Stupidity and Democracy

Not exactly an expert conversation starter, or indeed a sentiment likely to win one many friends, but it strikes me that not everyone with whom we converse is equally matched in the intelligence stakes. At once this statement seems arrogant, assuming perhaps to much of one’s own gifts in this regard, and yet altogether obvious.

Not a Nietzschean ‘Why I am so Wise.’

By no means do I rate myself an intellectual heavyweight. I know quite well that I am nothing of the sort. So this reflection is most certainly not intended as some Nietzschean Why I am so Wise, but rather a crude acknowledgement that there exists among people a pecking order of cerebral abilities in which each has his or her place – moving sometimes up or down over the course of one’s life.

Politeness determines that it is unacceptable to observe what is there for all to see, that not everyone is smart. Our society – more especially our political society – has enshrined the utterly absurd notion of the equality of opinion. But it seems to me that the contradiction of the truth of varying degrees of intelligence and the notion – verging on a right – of equality of opinion is contributing to a growing crisis in democracy.

Astute politicians, themselves perfectly aware of the obvious intellectual shortcomings of many, cynically play on the delusions of the many in order to win votes and, by so doing, gain power. Information and the mass media too play their part – for so long as there is a sufficient level of collusion between the power-hungry and the producers of information and the owners of the media the uncritical majority can be herded in any given direction.

Here, at least, there is an intersection between Antonio Gramsci’s idea of hegemony and the frustrating reality that – by definition – half of any electorate is below average intelligence. On the one hand the political message, the available information, and the media narrative present a skewed yet convincing picture of reality, and on the other the consumers of this hegemonic troika are any combination of unintelligent, uncritical, or too intellectually lazy to countermine the progress of the grand strategy.

This illuminates the fact that democracy is both susceptible to manipulation and indeed already corrupted. Restoring democracy to health must be our greatest ambition and priority. This will require a commitment to better education in rights, social and political theory, philosophy, and freedom – but this will only go so far.

“Democracy unguarded is or otherwise will become a tyranny.”

Apathy, wilful ignorance, laziness, and lack of intellectual ability will always be a reality in every democracy. Equality of opinion – insofar as ‘opinion’ is equated with knowledge and understanding – is a fallacy. It is an untruth. Democracies must of necessity have their guardians – a difficulty given the human condition, admittedly. Whether a constitutional judiciary, a senatorial office, or a technocracy – something is required as a ballast to safeguard our freedom from the natural atrophy to which democracy predisposed. Democracy unguarded is or otherwise will become a tyranny.


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