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    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2012 edited
    Are humans smart enough for democracy? Do we in fact need enlightened philosopher-kings to produce the desired results for humanity? (Libertarians are grinding their teeth now, I know.)

    Source: Here

    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.


    Discuss amongst yourselves.
  1.  (10535.2)
    Seems a bit obvious to me! Politics, economics, running a country, all highly complex things which require a huge amount of expertise, research and knowledge to even begin to understand. Democracy shifts the emphasis onto getting and staying elected, encouraging short term goals and public promotion over long term stability. Not to mention trusting in an electorate who are by and large not experts in running a country. You don't have to call an electorate incompetent to point out that the majority won't have spent their life studying socio-economic behaviour.

    I still can't think of a better alternative though. How do you establish a meritocratic government when you can't get two people to agree on how to measure the welfare of their own nation, or when there are politicians around who think that food and shelter shouldn't be a basically enforced human right? Or when supposed experts in economics describe the health of a country in measures of growth instead of in measures of stability?
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2012 edited
    @Paul -

    I actually agree with you. What I find interesting about this is that it points to a fundamental spit between Europeans and Americans. Americans tend to believe in the "have a beer with" test for their leaders - gross simplification, I know, but there you are, we elected George W. Bush.

    If we do *agree* that the "common man" is absolutely the most incapable person of running themselves, though...what is to be done? In Europe the solution has been largely to give up sovereign power to unelected, multinational bodies. That will never fly in America.

    Personally, I feel that Hollywood is our only hope. If you can't *educate* the masses, then just give up all hope of education and outright *persuade* them through compelling narratives, a la Richard Rorty.
  2.  (10535.4)
    You want to know about voting. I'm here to tell you about voting. Imagine you're locked in a huge underground nightclub filled with sinners, whores, freaks and unnameable things that rape pit bulls for fun. And you ain't allowed out until you all vote on what you're going to do tonight. You like to put your feet up and watch "Republican Party Reservation". They like to have sex with normal people using knives, guns and brand-new sexual organs that you did not know existed. So you vote for television, and everyone else, as far as the eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That's voting. You're welcome.

    I always feel that if in doubt, to ask Spider...
  3.  (10535.5)
    Problem is, if I make any suggestions they'll be motivated not by my political expertise (haha, I have none), but what I've established to be the most moral goals that a government can achieve (things like welfare, human rights, economic stability, free speech). I don't know if those are effective policies for a government to pursue, because it depends on how you measure their effectiveness once they've been established!
    Expertise in a rarefied subject like particle physics is easy to establish and confirm. Expertise in something as nebulous as politics - well, how the hell do you measure that beyond general level of education? We'd all be in a much better position if politics were a science, but it's not really...
  4.  (10535.6)
    Course, true democracy only works when every voting individual within a system is making decisions from an entirely selfish point of view. As soon as politicians start asking us to vote "for the good of the country", or "to help those less well-off", or whatever-it-may-be, they're introducing complexity and chaos into a very simple, cold and rather brutal machine.
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2012
    Voting should be like driving, you should have to prove your competence before being given the privilege.
    • CommentAuthorFlabyo
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2012

    Remember! Service guarentees citizenship!

    (yes, I'm quoting Starship Troopers at you)
    • CommentAuthorroadscum
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2012
    The greatest use of democracy is in keeping the masses entertained and providing some sense of participation in decisions over which they effectively have no real control whatsoever. It is also of great use in drawing attention away from those who do effectively decide and control.

    Now bugger off, this bunker is only big enough for one and i've got no more tin foil.
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2012

    Nah, I was in the army, the majority of those people wouldn't pass the most basic politics test.
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2012 edited
    I forget who said it, but there's a wonderful quote that I use all the time during election season: "Democracy is the theory that the people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

    On the other hand, I'm pretty sure it was Winston Churchill that said "Democracy is the worst system of government ever invented, anywhere in the world. Except, of course, for all the other ones."

    Both those statements, while perhaps impossible to be called facts, ring of strong, USDA-approved truth. That they can coexist says something more interesting about democracy than either one says alone.

    I say we keep it around a while longer. We don't have a better alternative, and maybe something cool will come of it, yet. But, of course, that's just my vote.
  5.  (10535.12)
    @Si: that's a terribly Randian view of democracy.

    I'd argue that democracy, when it's working best, is like sex: if everybody is working to get everybody else off, then everyone comes away happy (excepting of course the people who only like it missionary, with the lights off, and strictly for procreational purposes. But fuck them (or don't), they're no fun). If you're only in it to get yourself off, it's terribly unsatisfying and you may as well have stayed home and had a wank instead.
  6.  (10535.13)
    In general I think the principle of democracy is not to produce the most efficient results, elect the most competent people, or to give people what they want, but ensure that if a country in general dislikes what's being done to it, it can choose otherwise, en masse. I can't help but feel that although it's got a point that I agree with (there must be other, more efficient systems which create more competent governments) it's also missing the point. It's easy to forget what democracy tends to do for a nation historically speaking whilst caught up in the woes of a government that's already been democratic for generations.
    • CommentTimeMar 7th 2012 edited
    ETA: (Disclaimer: I am an optimist.) To answer your question, I trust that the majority of people would vote appropriately for the good of themselves, and their country.

    So yes, people are good enough to run their own democracy, but only if it is REALLY LITERALLY NO SHIT, YES ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE HOMELESS CRAZY ON THE STREET democracy, though.

    Original post below:
    Changing the focus just a bit, I find it very silly that the U.S. still has state representatives in an age where I carry wikipedia in my pocket.

    I think that, going forward the system should establish a recorded voting personality for everyone who turns, say, 20 years old. This personality votes on bills that are sorted and inputted into a database by paid, impartial, interpreters. IE: there is a database of proposed government stuff (Bills, laws, law changes, etc) that gets run by every single voting personality every single day --this is what the government would be doing, going forward.

    Your voting personality has range settings for healthcare, welfare, defense, NASA, etc, and will vote against any bill that falls outside those settings (say, 5% GNP going to whatever cause someone posts a bill for on a given day.)

    You can flag items and causes that are important to you, and daily they'll show up in your feed for deeper reading on your part, and you can share bills that you want your friends to vote on via FB, G+, etc, too.

    Active voting always overrules voting personality. Unless something is close to unanimous (say 95% active votes) there is a 3 day delay on all bills, law changes, etc. (I'm thinking acts/declarations of war in response to events, here...)

    The active voting and voting personalities are tied, like MMO accounts these days, to an authenticator and a password. Both are needed to change your voting personality or actively vote.

    The Government still exists to create and push information about bills and changes to laws, etc, but people get a say in everything, too, socially, and from the comfort of their mobile phones.

  7.  (10535.15)
    @phil_sea that's what I always thought too, it's called direct democracy, and it's much closer to the reality of the old democracy in athens than our systems that were based on it.

    This other argument is as old as Plato's republic, but it doesn't make much sense, what makes any of these experts worth listening to anyway. You could find plenty of economics professors who are equally respected with completely opposing opinions, having studied more doesn't necessarily mean they're right, they could probably only back up their gut responses with more obscure or intelligent reasons.
      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeMar 7th 2012
    @Si - that's almost exactly the fallacious, game theory based version of democracy described by The Trap

    "Democracy is the theory that the people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

    The wonderful H.L. Mencken

    I think the real value of democracy as the least worst form of government is that it curbs the worst excesses of those placed in positions in power - see: Fuck You, Buddy (part 1 of The Trap linked above, which posits that once elevated to positions of power, individuals will always take the course of action that maximises the returns to themselves). When a system stops being able to curb those excesses, as it arguably has at this moment, it's time to reform it.

    Also, it's worth bearing in mind that democracy is an idea rather than a specific model of governmental structure. At its bare bones, it's not all that different from mob rule. So-called anti-democratic structures in the context of a largely democratic government (eg, House of Lords) act as braking mechanisms on the susceptibility of career politicians to being utterly flexible in their stated beliefs (like the Smiler) according to the prevailing public/political wind.

    Tony Benn once said in an interview something along the lines of, "My mistake was trying to get the electorate impassioned about a cause. In a democracy, you don't need the electorate to be impassioned, you just need their acquiescence." (apologies for the undoubted misquote/paraphrase, hopefully the gist survives) I think there's a great deal to be learned from that about the way politicians operate in democracies. Stability is valued over progress, power is valued over principle.
    A wise fellow once said "It can never be perfect, but it can never be doomed."
  8.  (10535.17)
    @city creed

    Very much agreed. I've read John Locke's Second Treatise far too much for my own good, but the point it makes is a powerful one: politicians need to know that the people they rule have the power to cashier them. This acts as an incentive for them to rule in the public interest. And like you say, democracy is an ideology as much as an institution. The idea that power / sovereignty / right ultimately resides with the people (entrusted to governments) means that there is outcry when people are oppressed.

    Modified slightly by David Hume: what's great about democracy is that it provides the opportunity of power to a larger amount of people, who have to compete for it. Again, if this competition occurs in an environment in which the people expect their interests to be represented by rulers, the risk of abuse and oppression is reduced.
    • CommentTimeMar 7th 2012
    @Mercer Finn -

    Locke and Hume, though, expected their citizens to assent to their rule through reason. If the circumstances of rule become unreasonable, both would agree that it is the duty of the citizen to bring government back in line with rationality.

    I think I no longer believe this is possible. I tend to align myself with Richard Rorty, who at the end of the day believed that a pragmatic commitment to political leftism simply means that we must teach people that cruelty is the worst thing that we do. Not through argument or reasoned discourse, but through whatever means necessary - movies, television, popular culture. To Rorty, a writer like Upton Sinclair or better, Emile Zola is a better political philosopher than a Locke or a Hume, in the sense of their pragmatic effect on discourse.

    I no longer believe that the populace in a democracy can be *reasoned with*. I believe the populace must be *persuaded*, which is a very different proposition. As a political leftist, I believe it is simply my duty to get people to *feel* that cruelty and oppression is ...well, wrong.

    Logical argumentation about this is all well and good, but it doesn't bring people to the ballot box.
    • CommentAuthorSpike3185
    • CommentTimeMar 8th 2012
    As a human fucking being I find it scary that anyone should need to be persuaded to believe that cruelty and oppression are wrong. I feel like there needs to be some rule whereby people who approve of these things end up being on the receiving end so they actually see the consequences of taking that stance. People who want power are usually the least qualified to deal with it anyway.
  9.  (10535.20)
    Condorcets Jury theorem to the rescue. Given it only requires a >50% chance of any voter making a correct decision, and 50% is wild guessing, then any democratic polity with even limited information is more likely than not to arrive at a correct decision.

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