Are we too dumb for Democracy?

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I wanted to post a fairly robust piece arguing against democracy, but it is proving to be a bit daunting of a task. There is a lot of data and information to support this position. Too much, in fact. I’ve decided to step back and approach supporting this position more academically (which is to say, less blog-like… citations, footnotes, counterpoints, and the rest).

“Democracy don’t rule the world, You’d better get that in your head; This world is ruled by violence, But I guess that’s better left unsaid.”

—Bob Dylan

As it happens, I’ve been spending a lot of prep time reading, reviewing, watching online content, and so on. To be honest—I know, right?—, I’ve been engaging in deliberate selection bias, seeking arguments and evidence to make my case. In fact, it’s not too difficult to locate. The reality is that most people, such as David Moscrop, who asks Are We Too Dumb for Democracy? are creating provocative titles to grab attention, but their punchline is always ‘of course not’ and let me tell you why not by peddling hope and optimism. There is a reason self-help books sell.

Where I am now as 2021 has bled into 2022 is to try to create a structure around my thoughts. So far, it looks like this—not necessarily in this order:

  • Position and setup
  • Prima facie arguments
  • essential strawman counter arguments
  • historical backdrop – pre-enlightenment until now (pro-dem args)
    • Celebrity supporters (Marx, Churchill)
    • Celebrity anti-dem peeps (Plato, Churchill, Washington, Adams)
  • Shaky grounds and necessarily suboptimal outcomes: Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem
  • Possible people-based solutions
    • Are we too dumb for Democracy? (David Mascop’s defence)
      • Reconciling worldviews: Individualism versus Collectivism
      • Dealing with rational ignorance and unknown unknowns
    • Against Democracy (Jason Brennan’s proposed epistocracy solution)
      • Effective mob rule (better voters: or how to avoid learning from Jim Crow era mistakes)
    • The representatives (what about better-qualified representatives: or Plato was a dumbass)
      • Jeremy Benthem’s Panopticon — watching the watchers
  • People-based counter arguments
    • US / UK politics (your country likely sucks, too)
    • SCOTUS partisanship (SCROTUS? — evidently, this term already exists. Now I feel bad)
    • Jury systems
    • Rittenhouse – Pathetic paternalism and subverting outcomes
  • What about…?
    • Anarchy and Libertarianism
    • Deliberative Democracy
    • Republicanism
    • Epistocracy
    • Sortition 
    • Tea Leaves
  • And so what? Where to go from here?

Special guest appearances by…

  • Irrationality, cognitive dissonance and other biases and deficits, logical fallacies, and hubris
  • Misanthropy versus pity
  • Limits of intelligence and IQ

Obviously, this is a work in progress, so the structure and contents may change and discovery may lead me down different paths.

Woe Anarchy, Democracy, and the Rest

Think about it: The average person has an IQ of 100. Essentially, half of the people have lower and half have higher. Not a good hand to be dealt. I don’t particularly buy into the whole IQ thing, but it serves this line of logic. Adopting this framework and reflecting on normal or so-called Gaussian distributions, this means (pun initially unintended) that within one standard deviation of the mean, 68 per cent of the population falls, which is to say having an IQ between 85-115.*

Zut Alors!

An IQ score of 100 wouldn’t be that bad if it was calibrated to Einstein or Hawking, but it’s not. The average police officer in the US has an IQ of around 103. Think about it. This is who democracy is asking to be in charge; this is who we expect to make good voting decisions. Amor fati. Memento mori.

Continuing on my It’s People riff, I am further struggling with options. As a Disintigrationist, I don’t feel compelled to provide answers, but as a personal matter, it seems that I am stuck in the middle. Idiocracy was supposed to be satire, but it’s serious.

So, accuse me of being an elitist. Call me a misanthrope. But it’s more patho-anthropy. It’s pity. Dunning-Kruger, be damned. On the one hand, a hierarchical structure leaves us with self-interested opportunists, megalomaniacs and narcissists; on the other, we get to know the political opinions of the Paul Blart‘s and Homer Simpson‘s of the world. And there’s nothing in between.

The Devil You Know

Following Plato’s Republic, the current system presumes a sort of meritocracy that elevates those who excel at politics to rise to the top. Optimistically, this is precisely what happens; pessimistically, this is precisely what happens. This is as good as it gets—self-serving politicos doing all they can to maintain their positions.

But what about the other people? Surely some honourable people are attracted to the political calling, right? Some who make it into the system are spat out by it; some are marginalised; the remainder are corrupted by it.

Then there’s the other side of the coin. There’s something to consider with local democracy. At least you know the idiots you are dealing with, but that’s not really a consolation. Here, Plato noted the benefits of rhetoric.

15 Things You Should Know About Dogs Playing Poker | Mental Floss
Police break up an illegal poker match—doggy style

Given the limited prospects for even a third-tier suboptimal solution, we might be better off by adopting RNG as a ruling system. No boundaries. No parameters. Remove any interference by humans. They’ll only muck it up.

Where to Go from Here

Hyperbole aside, what is the solution? Nazi Germans took a stab at it, but of course, they were idiots, too. Plain and star-bellied Sneetches. Pots calling the kettles black. People have tried literacy testing, income and wealth testing, lots, and any other number of approaches. The challenge is to have a system with no human intervention. Sadly, even this system would necessarily be constructed by humans, so we’re pretty much doomed.


Finally, to silence those who might label me an elitist, no, I don’t think that a society comprised and governed by people only with IQs at and above, say, 160 would fare much better because the problem is broader than facile intelligence.

* If your reaction is ‘but my IQ is in this range’, you may now get my trepidation.

Anarchy at Scale

Anarchy exists in the world today. It always has. Macroscopically, one needs only step back to see the forest for the trees—or zoom in for microcosms. The only place it’s rare is in the middle.

As far as scaling, political states are anarchy at scale. They hide behind sovereignty and do as they please. United Nations and such try (meagerly) to herd the cats—say, the US—, but the Big Cats still do as they please. So when you hear that anarchy is untenable, remember that it is more prevalent than not.

In the domain of physics, we hear the quaint Aristolenian adage that nature abhors a vacuum, but in fact, it doesn’t. Without engaging in a quantum debate, the universe is more vacuum than not. This belief is a projection centred on human narcissism, viewing itself as the centre of the universe: some humans seem to abhor a vacuum—as do many dogs abhor vacuums, but that’s a horse of a different colour.

Nature abhors a vacuum

And when you hear that anarchy doesn’t scale, remember that it can be seen on both micro and macro scales. The question is: what happens in the middle?

To be fair, there are many small-scale human endeavours where power structures still decimate the ‘natural’ anarchy, but this is imposed—whereby I use the term natural to mean without intervention.

To be continued…

It’s People

No, this is not some riff on Soylent Green. At the end of each year, like Janus, I tend to reflect to then look ahead to the next year. My interest at this juncture is anarchism. This is not a new interest. As I’ve written, I consider myself to be an anarcho-syndicalist or anarcho-communist, save for a few fundamental problems, each of which might just distil down to the same root cause.

My issue with syndicalism is that it centres on the worker. And whilst some workers remain relevant and pivotal to the system, it seems that workers may become less and less critical in the operation of the economy and of the society at large. As I work in a place where I can witness the immaturity and incompetency that sees this further in the future than some, I can still interpolate some speculative future where the vast majority of humans are no longer necessary cogs in the machine. This obviates anarcho-syndicalism in favour of anarcho-socialism.

Whilst anarcho-syndicalism centres on the worker, anarcho-communism is focused on the person without regard to their state of employment. This sounds even more equitable. So what’s my problem? It’s people.

These days, many people whitter on about democracy. Many are disappointed by republican apparatus and seek something closer to direct democracy. This is not the exclusive flavours we’ve witnessed in history—where the landed gentry get a vote. It’s a full-on participative democratic free-for-all—save for children and animals and non-sentient beings, it goes without saying.

The core problem is the same, whether archy or anarchy: people are the weak link. Arguments have been made that bringing decisions close to the source of the problem yields a better solution, if one defines better are more equitable, but this doesn’t translate into something universally or categorically better outside of this particular dimension. If equity is your sole goal—and I’m neither sure that it’s the right goal to optimise nor a particularly interesting goal in the first place, as it feels that this is merely a local solution to a global challenge; so equitably distributing deck chairs on the sinking titanic or sharing the wealth as the climate tips well beyond any hope of recovery.

Moreover, if each social unit—however that’s defined—is sovereign and autonomous, then this might operate OK on an intrasocial level, but how are intersocial conflicts resolved? What if a predacious 100-count society encounters a 50-count society over access to some local finite resource? It seems that numbers will prevail—the tyranny of the majority.

The other challenge I have with democracy and anarchy is that political interests will coalesce and power systems will emerge. To prevent such eventualities could be considered fascistic or authoritarian, so how is this resolved. Returning to the 100- versus 50-count societies, what if the 100-count wished to install a leader, so they vote for their leader to rule over the 150? This seems all but an inevitability.

I don’t have an answer. And though I am familiar with governmental and societal structures as well as with anarchy, I’ve not seen this addressed beyond hopes and wishes, attempting to move an ought to an is.