Sunday, June 23, 2013

Component Failure.

When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand.

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
H.L. Mencken.

As I've agrued before in some of my previous posts, H. L. Mencken is a political commentator that is easily enjoyed but rarely taken seriously. Part of Mencken's problems is that he writes so well that his writing becomes more of interest than the message he is trying to get across. Mencken was contemptuous of democracy famously describing it as a system of jackals leading jackassess.  At the heart of Mencken's contention was the notion that the average man simply does not have the intellectual capacity to participate fully in democracy. Mencken was also perceptive to note that the reason why this is so stems mainly from the fact that men tend to make emotional decisions rather than rational ones.

This isn't an idle charge. One of the prerequisites for successful action is the both an an accurate degree of situational awareness and the ability to generate an appropriate response. In order for democratic systems to work democratic theory, likewise requires that the voting public be fully informed and able to act appropriately in order for democracy to function appropriately and adapt to the challenges that threaten its survival. Voters, who act out of ignorance, will support policy responses which don't correspond to the necessities of reality. The net result, then, is that democratic systems gradually become divorced from situational realities and collapse eventually ensures. If Mencken is right,  the democracy is doomed.

Modern America--and the rest of the West--are based on the idea that broadly representational democracy is the best system of government. The one that most ensures an individual's rights and opinions and protects its citizens from abuse.  Indeed, much American foreign intervention is directed towards spreading this ideal; an ideal which I once believed in but do not now.

The position that I have taken isn't based upon some prior belief of a "natural order" or some sense of elitism, rather, it's based upon a notion akin to John Boyd's OODA loop: It's a control theory problem.
If democratic man is unable to weigh evidence rationally and deliberate dispassionately his situational awareness will become lessened and his actions thus become increasingly ineffective.

Unfortunately, the bulk of cognitive neuroscience points in this direction. In this rather depressing survey paper, Motivated Reasoning in Political Information Processing: The Death Knell ofDeliberative Democracy? by Mason Richie, convincing evidence is laid out that the average voter is unable to engage in dispassionate deliberation. Motivated Cognition, a.k.a the rationalisation hamster, ensures that information which is emotionally unpleasant is kept at bay.  Both sides of politics do this, but there appears to be some evidence that the Lefties have a stronger hamster.

Note, that this critique of democracy is not based upon a superior alternative, rather, the fundamental unit of the democratic system, the individual, has been shown to be unable to perform as expected scientifically.  Most people prefer their own version of reality to the truth, and in fact have highly developed defensive mechanisms to prevent their fantasy world from being disrupted.

The reason why all governments in the West are progressively becoming dysfunctional is because of the mental capacities of the average voter. Corrective action which is necessary to stabilise society is politically unpalatable and thus the system errors accumulate till it all comes tumbling down.