Too Dumb For Democracy

Today we have something a little different, and a first for this blog – a reader submission. Via reader Aristokles Smith (@Aristokles11235 on Twitter) comes this article from Live Science, which appeared on Yahoo News. This one is important, so I’ll reproduce it in its entirety here.

People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say

 
The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies.
 
The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people’s ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.
 
As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, “very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is,” Dunning told Life’s Little Mysteries.
 
He and colleague Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now of New York University, have demonstrated again and again that people are self-delusional when it comes to their own intellectual skills. Whether the researchers are testing people’s ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess, the duo has found  that people always assess their own performance as “above average” — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile. [Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It]
 
We’re just as undiscerning about the skills of others as about ourselves. “To the extent that you are incompetent, you are a worse judge of incompetence in other people,” Dunning said. In one study, the researchers asked students to grade quizzes that tested for grammar skill. “We found that students who had done worse on the test itself gave more inaccurate grades to other students.” Essentially, they didn’t recognize the correct answer even when they saw it.
 
The reason for this disconnect is simple: “If you have gaps in your knowledge in a given area, then you’re not in a position to assess your own gaps or the gaps of others,” Dunning said. Strangely though, in these experiments, people tend to readily and accurately agree on who the worst performers are, while failing to recognize the best performers.
 
The most incompetent among us serve as canaries in the coal mine signifying a larger quandary in the concept of democracy; truly ignorant people may be the worst judges of candidates and ideas, Dunning said, but we all suffer from a degree of blindness stemming from our own personal lack of expertise.
 
Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Dunning and Kruger’s theories by computer-simulating a democratic election. In his mathematical model of the election, he assumed that voters’ own leadership skills were distributed on a bell curve — some were really good leaders, some, really bad, but most were mediocre — and that each voter was incapable of recognizing the leadership skills of a political candidate as being better than his or her own. When such an election was simulated, candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.
 
Nagel concluded that democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they “effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders.”
 

The science is in, as Adam Curry might say. And here’s what it says: The “wisdom of crowds” is a lie; there is no inherent excellence in democracies or their leaders; and democracy, like all forms of Demotism, cannot escape failure at the hands of its implacable nemesis, human folly.

P.S. Yes, I’ve seen the TechCrunch article on the Neo-Reactionary movement. If you haven’t read it, you should. More to come about it, and the mainstream attention that the Neo-Reaction has started to receive, soon.

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Short Takes

This week just before the holiday seems like a fine time for another edition of Short Takes – ideas that I believe need to be expressed, but wouldn’t be quite long enough to have a column of their own. In the spirit of the season, let’s dig right in:

1. The more time goes by, the more I become convinced that American politics cannot be truly understood without a good working knowledge of professional wrestling. What’s that, you say? Professional wrestling is complete fakery? It’s a histrionic bit of badly-staged play-acting featuring terrible performers? That it’s full of one-dimensional “face” and “heel” characters that are completely phony and entirely predictable? That they mostly just pander to crowds to get cheap “pop” or “heat” and engage in pointless, playground-level smack talk devoid of any intellectually stimulating content?  That only the most unsophisticated of rubes could fail to look past the “kayfabe” illusion they’re being shown, and to see that the what is presented to them as “real” actually bears no resemblance whatsoever to the reality going on behind the scenes? That it’s all a fixed game – designed to distract fools from the fact that they’re being suckered by cheap theatrics?

Exactly.

2. Here is the essential difference between libertarianism and liberalism: Libertarians define freedom as being left alone to do as they please, and in return agreeing to take the consequences of their decisions upon themselves. Liberals define freedom as being left alone to do as they please, and being granted the ability to pass off the consequences of their decisions onto other people. Thus, while libertarianism may be unworkable in a real world that must deal with human nature as it actually exists, it is at least a philosophy of adults. Liberalism is no more than the philosophical and political arm of the desire for eternal adolescence.

3. Related: The older I get, the less I feel any desire to shield fools – and especially arrogant fools – from the entirely predictable consequences of their own obviously poor decisions.

4. Remember this, Christian, as you defend yourself against the sophistry of unbelievers and the wicked: Christian forgiveness is neither universal nor free from conditions. Specifically, there is no requirement to forgive the unrepentant. In fact, extending forgiveness to the unrepentant is, in itself, a form of sin and rebellion against God. Remember that Christian forgiveness is a two-step process. First comes repentance – then, only then, comes forgiveness. Don’t ever lose sight of this, and don’t ever allow yourself to get talked out of it.

5. I am not myself an Objectivist or Randian, for reasons I’m sure I’ll go into greater detail about at some point, but here’s some free, heartfelt advice to them. Objectivism needs its own version of the Communist Manifesto. Allow me to explain: The production of the Communist Manifesto was a stroke of genius by Marx. Though Marx had produced thick, dense, complex tomes describing his ideas, he also produced the Manifesto as a companion to them, which was primarily meant for consumption by the masses that he hoped to reach. It was short, direct, concise, worded in a way that anyone with a basic education could understand, easily translatable into other languages, freely distributable, and both easy and cheap to mass produce copies of. The works of Ayn Rand are none of those things, to say the least. Yes, I understand that part of Objectivism is a certain elitism that revels in the fact that Rand’s works are difficult and inaccessible to many. That’s great if you want your ideas to stay limited to a relatively small group of people. If you ever want them to gain popularity with a wider selection of the population, you’re going to need an Objectivist Manifesto.

6. The tech writer John C. Dvorak is right: the “Wild West” glory days of the internet are over, probably forever. By this, I’m not just referring to the Snowden/NSA affair or other nefarious actions of government. The internet, once raucous, has settled down into what is effectively a set of monopolies or near-monopolies – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and eBay being the most prominent examples. The last two are particularly telling. I cannot speak for you, gentle reader, but as for myself I can say that basically all of my online purchases of physical goods in the last five years or so have been from Amazon or eBay. Part of that is for convenience, part to limit the number of places that my credit card information is on file… all good and practical reasons, but all leading towards a corporatized, cartelized, monopolistic internet that is all too cozy with big government.

7. Speaking of the internet – much has always been made of the internet’s supposed resistance to censorship, with the saying about it being that “the net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. From a certain point of view, this is true: it is indeed very hard to stop information that has made it onto the internet from propagating. But that ignores the fact that censorship of the internet is rather simple if it’s done the “old-fashioned way”; i.e. by, once an undesired idea has appeared on the internet, tracking down who said it and punishing them personally. This can be done by outright arrest and imprisonment, by civil lawsuit, or by blacklisting and attacks on one’s ability to earn a livelihood (which is the preferred method in the United States). This not only shuts down the speaker, but the chilling effects of it ensure that few will take the risk of speaking out. In this way, the internet – a medium in which tracking and surveillance, and therefore finding out who said what, is relatively easy – is just as vulnerable to censorship than old forms of mass media were.

So if you’re going to speak out online, be wary, be careful, and be brave.

8. More interesting to me than the outcome of the recent “government shutdown” farce in Washington were the effects of the changed media landscape on how things proceeded. It is, in fact, a near-perfect microcosm of how the new media landscape had affected politics – a basically-identical situation happened in 1995, just as the internet was becoming mainstream but before it had seriously changed much of anything. The difference seems to have been this: That in 1995, with control of the media centralized in leftist hands, the “shutdown” was an utter victory for the leftist in power and a crushing defeat for the public perception and popular ratings of his opposition. This time, the effect of the “shutdown” was, not that it handed victory to the opposition, but that it seems to have badly damaged the perception and ratings of both sides. An interesting outcome – especially to those of us who see any erosion of the legitimacy and credibility of the current system as a good thing.

9. The American left has completely abandoned whatever genuine desire it may have had to protect American workers in favor of obsessions with race hustling, “freedoms” based in (often deviant) sexuality, and currying the favor of the ever-expanding welfare class. There is no major party in America that any longer truly represents the American worker, nor is there any realistic prospect of one arising anytime soon. That the middle class is being steadily eroded into nonexistence is not unrelated.

10. Another election apparently passed, and I did not vote in it. You should’t vote, either. Richard said withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy…

11. Do I hate homosexuals? My response is that I didn’t used to – not before they, as a group, declared open war on the traditions, morals, and religious teachings that I hold to and believe in passionately. My natural reaction to homosexuals is to pity them, but to think that they should be quietly left alone if they go quietly about their business. But what if they don’t do that? What if they try to upend society and destroy beliefs that I hold dear as a part of their obsessive quest for the validation of society at large, even if they must use coercive force to get it? Why should I not resent those who have chosen to make themselves my enemy?

12. Related: Leftists rely on sophistry, so understanding the language that they use is key. Now that they have gained power, it is obvious that what they actually meant when they used to say “You can’t legislate morality” was, essentially: “You – conservatives, traditionalists, Christians – YOU can’t legislate morality. WE, on the other hand…”

As always, I can be found on Twitter at @antidemblog – the more people follow me there, the more I’ll post.

Peace Is Conservative

I wonder if the “conservatives” who have spent Veterans Day “thanking our troops” past and present have considered the fact that basically every major war that the United States has ever fought has pushed the country noticeably leftward – often radically so – and towards what Murray Rothbard described as a “welfare-warfare state”. Let us consider:

The Revolutionary War took the country away from a genuinely conservative form of government – monarchy – and, having infused the young nation with the daft and ultimately disastrous ideals of the French Enlightenment, left it with a hideously badly-written constitution and a form of government guaranteed to eventually end up in ochlocracy, socialism, irreligion, and decadence.

The Mexican-American War, along with the Spanish-American War half a century later, gave America the first taste of empire that would lead it down the path to being the welfare-warfare state and global champion of secular socialist democracy that it is today.

The War Between the States put the final nail in the coffin of the decentralized, small-time farmers’ republic that the revolutionaries of 1776 envisioned, and ensured the victory of the forces of modernity, egalitarianism, and industrial scientism that were centered in the north.

World War I was the war that destroyed the west. William S. Lind was right when he said that in the summer of 1914, the Western Civilization put a gun to its head and pulled the trigger. The beautiful Victorian Age was destroyed, the era of enlightened kings came to an end in Europe, the stage was set for Lenin and eventually Hitler, and Europe was fatally and irrevocably destabilized. The hundred years since then have been nothing more than the long death throes of a once-magnificent civilization

World War II has sometimes been, rightly, called “The War to Save Stalin and Empower Chairman Mao”. Not only did it put Communism in power directly in something like half the world, but it also gave the forces of Communism in that half the time and opportunity to destabilize the other half.

The Cold War saved Western Europe from being forcibly taken over by godless Communism, so that they could vote a slightly rebranded version of it in of their own free will later.

The Korean War, mostly forgotten, was a halfhearted attempt to put right some of the horrors that America had itself caused by driving the Japanese from that part of Asia and leaving it instead to the tender mercies of men like Mao Tse-Tung and Kim Il-Sung. It mostly served to prove that we were nowhere near as serious about fighting against Communism as we had been about fighting for it a few years earlier.

The Vietnam War was really two wars – one a skirmish of little consequence in an obscure part of Asia, and the other a radical social revolution in the United States. The good guys lost both – badly.

The incredible events of 1989-1991 gave the world a chance to repent – a gift of grace that only Poland and Russia seem, slowly but surely, to be taking God up on. As for America, it had the chance to not only repent, but to withdraw from the empire business and work on fixing itself – morally, spiritually, politically, and economically. The First Gulf War demonstrated that it had no intention of doing that, but instead meant to establish a “New World Order”; a vaguely Trotskyesque state of permanent global revolution meant to establish secular socialist democracy worldwide, with the American empire at its head.

The 9/11 attack will be remembered by historians of the future as the moment that the “American Century” ended and the age of American decline began in ernest. The wars and the establishment of the ever-encroaching police state that followed the attacks, along with the capture of the mainstream right by the “neocons” (who are perhaps best described as the living embodiments of the welfare-warfare state) all of which were bad enough on their own, also led directly to the backlash that brought the country Barack Obama, gay “marriage”, and Obamacare.

For all of these outcomes, shall we “thank our veterans”?

The truth is that war is inherently destabilizing, and thus is always counterproductive for “conservatives”, as long as we define that term as people who want to “conserve” a political or societal system that has existed up to that point (this may not, therefore, apply to rightist revolutionaries). Peace is conservative, and to lose sight of that simply because the left briefly affected a passion against war when it was in their best interest to do so (note that the leftist antiwar movement basically vaporized the day that Barack Obama was elected) is to allow oneself to be defined by one’s enemies. It is to engage in counterproductive and ultimately self-destructive behavior out of habit instead of reason.

Peace is conservative, and the “conservative” passion for war and worship of the military, which is no more than a particular form of the worship of the state that they claim to oppose, is ultimately not just homicidal, but suicidal.