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.

The Scam Of Democracy

How should a subject of the law view the laws that govern him? What is the rational way to look at the law?

The truth of the matter is that citizens are, for lack of a better term, consumers of laws. Use of this term is somewhat problematical (I am not, in general, a fan of those who try to reduce every facet of human existence to the rules of economics), but looking at one’s relationship to the law in the context of the modern consumer allows us to see it in a practical light. Do you care – or even really know – how the things you consume are made? How much do you really know about what is involved in making flat-screen televisions, or scotch tape, or breakfast cereals? Most people, in fact, don’t know or care about these things, and why would they? All they care about, and all they need to care about from a rational perspective, is that the end product is of high quality.

If there is a good reason why the same logic should not apply to laws, I don’t see it. As a citizen, my interest in government is, and really only is, that it provides good laws and enforces them fairly and consistently. Thus, the only rational definition of a good government is one that reliably does these things. If a government does not reliably do those things, then it is not a good government. It does not matter what process is involved in coming up with its laws. No process of coming up with laws should be accepted prima facie as being good irrespective of the quality of its results. After all, what is the rational definition of a good process? A good process is one that consistently produces a high quality result. If it does not consistently produce a high quality result, then it’s not a good process.

I cannot speak for you, dear reader, but as for me, I care precious little about process compared to results, and see no rational reason why it should be otherwise.

Which brings us to democracy.

One of the things that makes democracy such an insidious hazard to decent governance is that it is, in essence, a species of con game; a magic trick played by governments to fool people into thinking that they have acceptable government when they actually don’t. Like most magic tricks, this one relies on sleight of hand, in which the viewer’s attention is distracted away from what’s going on in one of the magician’s hands and focused on what’s happening in his other hand. Thus, while everyone is looking at him wave around cards in his right hand, he quickly pulls an ace out of his left sleeve. It’s an age-old method employed by carnival hustlers, sidewalk three-card monte dealers, and riverboat card sharps worldwide, which explains why it is also popular with politicians in democracies.

This is what democracy does: it focuses attention on the process by which laws are made instead of the results that come from it. Are you worried about the creeping surveillance state, the sweeping away of free speech and free association in the name of combating “hate”, the slow death of the 4th Amendment, and the militarization of the police? Nonsense, say the democracy’s politicians! This is a democracy – it is your government, which you voted for – and thus it cannot possibly be oppressive! Further, it lays blame upon the citizens themselves (some of whom deserve it, some of whom don’t) for the dysfunctional, nonsensical, and oppressive actions of their government. They use the word “democracy” as a synonym for “liberty” and “decency”, and you are expected to accept this prima facie; thus it is expected that you should define democracy, as a process, as being good irrespective of its results.

Does this make any sense? Look around you, to the state of your nation and the whole of the Western world. Do you have high-quality governance by any reasonable definition of the term? Are these governments providing high-quality laws, and enforcing them fairly and consistently? Do these seem like good results?

If not, then why would you – why would anyone – continue to believe in the unquestionable, inherent goodness of the process that has provided these results? Because the people whose power relies on the scam of democracy have spent years trying to scare you away from the perceptions of your own senses and the judgments of your own rationality by feeding you the idea that there are only two kinds of government possible – mass democracy, or Hitler?

No… I just don’t see it.

Libertarian Island

Though I have lately found myself making common cause with libertarians on a wide variety of issues (we both agree that the current government does too much of what it shouldn’t), I am not myself a libertarian. Part of the reason why I’m not can be found in something I’ve noticed in my personal interactions with libertarians.

If you took me and every serious libertarian (or even outright anarchist) I have ever met, and stranded us on a desert island with instructions to live strictly according to libertarian/anarchist/anarcho-capitalist principles, I have no doubt whatsoever that it would go perfectly fine. I am sure that I would have no cause to fear for my safety, I am sure that if I worked and contributed that I would eat and be comfortable, and I am sure that mutually-respectful relations and robust commerce would be the order of the day. This is because every such person I have ever met is exactly the sort of person with the discipline, initiative, self-reliance, and level of personal responsibility necessary to be able to handle living by such principles.

The trouble would come as soon as anybody else, who was not ardently committed to those principles, arrived on the island.

The limit that libertarianism faces is that (much like democracy) it could only ever have any chance of working if practiced by a certain specific sort of people, and that will never be more than a relatively-small subset of the general population. Thus, Libertarian Island would work – but only so long as residency was strictly limited to those who thoroughly understood its founding concepts, were completely committed to living by them, and were prepared to suffer the downsides and consequences of them.

The problem with people who advocate libertarianism on a large scale is that they suffer from what Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, termed the “I Am The World” fallacy – the mistaken belief that everyone is pretty much like you are, and that given the same set of circumstances, everyone would make pretty much the same decisions that you would. Libertarians tend to be bright, motivated, entrepreneurial self-starters. Like Muslims and Marxists, they believe that if everyone in the world just had the advantages of their ways of thinking explained to them carefully and thoroughly enough, they couldn’t help but want to live according to them.

But this just isn’t the case. Most people can’t handle, and deep down don’t even really want freedom. Take, as just one example, our welfare class, who have been granted a certain kind of freedom – freedom from the necessity to work for their daily bread. Given this freedom, the exceptional would use it to its fullest: they would spend their days reading or writing, hiking or going to museums, volunteering at soup kitchens, tinkering with inventions, or perhaps learning HTML or Japanese or American Sign Language. Instead, the vast majority of the welfare class sits on their asses all day watching Judge Judy and stuffing their faces with the kind of fat and sugar-laden junk food that has made the top health problems of the American poor not hunger or malnutrition but obesity and diabetes. They don’t have the self-discipline to handle the freedom they have, and without the structure and, yes, the external controls they need, they have atrophied in a way destructive to both themselves and the society around them.

And this is just one example. There are more.

Libertarianism may work as an elitist thought experiment by people who yearn to be granted the amount of freedom that they have personally demonstrated that they can handle. There’s nothing wrong with that – “elitist” certainly isn’t a dirty word so far as I am concerned. But as a blueprint for the foundation of a large-scale society, it’s a clunker – yet another project of Enlightenment philosophers doomed to crash upon the rocks of debased, yet inescapable, human nature.

Inbound From The Fringes

Noted in stories, columns, and blogs related to the recent events in Egypt – in comments sections, in the dark and obscure corners of the internet, on the fringes (But how much that we face in modern life was at the fringes not so very long ago?) there have been a great many remarks made along the lines of: “If only our military had the guts to do what Egypt’s just did!”.

I’ve long said that any country that worships its military as much as America does is almost certain to end up ruled by it. Perhaps with some pretenses and external trappings of democracy (Note that even Augustus didn’t dare to formally disband the Roman Senate; he simply made it an irrelevant rubber stamp), but with the military as the real power.

I am a monarchist, and not by nature an advocate of military dictatorship (though certainly it is far better than democracy), so I am of mixed feelings about all of this. Make no mistake, however, this sentiment is moving off the fringes – more quickly than most would believe.

On Using Government Roads

In the wake of a declaration like the one I have just delivered, a retort of the snide kind favored by leftists is likely to be thrown my way – one that goes along the lines of: “Well, do you use government roads?”. This implies that I am a hypocrite for using the services of a government that I have declared to have no legitimate authority over me.

My response: Of course I use government roads. I have to. They’re a monopoly. That’s the very definition of a monopoly – when one organization controls a vital good or service such that if you’d like to lead any semblance of a normal life, you’re going to use their services whether you like it or not. So yes, I use government roads; as opposed to what – never leaving my house? Using the services of a monopoly because I have no other choice hardly makes me a hypocrite. As David Hume, usually beloved of atheo-leftists, noted, just because a shanghaied sailor doesn’t jump off the side of the ship into the ocean and drown, that doesn’t signal consent to his condition.

The same principle applies to my use of many of the services of the government in areas in which it is a monopoly or virtually so. It applies even to some corporations which in the era of “Too Big To Fail” have been allowed to become either complete or effective monopolies in their field. I don’t like Google, for example, but I use them because for many services that I need in order to live a normal life in the digital age, they are the only option available to me.

None of this makes me a hypocrite, any more than it makes Hume’s sailor a willing employee.

On This Day…

I hereby provide to the United States Government written notice that I am withdrawing my consent to be governed by their organization.

For its increasing lack of constitutionality – “interpreting” parts of the founding contract of the Republic into things they were never meant to say, while ignoring the clear meanings they do have, and simply disregarding outright sections of that document that they find inconvenient; for its establishment of classes of people who are above (corrupt financiers and bankers) and beneath (the illegal alien underclass) the law, while continuing to press the full weight of its increasingly-oppressive laws against the common people; for its hypocrisy in maintaining laws on its books (such as its immigration laws) that it selectively enforces and that some people are openly encouraged to break; for its lack of vision in allowing the industrial core of the nation’s economy to be hollowed out, shipped wholesale to foreign lands under the banner of “free trade”; for the disastrous effects of the loss of decent, dignified blue-collar jobs – which government has allowed to be lost both to outsourcing and to the flood of illegal alien scabs – on the middle class; for its creation of laws (the tax code being a good example) so complex that no average citizen has a chance of reading and understanding them, and systems of government (its tremendously powerful and essentially unaccountable bureaucratic arm being a good example) so complex that no average citizen has chance of successfully navigating them in order to affect changes in policy; for its incessant warmongering in foreign lands; for its wasting of billions of dollars of the people’s money on the unneeded products of the military-industrial complex; for its ever-widening, ever more-powerful police/surveillace state; for its recklessness in amassing an unpayable debt of trillions of dollars; for its incompetence in conducting a “war on poverty” the that has served to create vast ghettoes, horrifying in their violence and poverty, in which millions have ended up helpless, unemployable, broken in spirit, and shackled to the state as their only means of survival; for its attacks on religiosity, on freedom of association, and on free commerce; for its consecration of perversion and elevation of it to the same status as the most solemn and sacred of human unions; for its pure evil in allowing the murder of fifty million of its own children – for all these reasons and more left unsaid, I withdraw my consent to be governed by the organization headquartered in Washington, DC.

Does this declaration mean that I will cease to pay the taxes demanded of me, or to consciously break others of this government’s laws? No. But I will obey their laws only because I am forced to, and only to the degree that I am forced to. I recognize its force, not its authority or legitimacy. If this government ever had these latter two qualities, it has long since lost them.

This government does everything it shouldn’t, and nothing it should. It is unfit to govern me, and I have come to the inescapable conclusion I am better off on my own.

Triangulated Into Silence

Were I of a more conspiratorial mindset – which I am not – I would almost swear that the Edward Snowden/NSA surveillance revelations were intentional on the part of the powers that be. Allow me to explain.

One of the cardinal political sins in this era of Jon Stewart-style, soundbite-based “gotcha” politics and political reporting is that of hypocrisy; especially of the “Well, you supported it when it was your guy doing it” sort. This is instantly, fatally discrediting to any person or group who gets “nailed” with it, and irrevocably taints not just them, but their arguments as well.

Now consider the relentless forward march of the surveillance/police state over the years since 2001. Under the Republican President Bush the Lesser, Democrats and other leftist types relentlessly denounced and opposed it, while Republicans and conservatives (with the limited exceptions of the small nascent Ron Paul movement and a few Old Right Pat Buchanan types) supported and defended it. What the NSA revelations have done is to reverse this – now it is those same Democrats and leftists (with a few limited exceptions of the Glenn Greenwald and Ted Rall variety) who support and defend the surveillance/police state; usually in language virtually identical to that with which the Bush-era Republicans defended it (or the Nixon-era Republicans defended what he did, as well).

The point here is not to illustrate that leftists are liars and hypocrites who are given to highly tribal “team” politics and weird personality cults – that much is obvious. It is to point out that, with the limited exceptions given above (which are small enough to be safely ignored by both the left-establishment and the right-establishment), now going forward, nobody will have the credibility or moral authority to vocally oppose the surveillance/police state. And what’s more, the sophisticated among the establishment political/media class know it, so in order to avoid embarrassment they won’t even try. Thus, virtually all opposition (and certainly all of it that cannot be easily labeled as “fringe” and ignored) to what is happening has now been effectively neutralized.

This may not be a conspiracy to “triangulate” opposition to the police/surveillance state into silence – and I am loath to ascribe to shadowy gatherings of men in weird robes what can be more simply explained by ordinary malfeasance, corruption, power-lust, greed, and incompetence – but once again we have a situation in which it couldn’t have worked out any better for the establishment if they actually had planned it.

Red Cloud On Trusting Government

In the wake of the recent revelations of spying and abuse of power on the part of the government under his administration, Barack Obama had the following to say:

“If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.”

To get a different perspective on this, I decided to ask Red Cloud, an Oglala Sioux Chief with extensive personal knowledge about what happens when you trust the government, to tell us about his experience in that area. His reply:

“They made us many promises, more than I can remember. They never kept but one… They promised to take our land – and they took it!”

It seems we may “have some problems here”, Mr. Obama.

I Am The 15%

It is often said that people deserve the governments they have. Largely, this is true. No matter what form of government people have, no matter how tyrannical, it always does operate with some manner of tacit support from the people it governs, even if it is derived only from the fact that they do not rise up against it.

Yet in every time and place, under even the worst of governments, there is a small minority of people – one large enough to be noticeable, yet too small to be able to do anything effective about their situation – who genuinely do not deserve the governments they have. It is for these people, not for the complacent masses, that one should feel sympathy; for it is they who must watch, helpless, as lunacy and injustice grow, gain power, and reign.  I would estimate their number, across all times and places, and under every variety of awful government, at about 15% of the population.

If you are reading this, and if, in this time of Spenglerian degeneracy and decline, you find yourself in exactly that situation, then say unabashedly, even if only to yourself: I am the 15%. Remember it, understand its implications, know that it sets you apart from the lumpenproletariat masses, accept the burden that it places upon you, and wear it as a badge of honor.

And know that you are not alone. For I, too, am the 15%. And I will speak the truth.

How Bad Laws Undermine Bad Governments

One problem with bad – or even just badly-passed – laws is that they encourage disrespect for the law in general. Look at Prohibition: a ridiculous law that was widely-ignored, and caused normal people to look the other way on principle as criminals violated it. What did this do? Well, first, it made criminals of people who saw themselves as normal citizens, causing them to fear the government as an enemy instead of valuing it as a servant. Secondly, it entrenched organized criminals so deeply in our society that their influence didn’t really wane until the rising socioeconomic status of the communities it operated in allowed the people who might have gotten involved in it to find better job opportunities that didn’t involve the possibility of getting machine-gunned.

Illegal immigration is a fine example of this point. If millions of people can feel free to simply ignore the law – if they are, in fact, encouraged to do so – because it is useful to people who have money and power that they should (more cheap labor for Republican-donating business interests, more potential votes for Democratic politicians), then why should anybody else feel an obligation to obey the law based solely on principle? Why, too, when Wall Street crashes the economy with massive, bare-faced fraud, and not only does no one go to jail for it, but politicians of both parties bail them out with taxpayer money for their trouble? It begins to appear to people as if laws are something only the middle-class need worry about – that there are people who are above the law and below the law. Obeying laws you dislike or disagree with simply out of respect for the legitimacy of the government that created them starts to look like a game for suckers.

Once that respect and sense of legitimacy starts slipping away, it’s very hard to restore. It’s one of those psychological barriers that, once you pass it, you can’t really go back again: like the sense of white colonizers as all-powerful and godlike that kept the dark-skinned and colonized from rising up against them – once that barrier was breached and the realization that the colonizers were only human really sunk in, colonialism was doomed. Shattered illusions are powerful and dangerous things.

Unless a government plans to come out as an absolute, goose-stepping, Gulag-building tyranny, it really needs to be careful not to pass a lot of laws that, pass laws in such a way that, or selectively enforce laws in such a way that undermine its legitimacy and respect for its laws in the eyes of its people. The thing is, you can’t arrest everybody. Governments rely on the fact that most people will abide by the law, even laws they disagree with personally. And people do so for only two reasons – out of acceptance of the legitimacy of a government and attendant respect for the laws it passes, or out of fear of its enforcement apparatus.

So what happens when the former becomes irretrievably eroded?

Well, then two possible things – chaos, or tyranny. Once the majority of people have the illusion that the government possesses legitimacy shattered for them, and once they lose respect for the law, then the only thing left in the government’s bag of tricks, if they want people to continue to not simply ignore laws they don’t like, is fear.

Neither option – either chaos or tyranny – sounds too pleasant to me, but here we are.

By no means am I saying, by the way, that we have yet arrived at that juncture. But it is clear that we have a trend on our hands – one that has been continued through Presidents of both parties, and that I see no evidence will be reversed anytime soon.