This is xposted from a comment thread over on . Start with boztopia‘s post here.
Long ago, in a galaxy far far away (well, it was in the US in 1922), Walter Lippmann published Public Opinion, a book that seems to grow more and more relevant with each passing day. In brief, Lippmann argues that the average person cannot begin to fathom all the complexity and nuance required to make intelligent, informed decisions. To address this, he imagines an agency that would be charged with understanding the hard stuff and making policy using its detailed knowledge and expertise.
If Lippmann thought 1922 was complicated, he’d love 2006.
Now, his technocratic ideal was problematic, as is any proposal granting massive authority to centralized bureaucracies. And as the Bushies have taught us with their full Monty assault on science and education in America, nothing is immune to political influence of the lowest sort. (We knew this already, but Dubya & Co. have just about perfected the process.)
Still, Lippmann was breathtakingly correct in understanding a couple things: the world is complex and getting moreso, and very few people know enough to develop informed opinions on how we ought best to proceed in a given area. This is true even if said people try their hardest. Even if you want to understand a difficult subject, you’re still faced with the demands of actually learning the terrain, and with many important topics very few citizens possess the basic intellectual capability to achieve awareness, let alone mastery. That very few people do make the effort doesn’t help.
What we’re seeing here is the unfortunate alternative (or at least one unfortunate alternative) to the technocracy. That is, the circusocracy. The idiotocracy. The mediocracy. The dog-and-pony-ocracy. The smoke-and-mirrocracy. The shiny-thingocracy. The infotainocracy. The sound-bitocracy. The factoidocracy. The dittoheadcracy. The Anti-Intellectualocracy from Hell.
We live in a culture where our most important decisions are made by people who don’t understand the issues. By design. And while nature abhors a vacuum, corrupt power-elites love a knowledge vacuum. Somebody is going to shape the opinions that the ignorant carry into the voting booth with them, and in the absence of informed and informing structures serving the public good, those opinion-mongers are unavoidably going to be the worst among us.
Put another way, will we be shaped by our smart people or our bad people?
Sadly, that question has been answered.