“I do not know.”, “I do not understand.”, “I will entrust this to someone who knows better.”
I miss these sentences. Everyone in our society today has an opinion on everything. We are no longer able to say, “I do not know” without being seen as stupid. If I ask a random person about the European Union on the street, they will give me a clear-cut opinion on it. They will tell me that it is either “good” or “bad” for us. Without having any doubts. They will have arguments supporting their opinion, and there is a good chance they will be angry at their elected representatives for not supporting their view. They might even express the desire to make decisions by themselves, through way of referendum, and in fact, we can see these calls for direct democracy spreading all over Europe. People want to take back a power that they feel was taken away from them and that they feel they should have. It seems they have completely forgotten why we have chosen representative democracy in the first place. And that is extremely dangerous.
So, why have we chosen representative democracy? First, because people are not interested in politics enough to bother making all the decisions. In the ancient city-state of Athens, the state had to pay citizens to come to the gatherings and vote, because people simply could not be bothered to spend time making decisions which they did not see as important. Second, we have learned throughout history that the division of work is a crucial element for the development of society. If we divide work, our society will become overall more advanced and able to develop much faster. If your car engine starts to make weird sounds, you will probably not try to fix it yourself. You will not open the bonnet and start removing random parts of the engine without really knowing what their purpose is. Instead, you will ask your friends for a good local car mechanic, maybe check some online reviews, and then take your car to him. And you will leave the repairs to him. We applied this same principle to politics. We elect individuals who are ready to devote their lives to leading our society and thus should be able to make the best decisions based on their experience. And to prevent them from propagating their own interests instead of the ones of the society, we have created the space for journalists and academicians to supervise politicians and hold them accountable.
People have grown to be more confident about their opinions, and through social media echo-chambers they have confirmed them and consolidated them. Now, they believe that they are in the majority and know better than people who have spent their lifetime analysing these issues.
Yet, our society today does not trust any of these people anymore. Why? It all goes back to the problem I pointed to at the beginning of this article. People have grown to be more confident about their opinions, and through social media echo-chambers they have confirmed them and consolidated them. Now, they believe that they are in the majority and know better than people who have spent their lifetime analysing these issues. People forgot how to acknowledge what they do not know. They are no longer able to concede that they might not be the most competent ones to make a particular decision. To get back to our example, once you take your car to the car mechanic and he decides which part of the motor needs to be replaced or what needs to be done, you will not doubt it. Why? Because you acknowledge that he knows more about car engines than you do. He is more competent to make this decision than you are. And in the same logic people who have spent their life studying politics or specific issues that politics tackles these days, such as global warming, are probably more competent to decide about them than you are.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that after we cast our vote in elections we should not be interested in politics, or that we should not doubt the decisions our policy-makers take. I am certainly not saying that we should leave them un-accountable and free to do whatever they want. I am perfectly aware that politicians have other motivations than simply their desire to do the best for our society. They want to be re-elected. They often slide to populism. Most importantly, I do not say we should stop trying to understand politics and make up our own opinions about certain issues. After all, these opinions and understandings will play a crucial role in who will we vote for in the next elections. My only point is that we should acknowledge that maybe our opinion is not the only right one. That there are people, these so called “experts”: journalists, academicians, professionals, who have devoted their life to studying issues that suddenly become relevant for politics. We should acknowledge that their opinion is probably more valuable than ours. And again, I am not calling for any form of oligarchy or sofocracy (the rule of the philosophers, or the wise ones). People should simply, especially when their current opinion goes against the opinion of most experts, lower their ego and maybe acknowledge that their opinion is not necessarily the most qualified one. People should, when electing their next political representative, have respect for the opinions of esteemed journalists and academicians.
I am afraid that in this complex world, the majority might not even be able to take the best decision for itself.
For a long time, we have been worried that democracy will lead to the “tyranny of the majority”. I think that this is no longer the only danger that democracy faces. I am afraid that in this complex world, the majority might not even be able to take the best decision for itself. And unless people learn to say, “I do not know”, this might lead to some horrifying consequences.
Latest posts by Krystof Selucky (see all)
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