Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Critical Review of: Ignorance

If all has gone according to plan, yesterday, the day after my pre-written, automatically-posted blog entry about communism vs. punk, I dined with friends in the Boston area — not all at the same meal (merely for scheduling reasons) — who ranged from a Billy Bragg fan to an actual living, breathing Southern Republican politician, not to mention Pagan Kennedy, the author of tomorrow’s Book Selection of the Month on this site (which has the double honor of kicking off the “Month of Sex”).  Pagan says she doesn’t know any Republicans (unless you count me, but back when I first registered that way in 1987, I was still counting on the Republicans to shrink government at home and battle communism abroad — times change, and I grow more radical with age in some ways, despite cliches to the contrary).

But today — assuming I’m not passed out in a ditch somewhere as this entry posts — I’m surrounded almost entirely by libertarian academics, at a conference hosted by the journal Critical Review (to coincide with the weekend of the slightly more prestigious but less politically useful American Political Science Association convention).

The sort-of amusing topic of the conference is “ignorance,” which sounds as if it means everyone will show up not having done the readings but actually means that we’ll be discussing the extremely important — but frankly embarrassing — question of whether the whole idea of democracy is rendered ridiculous by the inescapable (and absolutely ineradicable) fact that virtually no members of the general public have the slightest idea what’s going on.

Time and again, pollsters and survey-takers prod the public to answer “approve/disapprove” questions without bothering to ask whether the public has ever even heard of the issue under discussion — and the public obligingly flips a mental coin, to paraphrase Kent Brockman, using the wording of the question itself to guess at a plausible response, and even going on to vote for members of Congress and candidates for president in pretty much the same fashion.  In the late 80s, only about half the populace knew the name of the vice president.  In the 90s, over half the populace was unaware who Newt Gingrich (probably the second most important politician of the decade) was.  And so on.

Yet government-lovers want all of these people to control each others’ lives through constant voting affecting all areas of human endeavor, in one great war of all against all, mediated of course by that engine of coercion at the center of it all, the state, which naturally has to take its cut (about 40% of national income last time I checked).  If you proposed the system as a novelty in a world without government, you’d justifiably be called insane (“There’ll be these 535 or so people in Washington, we’ll give them 40% of everyone’s money and near-limitless power…”).

Yet here we are, grateful just to have escaped aristocracy and other arguably-worse systems — but terrified of full-fledged individual freedom, individual responsibility, and secure individual property rights…trying desperately to remember why we favor subsidies to ethanol…or if we do…or whether that’s what people from, y’know, that state where the Democrat guy comes from are in favor of…because of, y’know, the like economy or something.

Ah, poor, confused voter!  So much easier to stick to hot-button issues like sex — which you can grasp as easily as you grasp your own genitalia — and so, for the month of September, starting tomorrow, I shall.  Blog about sex, I mean.


Red Stapler said...

This may be my favorite post you’ve ever written, Todd.

Todd Seavey said...

Thanks. As it happens, I just received an e-mail from a friend (a very well-educated, informed, intelligent one) who was in fact stopped on the street by a NY1 news crew and asked his opinion of McCain’s vp pick — before he had in fact heard who McCain’s vp pick was. So he spouted some broadly-applicable semi-libertarian stuff akin to my comments when I was stopped at random by Fox News crew a few months ago. And so the democratic ballet goes on…