Sometimes I experience “down-on-my-knees awe” of our species. How so very far we have come in such a relatively short period of time. Out of Africa some 70,000 years ago, we have been capable of language, music and art for about 50,000 years. We left the planet 50 years ago (Apollo space program) and the upper end of our potential is, I think, limited only by our imaginations. Yet…
Yet, what numb chucks we are. My sister characterizes our species as “nasty little monkeys.” We’re violent, aggressive, territorial, fearful and superstitious. We breed much as a malignant cancer, largely indifferent to our collective impact on Earth’s environment. On one hand we’re artistic, creative, loving and generous. On the other we’re myopic, fearful and self-serving. We’re a Manichaean, Janus-masked collection of competing emotions. The very qualities that make us “Master of the Universe” can just as easily launch an inquisition, justify a pogrom or require women in burkas.
What genuinely has me down is the condition of America. How did we arrive here? Up to our neck in problems (of our own making) and operating under a political system conceived to be deliberately contentious. A three-branch democracy created to provide a check and balance against tyranny as well as revolutionary change. We are wholly dependent on an intelligent and informed electorate who in turn elect competent leaders.
When the obit is written on the United States, historians will conclude America succumbed because its population failed its test of good citizenship. We did not smartly consider our intelligent options. We did not select appropriate solutions to the challenges confronting our republic (whether it be war, energy or education) nor did we elect the “best” leaders with the best ideas. This appears to be America’s condition, depressing as that may be.
The popular idea that the average citizen will select the best candidate or best policy when they see it is being increasingly challenged as false. According to research results conducted by Cornell University professor David Dunning, one conclusion suggests that democratic elections “produce mediocre leadership and policies.” Why, you might legitimately ask?
Because most of our fellow citizens cannot adequately judge the competency of a public policy or a candidate. “Very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is," Dunning said.
To a degree, this applies to all of us. Most of us are not experts, say, in foreign policy. To be able to then discern who is an expert and whose ideas make sense becomes the challenge. We lack the mental acumen to make those determinations. And most of us lack the discipline to be an “informed” voter. Informed with accurate, intelligent information.
We seemingly are incapable of making the right decisions when the evidence stares us in the face. Why? Because, "If you have gaps in your knowledge in a given area, then you’re not in a position to assess your own gaps or the gaps of others," Dunning observed.
I am reminded of the 1994 comedy “Dumb and Dumber”. Is America little more than the dumb dumbly electing the dumber?
H.L. Mencken observed, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve it good and hard.”
Do we? Deserve it “good and hard?”
Shall we put it to a vote?
What’s that? We have.
One election, one vote at a time.
Jepson is a 24-year resident of Florida. He’s fiscally conservative, socially liberal, likes art and embraces diversity of opinion. Reach him at Jepson@MEDIAmerica.US