We have more data now than ever before. If decision-making is an informed process, then we have more information than we know what to do with. In theory this superfluity of information means that our leaders should be the best equipped to make decisions of any leaders who have ever lived. Rather than rely on "gut feeling" decisions, leaders of any kind can now make informed choices, with realtime segmented data, and therefore leaders can make better choices, right?

At the same time that data has become undeniably "Big," the progressive secular values that dominate business culture and Liberal Democracy alike, are having a crisis of identity. For a while, it seemed like it would be enough to establish basic rules and leave "freedom" to color in the outlines of life. Increasingly, we have big problems that need big action, and we see the horizon of possibility for big moves receding. Who takes decisive action anymore? Who does not immediately complicate or water down choices because of data? Who does not walk back their decisions even after having watered them down to near fecklessness? Increasingly, it is only the lunatic fringe displaying any vigor for big moves

Stamina in corporate or political hierarchy has become the ability to suffer fecklessness. The longer you can suffer fecklessness without losing your mind, the farther up you will go in the corporate hierarchy. If you can be cheerful about it, you are CEO. As long as the data are not screaming, then the institution is working and should not be tinkered with. We shouldn't have a society in which being feckless becomes synonymous with being "reasonable." We shouldn't be a society in which it is literally crazy to think that big changes are possible. More importantly, we cannot survive being a society that has forgotten how to choose.

There is a saying that nothing worth doing was ever accomplished by one individual alone. And this saying has a lot of truth to it. Building a house, a business, or a field of study, clearly are collective activities, and very little of consequence could have happened in human history without collective choices. What becomes increasingly clear everyday, is that individuals occupy key decision points, and that entire organizations can fall to their knees if only a few key decision makers start to punt. This key insight is where the authoritarians have us beat. It is almost precious how naive liberal democratic societies can be.

Everyone in the world should read Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics." It would remove so much confusion from present day Ethics debates, if Aristotle were required reading. In the Ethics, Aristsotle makes clear the connection between information and decisions: Logic. Luckily each of us is endowed with logic (however entangled it may be in our tribal affiliations). Just like anyone can drive a car without being a mechanic, you don't have to be a logician to think thoughts, or to make good decisions (and thank goodness for that).

Behold the most basic, (and possibly the most famous), syllogism on earth:

All men are mortal. (Major Premise)
Socrates is a man. (Minor Premise)
Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (Conclusion)

This kind of syllogism is the most basic logical structure of reasoning. Let's be clear, it is reductive, and intentionally so. When people think, they tend to have much more nuanced thoughts, and their thoughts are much more probabilistic. Rather than "all men are mortal," a momentary judgment might be something more along the lines of, "most men of x age in y location, wearing z clothes, who speak in w manners...are hipsters; and this dude right here is probably a hipster." Sometimes, you see a dog, and you identify it as a dog, no nuance... Distilling the logic to its simplest basis is for instruction purposes.

The most basic syllogism represents the intersection of information-gathering (minor premise) and pre-judgments (major premise), and judgments (conclusion). Sometimes the major premise is called "your priors" and the conclusion you "posteriors." The major premise is a generalization, a categorical statement, or a definition. The mechanism of syllogism works like this: Given a generalization, and a particular case, a conclusion logically will follow. The conclusion can be of two kinds: Judgment, or Action. In the syllogism above, the conclusion is a judgment. In a practical syllogism, the conclusion is an action.

In the "Nicomachean Ethics," Aristotle gives us these two practical syllogisms:

Major premise: People should exercise;
Minor premise: I am a person;
Conclusion: I should exercise.

Major premise: Good students take notes;
Minor premise: I want to be a good student;
Conclusion: I should take notes.

In a practical syllogism, it is clear that the "major premise" is a value statement, rather than like a dictionary definition. It is a statement that compells action because it is a statement about what is "Good," rather than being a statement about what is "True." All men are mortal, and people should exercise, may both be true statements, but they are true in very different ways, right? The major premise in practical reasoning is where the bulk of disagreements between people occur.

The major premise in practical logic is a value statement about "The Good Life." If you live in an agrarian society, which does not reward bookishness, being a "good student" may not involve taking notes at all. Rather than taking notes, a good student of agriculture might observe seeds closely, or interact with soil... who knows (I am not an expert farmer). There is a lot that goes unsaid in that major premise, and maybe that is because those of us living in big metro areas (most of us) share a pretty unprecedentedly uniform mono-culture, in which we tend to agree upon what is or is not good.

In a Bayesian world, some might argue, the major premise too, can become the subject of statistical truth. "Good students take notes," and "People should exercise" are truths revealed in data, aren't they? If we can agree upon some basic definitions, then yes. In the context of a narrow business case, machine learning holds so much promise. It can show us patterns in our data and interactions between factors, which we may not even have known to ask about. And yet at the same time, it is clear that machine learning is doing nothing to unite society across a rural-urban divide, and does not seem to be improving the human temptation towards fascism.

Robots cannot be leaders because they aren't people. It's a point that is so simple, it almost seems trite, like it's perhaps not worth pointing out at all. Machines can learn, and through machines, we can make more accurate generalizations about what is the case. We can also make more accurate generalizations, through polling, surveys, and behavior proxies, about how people want their lives to go. But every leader, as leader, must make face an irreducible decision point, at which they insert their own minor premise, "This is what I want," and chooses on that basis. They cannot choose on the basis of polls or studies or focus groups. Choice is the very opposite of what liberal democracy is supposed to be about.

"Trust the Science," has become a political rally cry in the age of social media, especially during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Well before the pandemic, the dichotomy between "science" and "faith" is a popular wedge issue that policitians like to employ. Failure to "trust science" clearly is a mistake (what else can we trust?), but what if science remains silent about key deciding factors? Who or what in science tells us what kind of life or lives is/are "The Good Life," versus not? We need to be honest with ourselves about what speaks in us each time we take decisive action. It isn't even possible to deny action, as it is with mere words.

Clearly safety and health are good things to seek in life, but an overly safe life focused on mere bodily fitness renders each of us "a pig, in a cage, on antibiotics." Clearly productivity is a good thing, and yet we can all easily see how obsession with productivity is shallow at best, and genocidal at worst (children, the elderly, and the disabled are not productive). Clearly the freedom to consume luxury and beauty is good, but total freedom is unmoored, and consumption desensitizes us and destroys the planet. In other words? It's complicated...

It is hard to figure out what is good, what we ought to pursue in life, and what the good life is. Each of us has the experience of trying to live out a "dream" or "vision," and realizing that it did not go as planned. Either we imagined it wrong, or we imagined it more or less accurately, but failed in projecting the minor premise: We were wrong about what we would want or value in the situation.

Philosophers have tried to reconcile structural fairness in Ethics, with political fairness. Justice, it turns out, is about everyone being left alone, about "equal opportunity." Thick vague conceptions of "The Good Life" give us flavor, but without the calories of real food. Aristotle himself spent the majority of the "Nichomachean Ethics" dealing with use cases, and spectra. The cardinal virtue of being "Good" within these spectra tranlsated as a kind of "moderation," and making good choices as "prudence." Structural ethics produce generalizations, which can be applied to particular cases, and supposedly does not devolve into relativism, which is great. It's also right at home for statistical tools, insofar as statistical concepts are mathimatical versions of "moderation."

A lot of data is not about what "is the case," but about what "ought to be the case," or rather, "what people think ought to be the case." When using data to generate concepts of "Good," we back into every definition via the second derivative of intention. Any number of states of being can share a second derivative at any given time without in fact being the same. Almost every electronic device contains a computer, (including gadgets as dumb and innocuous as toasters and thermostats), and every tiny computer is either already engaged in or totally capable of data collection (and often transmission). What you can know about my behavior and my life is extraordinary. But how does that model translate in Being?

"Teleology" is a word that I used a lot, once upon a time. Back in my Philosophy era Nowadays, unless I myself speak these words, they never ever figure into my life. I suspect that if I were to stop uttering them entirely, I might live out my remaining years without ever hearing them again. Whether something performs its function well or badly depends upon what its purpose is. And its purpose is its "Telos." What is "The Good Life" for a human, to borrow the concept of usefulness, depends upon the purpose of a human life. And for Aristotle, this purpose is, "To live well." It isn't an error. It is an intentional tautology. Because he gets it: Truth is based on a tautology, and inside every heart is the will of a dictator.

In an age of big data, combined with liberal democratic principles, decision points can nearly vanish, and decisions can become seemingly impossible. Leadership should be defined as the very recognition that data is insufficient to determine action. Too much information is paralyzing. Big data is only going to increase our temptation for fascism. Admit it, you want a girl who cuts through red tape as much as anyone.