Monday, January 27, 2014

Case for democracy: if “knowledge” is dangerous, people should rule.

Huerta                       Jobs
“Change comes from the bottom up.”

--Dolores Huerta, Boom! (p. 425)

“there's something much bigger than any of us here.”

--Steve Jobs

The Bible tells us, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The more we learn, the better our life-coping skills. But we face a “too much truth” problem that comes when adding knowledge means losing the balance of humility. Check out The Experts Speak, which documents how bright people are so consistently wrong because they so firmly think they’re right.

“Experts” are more likely to hold extreme positions. As Washington Post conservative George Will writes:
people, says [Ilya] Somin [of George Mason University law school in Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter], acquire political knowledge for the reason people acquire sports knowledge — because it interests them, not because it will alter the outcome of any contest. And with “confirmation bias,” many people use political information to reinforce their preexisting views. Committed partisans are generally the most knowledgeable voters, independents the least.
That shocked me. I’m a “committed partisan” who considers myself well-informed. But I do agree with Will’s remedy (below). We should back away from rule by “philosopher kings,” and toward bottom-up rule by the “one person, one vote” democracy that seems to work best.

Somin says, and Will agrees, that an engaged judiciary enforcing our founders’ idea of government’s “few and defined” enumerated powers (Madison, Federalist 45), thereby leaving decisions to markets and civil society, would make the “will of the people” work better by reducing voters’ knowledge burdens.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has spent most of the century worrying about Islamic extremism’s threat to world peace. He is deeply concerned about how “knowledge” furthers extremism:
extremism . . . is taught sometimes in the formal education system; sometimes in the informal religious schools; sometimes in places of worship and it is promoted by a vast network of internet communications. Technology [is] used by those who want to disseminate lessons of hate and division. Today's world is connected as never before. . . it comes with the inevitable ability for those who want to get across a message that is extreme to do so. This has to be countered.
[Peace] will never work while either a minority religious group rules the country whose majority has a different adherence, or where. . . powerful elements . . . want to rule on the basis of religious difference – and are prepared to use terrorism . .
Put more generally, peace doesn’t come where (1) a frightened minority rules over a de-selected majority, or (2) at least one side, minority or not, draws upon knowledge-based truth to justify its opposition’s elimination.

Blair’s solution is to have governments treat religious extremism as a major issue affecting both religion and politics, to go anywhere a false view of religion is being promulgated, and to unite world leaders to combat it.

The more difficult, but more lasting, solution: build democracy from the bottom up--a freedom-protecting democracy, where losers live to fight another day. It’s one of the three great ideas of our time, along with capitalism (free markets) and the peace that results from combining democracy and capitalism.

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