Are Americans Too Dumb for Democracy?
The best hope for democracy still lies in the unregulated marketplace of ideas, in which the maxim ‘Let the buyer beware’ remains the surest safeguard against cheats and charlatans, including those waving their PhDs in your face.
Are Americans too dumb for democracy?
Of late, there has been a spate of articles and op-ed pieces that suggest the answer to this question is an emphatic yes: The majority of Americans are simply too hopelessly ignorant to make the kind of intelligent decisions that are necessary to preserve a healthy democratic system.
Judging from the tone of these articles, America is currently suffering not only from an epidemic of obesity, but an epidemic of stupidity.
True, many of these complaints are apt to strike the neutral observer as suspiciously partisan, as when liberals lay the blame for the dumbing down of America on the doorstep of the Republican Party, and especially its Tea Party wing. But some advocates of the “too dumb for democracy” thesis have taken the higher and presumably non-partisan path of objective science—a fact brought to my attention some months ago by an article intriguingly entitled: “People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say.” Who were these scientists, and why were they saying such a thing?
The scientists were a team of psychologists working under Dr. David Dunning of Cornell University, who concluded after their research that “very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is.” Because it takes an expert in taxation to intelligently assess the worth of a proposed tax reform, for example, the average person will obviously lack the competence to make a judgment on the reform in question. Worse, he will lack the ability to recognize who the actual experts in the field are, leaving him vulnerable to political charlatans who will appeal to his emotions and not his reason. And what is true of a proposed tax reform will be true of any of the complicated challenges that face a modern nation like our own, from healthcare, to national self-defense, to fiscal policy, to global warming.