Sunday, August 8, 2010

The danger of political ignorance

Andrew D Atkin

In my view, at least 95% of the voting public has only superficial interest in politics (at best) until they are hurting; that is, real hurting like: "I'm living in a tent and where is my next meal coming from?" This is the point where the masses start to take politics (and political mismanagement) seriously. This is the point where they look for new leadership.

And this also is where a potentially very serious problem can develop: If people don't have a basic grip on rational public policy, and are not in the habit of well-considered analysis of public policy, then they could too easily vote for just about any megalomaniac who may say nothing more than "Change!" and "Hope!" etc., for when the public is feeling desperate for change.

The Famous Trends forecaster, Gerald Celente, recommends that people think for themselves because if they keep on asking for leadership, they will then end up following a leader who will lead them off the edge of a cliff [not directly quoting]. I agree with Mr Celente, because if people are too ignorant to be able to know what to vote for (and usually they are) then how could it be otherwise? When you don't have understanding you can (and will) only go by image.

People need to be broadly educated in politics, and more importantly they need some basic education in civil operations and the dynamics of market economies. An intelligent relationship to public policy should be encouraged so as to reduce the public's vulnerability to misleadership. This is what high-school "social studies" should really be about.

At the moment we have a society made up people who could be described as "street wise". They learn how to play the game on their level, but they don't learn much else - they don't learn about the guys who control their game, so to speak. They generally have nearly no understanding of how their society works on the macro-level nor why it works the way that it does, as a total system. This especially applies to what you might call the lower-middle and working classes of society. In an effective democracy, this situation cannot be acceptable*.

So not only should people be educationally prepared to work, they should also be prepared to vote. Unfortunately, and as I have stated elsewhere, modern education is controlled by interests who only want people to work well (for them)--not necessarily live well. Our schools first serve commercial interests, not public interests. If only people could at least understand this much.

*One of the effects of public political ignorance is that our politicians learn to play us for the fools that we are, as they must to gain power. This is turn, I would bet, teaches them to have contempt for public opinion and the democratic process, and understandably.


  1. AN INFORM ELECTORATE is a prerequisite for democracy. If voters do not know what is going on in politics, they cannot rationally exercise control over government policy. Inadequate voter knowledge has two major negative implications. First, it prevents democratic government from reflecting the will of the people in any meaningful sense, undercutting the "intrinsicist" defense of democracy as a government that is representative of the voluntary decisions of the populace. Likewise, voter ignorance imperils the instrumental case for democracy as a regime that serves the interests of the majority, since ignorance potentially opens the door for elite manipulation of the public and gross policy errors caused by politicians' need to appeal to an ignorant electorate in order to win office.

    In "The American Voter," a University of Michigan Survey Research Center team defined three minimal knowledge requirements for voters to be able to exert meaningful influence over a given issue: They must be aware of its existence, have a position on it, and know the positions of the opposing candidates.

    However those three conditions alone are insufficient for meaningful control over public policy. In addition, informed voters must have substantial understanding about which of the available policy are most likely to advance their goals. Unless the value voters attach to policy in a given area is purely a matter of symbolic "position taking," they cannot use the ballot to force elected officials to solve their interests without knowing the likely effects of alternative policy options.

    You are no doubt aware Andrew , that we here in Australia are currently suspended (almost literally ) by a hung parliament.

    We also here in Australia , do not actually live in a truely democratic society.

    All the focus is on a newly elected Green and a three independents to commit to aither the liberal coalition , or labour to form a government.

    As one of the independents has rightfully pointed out this week , while he could introduce a bill in parliament , he could not ever get a senate vote.

    I`m quite tired of hearing how " good " our adopted " Westminster " supposedly is ; the fact is , it does not work at all well if one was to demand what it is supposed to represent , namely democracy.

  2. I think that the best way to get an effective democracy is to decentralise it. More power to independent control (maybe down to about 20,000 people or so units), and less power to federal and state control.

    How can we justify the need for a massive federal state to take care of us, when the truth is that it is (or can be!) so bloody easy for people to house themselves and put food on their plates without it.

    With industrial and technological advances government should in theory be shrinking. Ironically the opposite is true.

    Alas - those bloated public services have vast political power as a total unit, especially in a finely balanced democracy like here in NZ. So hard to cut them back.

    I think decentralisation of political power is the key drum that the western world needs to beat for today. It's time to give up on these federal "emperors"

    Here's another post relevant to this:

  3. Switzerland's system of highly decentralised democracy is a good one. Owen McShane did a column on it once:

    General elections every 3 years is hardly much of a democracy. All it is is a choice of people every few years, to whom society devolves ALL decisions to be made on their behalf, decisions most of which most people would not have supported if they were given an issue-by-issue choice.

    Take a look at Amy Brooke's "100 Days Democracy" site. You might like to give it a bit of moral support.

  4. Anonymous,

    I couldn't agree more that a decentralised democracy is a better or more "real" one, but I think you have to be careful when asking the public to vote on issues that they probably don't understand very well(?).

  5. One point about Switzerland's highly localised democracy is that its localisation and the fewness of numbers involved locally when an issue comes up, leads to people feeling more engaged with the process, feeling more able to make a difference by their own contribution.

    By the time the extremely small federal government has been appointed via all the other layers, you have had a lot of engagement with the process as it worked from bottom to top - and in addition, the nationwide referenda requirement (when petition requirements are met) means that the government tends to do its homework and does not provoke the exercise of this mandate.

    California is another example, but an example of "how not to" decentralise democracy. You are exactly right in your observation, when it comes to California. The problem is, having the "ballot initiative" (referenda), without the bottom-up election and appointment process like the Swiss have.

    I am inclined to agree with people who say cynically that other nations have not emulated the Swiss model because the politicians and the political class cannot stand the restriction on their powers.

    It is also worth noting that it is only Protestant Christianity that has led to "restraint of power" forms of constitutional government. The EU project and its accumulation of power, goes hand in hand with apostasy and post-christian "enlightenment" values (that have already led to things like Naziism and Communism).

  6. I’m going to go out on a limb, here. Government introduced mass forced schooling for a reason. To limit what kids learn. They would be better off with almost any other source teaching them. Get rid of schools. Stop government from schooling so that they can not turn out idiots. Then you have a chance at teaching or informing. Also, media is a problem. But public access channels have shown me that average people really can produce some very good programming. But distribution is the trick. Cable access is being subverted. Competing media of all sorts should be supported. Break that monopoly. Self publishing, Youtube works, too.

    Knowledge is power and we need knowledge, bad. You can not make good decisions without proper knowledge.

  7. "Government introduced mass forced schooling for a reason. To limit what kids learn".

    Yep - it's an intellectual headlock.