"Look not to the politicians; look to yourselves." ~ Richard Cobden
The Problem With the 'People Are Idiots' Meme
Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
Claire Wolfe recently wrote a column, People Who Don’t Think. I think she needs to rethink this, heh heh.
I have the utmost respect for Claire. I have some of her books, and she’s influenced me tremendously. However, I believe she may have gone down the wrong path with this idea, which I consider to be both politically and personally “suboptimal.” There are better ways to look at the phenomenon she is describing.
My preferred way of looking at it, is to recognize that nobody can know everything there is to know in the world. So, to compensate, we specialize. We have created a division of labor, which is a good thing. What most people have is expertise in some area or areas in which their ability to think and observe is quite evident. Some are excellent mechanics, some great at sales and other forms of personal interaction, some at science, some at growing things, some at teaching. I’m continually amazed at the variety of things people can do.
Outside their area of expertise, on the other hand, their opinions default to some conventional wisdom, or worldview. Part of what goes on with these worldviews is the operation of confirmation bias--much more than occurs in their areas of expertise. This must be so, otherwise (not being open to the evidence) they would not be very expert in their area of expertise! Mark Twain may have been thinking of worldviews when he said, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
Now, if that is true, why do we wonder that people seem like idiots sometimes? Particularly in fields like economics and political philosophy? These are far outside the areas of expertise of most people! Rational ignorance is one reason for this. When most people speak in these areas, it is their worldviews that are really speaking--worldviews that have been manipulated by the ruling class through the government indoctrination camps some people call “public schools,” and through the operations of the Ministry of Propaganda, and other self-serving institutions.
And why do these seem idiotic to us, particularly? Because economics and political philosophy are within our areas of expertise!
Just think of how much work you have done in this area, to get where you are now. Personally, I spent many years working on political campaigns, only to be disappointed at the bastard I helped get into office. I was treasurer for the Libertarian Party of Oregon for a while, learning about what happens inside political parties. I wrote innumerable letters to the editor trying to counter propaganda. I read quite a few studies and books on gun control and education. I read books and articles on economics. I created and ran the Wyoming Liberty Index for years, in the process reading hundreds of bills produced by the Wyoming legislature. I spent literally decades getting where I am now, and no doubt many of you have done similar things. Is it any wonder the average Joe, who has not invested very much time in this area, sounds uninformed about it? How can we reasonably expect him to be otherwise?
The human race is what it is. There is no point, no profit in being frustrated with it. We just have to interact with people the best we can. We can’t effectively and honestly do that, if we disrespect them by thinking them idiots. They are not idiots, they are just outside their area of expertise.
John Taylor Gatto apparently agrees with me: “The shocking possibility that dumb people don’t exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the careers devoted to tending to them will seem incredible to you. Yet that is my proposition: Mass dumbness first had to be imagined; it isn’t real.” I didn’t believe this when I first read it years ago, but I understand what he’s getting at now.
Now, defective worldviews, which are the real problem here, are not perfectly immutable. They tend to break down when events overwhelm us. There are now a lot of people whose worldviews are breaking. The evidence is all around us with Tea Parties and Occupy movements. People are trying to form new worldviews to compensate for a reality that has whacked them like a 2x4 across the nose. Yes, they make missteps, and yes, the ruling class tries to co-opt them and funnel them into “safe” (for the rulers) paths, but this is just the beginning. It’s bound to accelerate as the empire crumbles and the dollar dies. We need to be ready for that, to help people find better worldviews with the aid of our hard-earned expertise, using tools like the Internet. No, we are not going to turn them all into political philosophers--but we don’t need to. To quote Mark Train again, "Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned."
Consider one historical event. I have read several times that people in America in the 1750s and 1760s considered themselves Englishmen and wanted desperately to be accepted by English society. How did this feeling morph into its complete opposite by so many people, in just 20 years, leading to successful armed rebellion? I think it was a shift in worldview. There can be huge, almost impossible-seeming changes to worldviews in a short period of time.
One other huge problem with the “people are idiots” meme that Gatto above alluded to is how seamlessly it feeds into the “people need to be taken care of” meme. He continues, “Once the dumb are wished into existence, they serve valuable functions: as a danger to themselves and others they have to be watched, classified, disciplined, trained, medicated, sterilized, ghettoized, cajoled, coerced, jailed.” If ever there was a meme that supports the state, it is this one.
People do not need to be taken care of! Far from being idiots, people are actually extremely resourceful. We did after all make it to the top of the food chain, somehow--all of us, not just the “experts.” People can learn on their own; children are “learning machines” if you get out of their way. People fix their own problems themselves if you don’t interfere with the process by shielding them from the consequences of their poor choices, thus propping up bad behavior. People can protect themselves by getting a gun and spending a modest amount of time learning how to use it. People can also negotiate with others to do these things.
One final thing wrong with the “people are idiots” meme: When societies are thrown into upheaval, those groups considered snooty intellectuals (e.g., Jews, Armenians, etc.) sometimes end up on the pyre when the less pretentious get thoroughly irritated with them, or when scapegoats are needed. Something to keep in mind, if self-preservation is a concern . . . .
Folks, let’s get off our high horses. Stop falling for divide and rule tactics. Stop looking down on people, and start respectfully and honestly interacting with them and empathizing with them. Don’t expect them to be experts outside their area of expertise. You aren’t either! Just gently explain to them that a worldview based on violence must have something fundamentally wrong with it. (And don’t indulge in frontal attacks! Read Dale Carnegie.) After a while, particularly when their established worldview becomes vulnerable, they may be willing to change it to something more tolerant and less destructive. Something more like freedom.