I Can Only Make Them Think: My Slightly Less Futile Attempts at Combatting Stupidity

Democracy Doesn’t Work For Stupid People

People think a lot of stupid ideas. And I don’t mean that they don’t know things, but rather that they think they know things that they clearly do not. In a free thinking society, we expect much more of people than they can handle, often times. This is seen, most notably, in democracy. In the middle ages, peasants knew nothing about the workings of more advanced things, like economics, history, morality, education, etc., and yet, they didn’t need to. The system of monarchy intrinsically takes away any efficacy that higher thought could have, because there would be no possible effect of having an opinion on such matters that are only determined by the king. The idea of a common farmer making major political decisions was so absurd that democracy was never much thought of until the enlightenment.

But as education grew, and the common man was granted individual rights, including the right to determine his own government, we demanded that these people make major decisions of very advanced level thought. In current day America, we demand a random grocery clerk to choose between socialism and capitalism, a factory worker to figure out an approach to solving ISIS, a car salesman to know the morality and social impact of abortion, etc. Universal suffrage is amazing for many reasons, but it breeds a kind of confident ignorance among those who are not well educated and informed, since we ask them to come to opinions about things that they cannot really handle.

Intellectual development for the purpose of advanced thought is in no way achieved by a high school education alone. Rather, a high school education is a precursor to the potential to receive more advanced education. For this reason, it is imperative for people to attend university and learn from those who have achieved a high level of intellectual development through a lifetime of quality thought. The university years teach one how to find proper studies and information with which to make an argument, how to discuss contentious issues in a civilized manner, how to remove bias and think objectively, and most importantly, that true education is a fluid, lifelong process best engaged with humility and nuance. There are cases where individuals can become well educated on their own without university, but it is very rare, and quite often results in peculiar, obscure views.

So, universities can fulfill the function of educating the public on matters of advanced political thought. The problem is, only about a third of the population attends university, and of those, only half receive education on things relating to political thought (such as sociology, political science, history, etc.), and of those, we may assume only half actually internalize, engage, and continue with it. So, my guess is that maybe 5-10% of voting Americans have received proper university education on political thought.

But of those students, many catch an “ideological fever” that wrecks their education. They latch onto the idea that every interaction between men and women is patriarchal subjugation, every black person is constantly under attack because of their race, that religions are just stupid, archaic approaches to understanding the world, or any other well meaning dogma. People like Jordan Peterson or Ben Shapiro seek to undermine the whole university system because of these certain lapses in the political education process. But really, these poorly developed ideologies are not a result of university education, but of the natural process of any developing education and, in many, simply manifestations of a private ail. There are, for example, women who are treated poorly by men all their life who become obsessive and dogmatic professors of women’s rights. The ideas of Peterson and Shapiro are, in their own way, equal in dogma to that of the worst bits of university, but they also serve, perhaps, as a balance for the dogma coming from those worst bits.

What I wish to discuss today is some of my ideas on remedies for the stupidity so prevalent today in political thought among the common people; for both those who are university educated and those who are not.

What Is A “Smart” Person?

As I mentioned, stupidity is really just confident ignorance. If one is merely ignorant, but they acknowledge that and do not make confident opinions from it, they are actually wise in a certain sense. Stupidity is similar to cold or darkness; defined not as much by its presence as the absence of its counter. Let’s begin then by discussing the counter: intellectual development.

There are three kinds of thought that go on in a person’s mind: knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom.

The first, knowledge, is merely the acquisition and retention of information. This may be almost entirely useless (like knowing the birthday of every player on the 1974 Los Angeles Lakers team, or being able to speak “Klingon”), but it can prove valuable in many cases (like knowing how to change a tire, or the date of your wedding anniversary). This kind of thought is tested in “regurgitation” style exams, like “list the first ten US presidents” or “name three principles of capitalism”. It is also tested for in games like “Trivial Pursuit” or “Jeopardy”.

The second, intelligence, is the ability to think through and process knowledge presented to you. This is what gets tested for in an IQ test. Intelligence may be used toward knowledge acquisition, but doesn’t have to be. It is mostly about logic, pattern recognition, comparison to existing ideas, quick memory, and other types of short term cognitive processes.

The third, wisdom, is the ability to make good judgements. It is based on knowledge acquisition in a broader view, and concerns itself with larger principles. There is a degree of intuition, moral sense, and life experience, and is therefore much harder to measure than the first two.

These three aspects, when executed effectively and at a high capacity in a person, are what constitutes being intellectually developed. If everyone was intellectually developed, there would be much less political contention, or at least, the political contention would be at a much higher level. For example, we argue about climate change, which is fine, but we do it very stupidly. People say, “we’ll all be extinct by 2030”, and the other side says, “climate change was invented by the Chinese to kill American business”. And, of course, both of those opinions are stupid. The debate should be about how to best reduce fossil fuel emissions in an economically sustainable manner, or the extent of long term damage from oil drilling, or other things that have some level of thoughtful depth and acknowledgement of basic facts.

Stupid People Think They Are Smart!

The main concern with society becoming smarter is that it may not be possible for a large number of people. Being greatly intellectually developed is kind of like dunking a basketball on a ten foot hoop. It is something that can be worked towards by some who are tall and athletic enough, but for many, it is simply not a possibility, no matter their best effort. We cannot expect everyone to dunk a basketball, just as we cannot expect everyone to be highly educated.

But we can try to develop greater humility in those less educated people. There is something called the “Dunning Kruger effect”, in which stupid people tend to think they are smarter than other people, because they are too stupid to realize how stupid they are. People who are bad at basketball do not think they are better than Lebron James, but stupid people often think they are smarter than Barack Obama.

One of the problems is that a stupid person cannot tell the difference between intelligence and stupidity. So, I may write out a Facebook post about, say, the economy of Finland. Then, someone makes a very stupid rebuttal to what I said. Their comment is grammatically incorrect, has faulty logic, and no supporting evidence, BUT it appeals to a bias and has simple, easy to follow logic. Smart people will realize very quickly, “ok, the original poster is clearly more educated on the topic, and is probably right”. But stupid people will say, “I don’t understand the post, so I don’t like it, but the comment makes sense to me, so it must be right.” This is what happens on a larger scale between a simpleton like Donald Trump, who can barely speak in full sentences and says almost nothing supported by evidence, versus someone like Obama, who is clearly very highly educated.

How Do We Educate Society?

It is very important to give children a good political education during their high school years. They will not develop advanced thought, but they can be acquainted with important content that will help them in the future. Every American high school student should read the Constitution, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Gettysburg Address, and understand the basics of democracy and liberalism. People might say that this is indoctrinating them, and yes, it is. The problem is that no matter what you teach a high school student, you are indoctrinating them. They don’t typically have the mental functioning to properly engage multiple viewpoints and reason through them. So, if we were to teach liberalism and Nazism in tandem as equally viable options, we would likely have an absurdly high number of Nazis in America. There is very good reason for and efficacy in liberalism as defined in the Constitution, but the justification will be reserved for university, where they have the opportunity to compare and contrast a variety of views, alongside competent instructors and plenty of information to guide them.

In university, young people of high intelligence have the opportunity to gain large amounts of knowledge on important topics, and take part in active, lively, and thoughtful discussions. They get to write out their thoughts in essays, and be critiqued by brilliant professors. They get to engage in political activism, and affiliate with communities working towards certain goals. By the end of one’s formal education, they are hopefully inspired and capable to continue their intellectual development through reading academic literature, high quality magazines and books, and finding other intelligent people to converse and share ideas with.

I remember one young man who was very ignorant on political issues. He believed that black people were genetically inferior, that Muslims were all terrorists, that women shouldn’t be in positions of power, that welfare is just rewarding laziness, and a variety of similar, low level things. During his university education, he had to deal with a lot of hard truths that went against his bias. He didn’t like it. There was a women’s studies course that would’ve fit perfectly with his schedule and fulfill an important requirement, but he refused to take it. But at some point in his fourth year, his entire paradigm began to change. He realized that the academic process is an extraordinary thing, and produces incredible results. He realized that you can apply theories to society just like science does to nature, and we can discover completely new concepts that had been right in front of us the whole time. He dove deeply into psychology, then sociology, then philosophy. He put off going to law school to continue devoting his time to these things. Eventually, he became a well educated humanist, liberal, socialist, and pacifist (but held none of those views too strongly).

That person, of course, was me, and I suppose I am forever grateful for the many people who took part in my education, from my professors at the University of Alberta and Queen’s University, to my many discussions with fellow students and people who care about political topics, and, of course, my late idols, Bertrand Russell and Thomas Paine, who taught me such a great deal about political theory through their writings.

I think it is partly my own intellectual journey that gives me hope for people. I have the advantage of having a very high IQ, but much of my education has really been about gaining wisdom. Christopher Langan, for example, has an IQ of 200 and yet believes in eugenics and loves Donald Trump. We know that intellectual development is about more than IQ. It is largely about understanding where all the views come from and reasoning through all possible information with the least possible bias. We need to absorb as much knowledge as we can, process it with the highest possible intelligence, and form our final opinions with the greatest possible wisdom. The development of these processes in each individual is essential to the betterment of society and the efficacy of democracy.

Conclusion

There are many times when I see my friends posts on Facebook and go, “oh god, our society has failed to educate people”. It’s hard to read multiple books and attend conferences with economists and then see some simpleton post “socialism is worse than Nazism!” or “we need to abolish minimum wage!” or something. But I have to remember that I was once there myself, and it took many professors quite a bit of patience with me during some of my horribly written essays and rants during class discussions.

The Founding Fathers devoted their lives to learning and teaching others on matters of politics, and Americans had an entire revolution to make things better. There is so much power in political education, and we ought to be very thankful that we live in a society where there is efficacy in our education and its application in reason and wisdom. It gives the educated quite an arduous, up hill task, but many have taken on that challenge, and I believe I share their passion.

Socrates once said, “I cannot teach anyone anything, I can only make them think.”

We need to remember that just commanding someone to accept a certain view is not educating them. Sure, we could have everyone blindly believe in the US Constitution, but really, that is not helping them, because they will just as easily be swayed by the next idea they are commanded toward. What we want to develop in people is principles of thought, and the inspiration to pursue them. Among those principles are unbiased knowledge acquisition, sound reason, and wise judgement in respect of all the possible information and viewpoints.

Additionally, in this education process, political debate ought not to be in such contention, but rather an object of contemplation in pursuit of truth. We are all working together to do what is best for society, and we need to remember that ultimately, we are figuring this out together. It is in the spirit of brotherhood between all well intentioned Americans that we may remain united and work for the good of this nation we all care about so much.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, to be cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

 

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