Social engineering consists of two phases:
1. What could possibly go wrong?
2. How were we supposed to know?
For every case in which question number two is asked, it is because question number one was never asked with sufficient rigor. For most of the social disasters that now afflict us, that rigor would have been trivially easy to achieve. A quick gedanken experiment – a thought experiment – would have sufficed to warn us off. For most policy proposals, such tests usually take about a minute.
Here’s the experimental set up. Take two experimental subjects. They are two nations, or two peoples, that are exactly similar in every way – same population, same genetic inheritance, same natural resources, same climate, same customs and traditions, same system of political economy, same religion, same technical and industrial capacities, same wealth, same everything. Assume no natural disasters or benisons that afflict or benefit either group differently. Both are faced with exactly the same set of environmental factors.
Having taken this step, you have controlled for all the factors of social success and failure, other than the policy you are interested to test. So, now, you are ready to test your proposed policy. Apply it to one group, but not to the other. Which is more likely to prosper: the group that adopts the proposed policy, or the group that does not?
Notice that we are not asking which group will be nicer or more fair or more just. Justice, fairness and niceness are optional only for societies that have managed to prevail and survive in the competition with their neighbours. We are only asking which group will be wealthier, more powerful, larger and more capable; and which group will have greater morale, commitment, ingenuity, all the moral, emotional and intellectual factors of demographic success. So, it’s purely a question of natural selection; like asking which is likely to do better, as between a pig and a pig with opposable thumbs.
NB that this does *not* meant that the test is amoral (this should be our first clue that natural selection in general, however natural it may be, is not amoral – ergo, not strictly ateleological). Existence is the first moral good, the sine qua non, upon which all other goods supervene. Existence, then – sheer survival, as against all its competitors – is the de minimis moral goodness that a society must necessarily achieve, in order to achieve any other additional good.
Most of the policies proposed by the left fail this gedanken experiment instantly. Gay “marriage”? Children raised by strangers, versus their mothers? Irreligion? Cosmopolitanism? PC? Women in combat units? Subsidizing sloth? Insulating the vicious from the vicious consequences of their wickedness? Pfft! With everything else held equal, a society that did not indulge such fantasies would crush a society that did.
Many policies advocated by right liberals also fail pretty quickly: e.g., the universal franchise, popular Senatorial elections, laws against discrimination in the workplace, and so forth.
But it gets interesting when one begins to consider the proposals of various parties on the illiberal right. Selectively high tariffs to effect industrial policy, or flat tariffs across the board? Interest: ok or not? Establishment of religion, or not? Popular election or not? If so, then what are the criteria for electors? In respect to such questions, we may expect the gedanken experiment to get much, much tougher to perform – and meatier, more interesting, more informative.
Would that our predicament was such that we needed to make real decisions among such options, in order to determine the order of a basically sensible society! In the meantime, the gedanken policy test can be used to excise absurd proposals from your discourse with your interlocutors, quickly, cleanly, and decisively – and with no hard feelings. They’ll do it themselves, if you set up the experiment properly.