The Reign of Collective Stupidity
An acquaintance of mine tells the story of finding himself in the midst of a public demonstration against Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The chant being raised, so reminiscent of the 1960s, was: Hey, Hey, Ho Ho! Stephen Harper Has Got To Go. My acquaintance asked a placard-bearing young woman, obviously a student, what precisely she objected to in Harper's conduct and policies. She was unable to respond. He repeated his question and, after some hesitation on her part, received the answer: "I don't know, but he's got to go." Ipse dixit!
Listening to CBC radio's weekly opinion sampler, Cross-Canada Checkup, on the Sunday before New Year, I was treated to a random specimen of public perspectives and sentiments on issues regarded as having been of major importance in the year coming to an end. I learned, inter alia, that global warming was a dire threat to the continuance of the species. I discovered that our conservative government has pursued an agenda injurious to the national interest. And so on. That global warming has been largely discredited and that temperatures have remained stable for the last 17 years was, apparently, news to the coast-to-coast participants in the program. They had never heard of premier Canadian climatologists Tom Harris, Lawrence Solomon, Tim Patterson and Ross McKitrick (oft maligned by the denizens of the global warming industry) or of the Oregon Petition with its 32,000 dissenting scientists. (As James Lewis comments, "Anybody who still falls for climate scare-lines after this freezing winter is either (a) terminally brainwashed or (b) stupid beyond repair. It's often hard to tell the difference.") That the Harper government had steered the country through the fiscal meltdown of the last tumultuous years, leaving it in one of the strongest economic positions in the developed world, was scarcely a blip on the radar of national consciousness. People with salaries and the leisure to opine at length on phone-in programs seem to think this privileged condition is somehow natural and unassailable.
Recent polls have indicated that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, a youngish wavy-haired ignoramus whose only credentials are that he is a former prime minister's son, a part-time public school drama teacher and bungee-diving coach, and rather pretty in comparison to our elder statesmen and pudgy politicians, leads Stephen Harper by a 10 percent margin in electoral popularity. Harper, for all his faults, kept the country afloat. Trudeau would have sunk it in record time, with shenanigans like his vote-trawling outreach to a terror-linked Islamic organization, his refusal to call honor killings "barbaric," his objections to the immensely profitable Northern Gateway pipeline (while approving of the Keystone XL project. Go figure!), his favorable comments on Quebec sovereignty, and the inevitable tax hikes the Liberal party would impose on the middle class. Yet the Canadian public has to date smiled benignly on a man who performs a partial strip tease in front of smitten ladies during a charity event. The level of political imbecility we are witnessing is incommensurable.
Canada, however, is small beer in comparison to the political travesty that is the United States, where nearly half the population relies on food stamps, welfare payments, tax rebates and a blizzard of entitlements, whose foreign policy is a shambles of half-baked and destructive initiatives, which boasts a scandal-ridden and thoroughly inept administration and is mired in a swamp of economic insecurity, which has exponentially expanded a "coercive, intrusive regulatory regime" as well as devastating the healthcare system, and which twice elects a man who would make a Justin Trudeau prime ministry look like a feasible alternative to the electoral mayhem, fiduciary malfeasance and political stagnation that "The One" has inflicted upon his nation.
We have read of late that the "consensus" may be changing in Europe (and elsewhere) with the election and rise of several ostensibly conservative or "pirate" parties in a number of countries and the pallid second thoughts of diverse leaders. But even a nominally conservative government is no match for the combined might of the entrenched political class, a treasonous academy, the saurian bureaucrats of the European Union, and a left-wing media empire for which, like its North American counterpart, journalism has become the art of dissembling and outright propaganda. The few leaders and public figures -- Prince Charles and David Cameron in the U.K., Jean-François Cope of the UMP party in France, King William Alexander of the Netherlands, Angela Merkel in Germany -- who appear to be reconsidering the poisoned fruit of multicultural immigration, particularly with regard to Islam, have not markedly shucked their dhimmi mindset and continue for the most part to behave like dimwits -- or dhimmwits.
Meanwhile, the socialist, top-down economic policies adopted by a majority of European nations are infallibly bankrupting them, to the extent that the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank see fit to raid the bank accounts of private depositors, as recently in Cyprus. As for the electorate, a large share of whom profit from cradle-to-grave welfare entitlements and who are becoming strangers to the habits of entrepreneurship and plain hard work, the jury is still out but the verdict is troublingly predictable.
How did we get into such a sociopolitical morass? The signs of a culture in precipitous and perhaps terminal disarray proliferate everywhere, in the corrupt and partisan media, in an entertainment industry that has devoted itself to the production of unadulterated trash, and in an academy that has sold its soul to mere credentialing, politically correct indoctrination and totalitarian impulses, operating, in the words of Daren Jonescu, as "re-education camps" in the interests of "an artificially restrictive and pre-packaged pseudo-world." These forces swoop darkly over the political landscape like Ringwraiths, further devitalizing a debilitated population. The result is what political scientist Samuel Popkin in The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns called "low information signalling," a term picked up by comedian manqué Bill Maher as "low information voters" and applied to dunning effect by Jonah Goldberg in The Tyranny of Clichés.
Low information voters, however, are far preferable to the class of citizens -- like the young lady whom my acquaintance queried -- arising among us who may be designated as no information voters, driven by hidebound ideology and complacent ignorance of almost limbic proportions. Crucial decisions are taken by those who are either uneducated, having given themselves over to what Victor Davis Hanson calls a crash and burn culture, or miseducated, having been lobotomized by a heavily politicized pedagogic curriculum controlled by the Left. And that, I suggest, is the root of our dilemma.
We live in a society that has lost both its moral compass and its intellectual focus. Any serious psephological study would have to conclude that the voting public is too incompetent to exercise the franchise. As Churchill said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." Today, I'm afraid, a half-minute would suffice. Nevertheless, it is best to remember that no political system is perfect and many are patently reprehensible. The authority of Aristotle should be consulted here. In Book 4 of the Politics, the philosopher lays it down that of "the diverging systems of government" (parekbasis), tyranny is the worst, oligarchy is somewhat better, and democracy is the most moderate or least worst. Regrettably, as our low-and-no information voters, subject to the extremophiles who dominate the culture, make alarmingly clear, democracy is no panacea. As James Lewis wryly puts it apropos the Progressivist power complex and its deluded victims, "Great power goes together with great stupidity." Later historians, if there are any, will probably describe the years we are living through now as the Age of the Dummy -- indeed, an age that has spawned those aptly named books "for Dummies," an era facile, ludicrous, puerile and moronic.
I confess that I don't see how our current dilemma can be resolved without a sea change in the gradients and vectors of the culture at large or, as I greatly fear, a high-magnitude catastrophe that may possibly educate us with respect to our self-betrayal and compel us to rebuild. Barring the miracle of an epistemological recovery across the culture, which seems unlikely, we may have to depend on the most infallible of preceptors, historical agency, that from time to time may bring what the Romans called a felix culpa, variously translated as a "happy fault" or "fortunate fall." Even this is moot, for a fortunate fall is no guarantee of social revival and cultural reintegration. The consequence of collective stupidity that causes political, social and economic collapse may be not reconstruction but archeology.
Aristotle goes on to assert in Book 5 that the best way to preserve a democracy is education. "For even the most beneficial and widely approved laws bring us no benefit if they are not inculcated through education and the habits of citizens." He could not have been more right. But for the time being, between the uneducated and the miseducated falls the shadow of our malaise.