. There may still be some battles over where exactly the right balance is, but for all but the most extreme ends of the political spectrum, balance is now the goal.

Among moderates, the left-centre and large parts of the right-centre “evidence-based policy” is the new goal. The idea is to gather evidence from a variety of fields including science, engineering, public health, social psychology, economics and others and to put together policies that are the most likely to work, with the greatest efficiency and at the lowest cost and the highest economic benefit.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s coalition and similar movements throughout the west seem to be made up of people for whom evidence is inconvenient or unacceptable. This, in fact, would seem to be their defining and uniting characteristic. Trump, whose administration coined the term “alternative facts“, who misuses and abuses the term “fake news” and who regularly attacks the media, is a habitual liar. His coalition of supporters includes religious extremists who think that Trump was chosen by God to lead them. It also includes White nationalists and xenophobes, anti vaccination activists (anti-vaxxers), UFO conspiracy theorists, climate science deniers, and adherents to just about every other conspiracy theory you can think of, as well as some new ones.

These are all forms of ‘magical thinking’. That term is used most often as it relates to religion but can be applied to most conspiracy theories. The basic connecting thread behind them all is a need to believe that the world is not as it seems or as it appears in data. Instead, there needs to be some greater force at work, whether that is a god, the Illuminati, the Deep State, billionaires and corporate CEOs, gremlins, or other. Not coincidentally, this type seems to be most common among people for whom a color blind, gender blind, global meritocracy with evidence-driven policies would put them at a real or perceived disadvantage.

While the magic vs data battle is most prominent and easily identified in the United States, it does not appear to be limited to America. There are signs of this divide appearing in Canada, the UK, large parts of Europe and elsewhere.

There is still a great deal of talk about the left/right divide being about capitalism vs. socialism and individualism vs collectivism. However, most of that rhetoric seems to be coming from people who are very old and people who have a limited understanding of modern politics. The new battle seems to be between educated, rational people who are capable of understanding evidence, data and logical analysis and people who either are not capable, or who are triggered by what the data shows and are banding together to present an alternative, unsupported reality.

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