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Sunday, March 04, 2012



I agree that the principle of "consent of the governed" would outweigh concern about the ignorance of the governed (whether or not Dunning has effectively demonstrated said ignorance). However, your third argument may confuse needs with wants. Avoiding starvation is a valid if rather stark example. But what of complicated issues with less immediate or obvious impacts?

Yochai Benkler argues in "The Wealth of Networks" that the mass media are responsive to popular sentiment, but they don't consistently produce great art. They produce the second-best, mediocre art, products strive not to achieve the sublime but simply to keep the most people from switching channels to something else before the next ad comes on. Might that be akin to the "mediocre leadership" that Dunning finds resulting from democratic processes?


larry kurtz

@billmaher: "Republicans would turn the United States into a strip mall. They have made divorce about who doesn't get the house. Americans are in the closet about socialism. The GOP's vision of health care is called: "Go-Fuck-Yourselves-Plus.""



The real problem is that too many people believe that there is a "right" person and that if we elect that person, they'll be able to fix everything.

Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, the majority imposing their will onto the minority.


I agree with your three points but would add that democracy functions best when the populace has a high and broad level of education.


DDSD, you are exactly right. If there is a coyote, a wolf and a deer deciding what to have for dinner, you can bet if there is a vote, the deer had better be running. The rights of the minority have to be protected. Your point is the reason why we do not live in a democracy, but in a democratic republic. Originally, the House of Representatives was to be chosen by the popular vote of the people in each district and the Senators were to be chosen by the state legislators. The House represented the "people" and the Senate represented the individual states. Even the presidency is not chosen by popular vote, but by the Electoral College. I sometimes wonder about the wisdom of the 17th Amendment.

Bill Fleming

"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried." ~ Winston Churchill.

Bill Fleming

DDCSD what we have now at he Federal level is the tyranny of the MINORITY due to the fillibuster rules in the Senate in combination with the disproportionate representation of the less populated (red) states. These days, for the "majority" to rule to the point of tyranny, they'd have to have a majority of 66% of the votes in both houses of Congress... (kind of like we have in South Dakota.)

Donald Pay

I'm not sure you are understanding much of this. It appears you are getting much of your information from other politically oriented websites rather than directly from the studies themselves.

What was interesting to me about one study of simulated elections done by German researchers is that people tend not to choose the most knowledgeable and competent people, but they also don't choose as leaders those who are less competent or knowledgeable than they are. In elections, it pays to be mediocre.

There are also studies that show that people who can show by facial expressions that they are confident of their expertise and answers are more likely to be chosen, even though they may be dumber than cement and are just b.s.ing.

D.E. Bishop

This is a good topic, thanks KB.

I read the article yesterday, and found it interesting and troubling. I'm referring especially to the part that found that we can distinguish "gross incompentence", but not the higher levels of "competency." Even more concerning is that, in many circumstances, we cannot recognize our own limitations.

I think that plays a part in an individual's sense of their own "rightness", regardless of contrary information. I can see that as a trait that is often very damaging. I think that is how we throw out, or rationalize information that conflicts with our own belief in our own sense of "rightness."

I think that DDCSD hit on an important point when s/he said, "they'll be able to fix everything."

What I am referring to specifically is the simplicity s/he was referring to. I hear politicians on all sides repeatedly stating that they can "fix" something, as if it was a leaky fawcett. That's simply childish. That's what a toddler does when she comes to mommy to "kiss it and make it all better."

There is no simple, magic wand fix to the issues that America or the world is struggling with. It suggests to me that Americans have some Growing Up to do. I don't remember LBJ, or Nixon, or Carter, or Ford, or Reagan saying they were going to "fix" everything.

Mass media, especially the highly partisan cable and internet sites, have played a big role in creating this silly, childish streak in the U.S. of A.

Someone said something about how we get what we deserve. At this time, I can see a lot of that happening. An ignorant, childish, self-righteous electorate is clearly quite damaging to a democracy. To say democracy is better than dictatorship/totalitarianism, etc., is terribly faint praise.

Stan Gibilisco

"In elections, it pays to be mediocre."

According to that theory, Mitt Romney should get 90% of the vote.

"Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, the majority imposing their will onto the minority."

Maybe. But would it be better to have a minority impose their will on the majority?

"Democracy functions best when the populace has a high and broad level of education."

And a belief that individuals must guide their own destinies!

Stan Gibilisco

"... a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to ... imply ... that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership ..."

... such as we endured with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.


Bill, I am not sure what you mean by the "disproportionate representation of the less populated (red) states". North Dakota and Wyoming are probably considered "red" states, but Vermont would be considered a blue state in the last election map. Those states have a population fewer than what the average number of constituents/representative in Congress (704,000). California has a population of about 33 million. They have a constituent/representative of 640,000:1. South Dakota has a constituent/representative of 824,000:1. It seems to me that is not a disproportionate representation of less populated states. The Senate is a different matter. But that was not set up by the Founders to be representing the people, but the states.
As for the "tyranny of the minority", I am trying to recall when you mentioned that when George W. Bush was trying to get his judicial appointments through and the tyrant Tim Johnson refused to vote on a nomination and you suggested Tim Johnson should vote nay and get it over with. I also seem to remember when the Republicans in the Senate tried to make fewer votes subject to filibuster and the Democrats called the Republicans "tyrannical". I am trying to remember which side you came down on that. Democrats, right? But that was a different time and a different story. Anybody else would see that as hypocritical.

Bill Fleming

Don't hurt yourself trying to figure it out, Barnes:


Don't strain yourself, Bill. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_option Again, where was your voice? http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/3323 Don't tell me Democrats did not use the tyranny of their minority to block things purposed by the Republicans. Again, anybody else would see that as hypocritical. But that was a different time and a different story. We can play dueling links forever, but we can all see there are two parties who make use of the filibuster. And still, in the House, I suggest the urban centers may actually have the disproportionate representation.

Ken Blanchard

Cory: who gets to decide what the people need as opposed to what they want? You an me, or the people? I continue to think that the many are a better judge of how well they are served by government (or Microsoft) than any expert or body of experts. You don't have to have any idea how a car works to know when it is not starting.

The bit about the media not producing great art is doubtless true, but this is a complaint of a member of the elite who is disappointed that his favorite paintings, poems, and HBO series are not doing well in the ratings. To be sure, a lot of voters are ill-informed. A poll taken after the 2008 election found that a lot of Obama voters had no idea what his positions on the issues were.

However, the mediocre leadership we often get owes as much to the clash between contending elites who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing for decades.

Ken Blanchard

Bill, Dugger, and DDCSD: you are all right, which means that the system is doing just fine. It's the legislators you guys can't stand.

ps. Thanks for the Churchill quote, Bill. I thought of it as I was writing the post, but forgot to include it.

Ken Blanchard

Donald: the site from which the story originates is a science website, not a political one. If it misrepresents the findings of the study, it is up to the authors to protest. If they have issued such a protest, I didn't find it.

The issue of mediocrity is one that has dogged democracy since it was born in ancient Greece. What you point out is that appearing mediocre is useful for democratic leaders. That often involves a measure of skill that is not mediocre at all.

As for leaders elected due to their facial expressions and other non-relevant criteria, I wouldn't be so hard on the President. His vacuous campaign of "change" may have been b-s-ing, but he is hardly hardly dumber than cement.

Ken Blanchard

To all: great thread.

Ken Blanchard

ps. Unicorn: I am all for an educated public. I just think that even uneducated people have a right to dissent and that they have something to contribute to the political process when they choose to vote.

Bill Fleming

"It's the legislators you guys can't stand."
Excellent point.
And not just us, KB ;^)

Bill Fleming

p.s. KB, your headline and post comes so close to coining a new word, let's just go ahead and do it, shall we?

I'll credit you and you can credit me, so we both share the dubious distinction.

Ready for it?


larry kurtz

too late, bro: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=dumbocracy

Bill Fleming

Excellent. We don't have to take credit for it then. Thanks, Larry. I was getting nervous.

larry kurtz

'Rebumblicans' has been done, too, as have Refascists. How about Republicanundrum or Republicannabalism?

Bill Fleming

Along those lines, one of my favorite quips so far this year was when Stephen Colbert said he likes Ron Paul, because if you can guess his name and say it to him, he has to teach you how to spin straw into gold.

Ken Blanchard

You dimocrats!

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