In democracy, there is a human right everyone seems to think is simple enough, but in actuality encompasses two directly contradictory ideas. I refer to, “the vote is a universal human right”. It is actually two separate rights:
- The right to participate in the decisions of how to change our society.
- The right to be a layman – to lack specialist knowledge. There is no requirement of expertise before you can vote. Without this right, voting is not a universal human right (Or so it is claimed).
This idea, that everyone should be allowed to vote, is part of what perpetuates the myth that democracy means, “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”. The culture of such a democratic society fosters the false notion that everyone has an opinion that counts. It fosters a culture where people have a fundamental right to not be experts, to not study the issues relevant to their vote, and to not think about their decisions. In this society, expertise is an irrelevance to how your input will be treated.
For example, with economic policy or climate change, people want to exert an influence on what the government decides to do, but they also take no interest in educating themselves about the topic or putting any serious thought into the options available.This is antithetical to an effective democracy, and it must be corrected. These two rights are not one and the same, but mutually exclusive. Determining a course of action on an issue explicitly and desperately requires understanding, background knowledge, and a willingness to think about it. Ignorance effectively cripples someone’s ability to contribute to such a discussion. The fact that this even needs to be said is absurd.
Contrary to popular opinion, ignorance is indeed a very good reason to dismiss someone from a decision-making process. We want the operating theatre filled with surgeons, not lay people. More people laying hands on the patient doesn’t necessarily guarantee better outcomes.
Some have suggested that we need to raise the public’s awareness of important issues. What if we look at it from the other direction. Maybe instead of raising the entire population into a state of full understanding, we could simply filter out those that are not knowledgeable.
I wish merely to point out that, regardless of whether or not we deserve both of these rights, they are logically contradictory. But I do not wish to strip either of these rights from anyone. Instead I offer everybody a choice:
If you want to keep your right to not think about an issue, then you forfeit your right to a place at the table of discussion. You must choose between ignorance and influence, simply because the combination of the two is so dangerous.
“I want a say in a complex decision, but I don’t want to expend any intellectual effort.”
No, you may not. The decision is better served by your absence than your input.
I’m not going to try to force you to expend that intellectual effort, but I am going to try to stop you if you start to claim that your opinion has any weight or demand that people listen to you. If you come to the table with an armful of ignorance and try to lump it in with all the knowledge and thoughtful ideas brought by others, then you should expect to be given something soft to play with in the corner.
So you want to speak, but not to think? Pick one. The air in parliament is not improved by a droning cacophony of thoughtless speech.