When is My Absence More Valuable Than My Input?

Ignorance or Influence0

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:

  1. The right to participate in the decisions of how to change our society.
  2. 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.

The Cult of Ignorance- Asimov0

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.

We're arranged a global civilization

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.

See also:


4 thoughts on “When is My Absence More Valuable Than My Input?

  1. My friend sent me a link which you may find interesting:

    It seems that there might be empirical evidence that undermines your thesis here. Just out of curiosity, do you actually have any evidence to which you can point in support of your argument?

    • Why thank you. That is very interesting.
      It certainly gives me pause. I admit that I have no such specific evidence in my favour. I haven’t yet looked into the relevant areas (My list of things to read never seems to get any smaller).

      However, I do think that “democracy” is a very strong value in our culture and, as with religion, freedom, and equality, and other things that we value, we are likely to exhibit confirmation bias and leap upon the smallest fragments of evidence that might support it and emphasise them, or twist them to support it.

      For example, I think the video was quick to extrapolate from a very specific phenomenon to vastly different domains. Guessing a cow’s weight does not equal international politics. People have a very direct experience of weights of objects that they have honed across their entire lives, through direct experience, playing with and manipulating objects and getting direct and immediate feedback about differences in weight. The same could not be said of almost everything else that they talked about in the video (for example, we don’t have anywhere near that level of experience and feedback with selecting individuals we have never met to make decisions about countries). It is called “pop psychology” when journalists and civilians try to over-apply psychology research. And it happens all the time.
      Just because averaging people’s guesses of a cow’s weight gets you close to its actual weight, doesn’t necessarily mean that people can collectively steer a country through economic trouble, or elect the best leader, or find optimal solutions to problems. I looked at the abstracts of a few of the “wisdom of the crowd” papers linked on the wikipedia page, and almost all of them say, “the results showed that averaging the crowd’s responses yielded better results than the response of a random individual”. And I’m not advocating that decisions are made by random individuals. In fact, that seems like possibly the lowest standard of comparison you could make. And it also seems to undermine the concept of a representative democracy, where an individual, rather than a group, is delegated the task of actually making the decisions. Is that any different to a crowd of people all voting for one among them to be the one who guesses the cow’s weight? Because that wouldn’t be wisdom of the crowd, would it? That would get you a guess just as terrible as selecting someone at random (I expect).

      See eg


      • Those are some very good points. Indeed, the mechanism of averaging guesses of a cow’s weight is completely different from the mechanism of wikipedia, and asking the audience, where you ignore the majority and select one response from the person who actually knows the answer. I thought it was a bit of a stretch when they tried to draw a connection between those things.
        However would you be so quick to point out the limitations of evidence that loosely supported (rather than loosely undermined) your argument?
        In effect, all you have done is commit an argument from ignorance: You have carved away an area of mystery and given yourself permission to fill in the blanks. Like the person who says, “You haven’t proven me wrong, so I win by default.” Or who says, “we don’t yet understand this, so I can make up anything I want to fill in the gaps in our knowledge”.

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