I would like to heartily recommend the policy outlined in this post: that anyone advocating some political, economic, or social proposal should first be required to write a short essay explaining what the hell it is, and thus demonstrating that they have some minimal idea of what they're talking about. We will never see such a thing in this world, but a man can dream.
In an open forum, there is generally a good correlation between the passion with which some idea is advanced and the ignorance of the person advocating it. The comments section of any blog - this one not excepted - will demonstrate this to anyone with doubts. (That's also why I support this worthwhile initiative), one of many proposed by its parent web site. Yeats had it right: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."
And so it has always been. In the purview of this blog, for example, no one in my experience ever offers the tentative conclusion that the drug companies might possibly be an evil conspiracy to poison the public. No, that view is delivered with powerful conviction, accompanied by an equally strong belief that anyone who thinks differently is either a moron or a bought-and-paid-for tool.
Correcting for ignorance, were it possible, would change the world. I recall this insight hitting me with some force about 25 years ago. I was watching TV coverage of the House debating a bill that would have provided aid to the Nicaraguan contras. A graphic came up on the screen of a public opinion poll on the issue - this many people thought we should give them money, this many didn't. But then a follow-up question was shown, where they asked the same sample who these contras were. And an alarming number of people answered either "don't know" or thought that they were part of the Nicaraguan government forces, which made me realize that no weight whatsoever should have been given to the answers to that earlier question. If you don't know who the contras are, in other words, why should anyone care what you think should be done about them?
Allow me to wander off topic a bit - anyone who wants can bail out at this point; the rest of this post will be idle political speculation. OK, that line of thought leads one to several interesting conclusions about voting. I've long thought very much like this. I think that strenuous efforts to get people to vote are misguided - if someone is not motivated enough to get out and vote in an election, then society is better off if they do, in fact, stay home. And I'm not advocated some sort of closed-off elite; the doors are always wide open. There are thousands upon thousands of ways for someone to become more informed about any issue or any candidate, and if a person does not avail themselves of any of them, they have (in my view) disqualified themselves from voting.
That, though, leads us back to Yeats and that passionate intensity problem. Doesn't this mean that a lot of strongly motivated voters will, in fact, be ignorant? My solution to that, which I've been advocating since I was about seventeen, is for all voting booths to have two doors. The inner one can be the usual curtain. The outer one, though, presents the prospective voter with a few questions on general political and social knowledge, randomly selected from a larger pool. How often is your state's governor elected - every two years, every four, every six? Which of these names is the name of your state's other senator, the one who's not up for re-election this time? Who writes budget bills, the House or the Senate? That sort of thing. But if you can't get a majority of these high-school-civics questions right, the outer door does not open, and you must go home. When I'm in a bad mood, I toy with the idea of rigging up some sort of trap door system as well, but that's harder to implement.
Oh, I'm just full of improving ideas. I'd also like to see "None of the above" be an option on all ballots. What if NOTA wins? Well, new election in sixty days, and none of the previous candidates can run. It's been pointed out to me that had this system actually been in force that we might be behind by several presidential elections by this point, but I'm still not convinced if that's a bug or a feature. And another reform that's often occurred to me would probably only be possible in a much smaller country than the US. I could imagine, though, getting everyone in such a state together and asking which of them really, really wanted to be President. Whoever raises their hand is disqualified. There really should be some way to weed out candidates whose life's burning ambition is to Be In Charge. I'm reading The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius and Gibbon's Decline and Fall these days, and you can't help but think that the Roman Empire ran things the exact opposite way: the people who climbed to the top were the ones who were willing to make it the organizing principle of their entire lives. The same goes for any autocracy.
And in fact, just to drag things back by force to the usual topics of this site, it often goes for large companies. Recall this stuff - Tiberius would have nodded and smiled. And you didn't want to see what made him smile.