Monday, January 24, 2011

Is Democracy Still the Best Form of Govt?

It would be much easier to go through life filled with admiration or at least acceptance of my fellow humans. But I'm having a hard time.

Here's why. Do these things make you too roll your eyes at the typical person?

  • 75% of Americans believe in heaven, 71% in angels, 59% in the devil. (Who are these people? In my entire life, I think I've met two people who believe in angels.)
  • Most people spend much more discretionary time playing a sport or staring at a TV set or video game than volunteering to alleviate suffering.
  • 26% of Americans don't know that the U.S. declared independence from Britain.
  • 40% don't know that the Republicans won the House in 2010
  • 45% don't know that the sun is a star.
  • Most people forgo careers they'd really enjoy--creative careers, for example--so they can make more money beyond what's needed for a decent existence. They're insurance salespeople, stock brokers, accountants, bond traders, corporate managers or lawyers, for example. And for what? More square feet of house to clean in a tony rather than just decent neighborhood, $100+ frou-frou jeans rather than $30 Levis, diamond rather than cubic zirconium, a new BMW or Mercedes rather than an older Toyota, which is more reliable.
  • Millions of men have unprotected sex with a woman whom, if they impregnate, will be on the hook for 18 years of child support if she chooses to have the baby. And only she has that choice to abort or not. He has no control in the matter. (I must admit to having done this...and got lucky.)
  • Most people marry rather than just live together even though over half of couples divorce, which often entails enormous financial and psychological pain. (I did this too and again lucked out.)
  • 35 million Americans regularly abuse drugs or alcohol, wasting their lives and taking large tolls on their families and society.
  • Famed cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish reports that 79% of heart attack victims who are told they much change their diet or die are, within a year, back to their old eating habits.
  • Many people claim to celebrate diversity yet aren't troubled by the lack of the most important diversity: ideological diversity in society's mind molders: the schools, colleges, news media, and entertainment media. Such people believe that all wisdom resides left of center.
  • Many people bristle against Israel being a Jewish state but don't mind that all its surrounding countries are Arab states. Those people are comfortable with that double-standard even though Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, the only country that works to ensure equal rights for women, and has the world's highest per-capita literacy rate and percentage of medical patents. And those people feel that way despite the Palestinian government's charter calling for the destruction of Israel and being armed by Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, denies the Holocaust and wants to destroy Israel.
  • Many people believe it's wise to redistribute education dollars from children with the greatest potential to cure cancer, invent the next Google, etc., (programs for the gifted have been eviscerated, especially in California) to those with the least: special education students.
Are you too rolling your eyes at average folk?

More important, do those characteristics of the electorate call into question whether representative democracy remains the best form of government? After all, to wisely steward a country or even a city in our ever more complex world requires the best possible leaders. Can we really continue to believe that an electorate of which 71% believe in angels can withstand the Madison-Avenue-concocted campaign commercials (not to mention State-of-the-Union addressees) and elect the wisest leader? After all, that electorate typically chooses lawyers to lead us and even occasionally, actors (e.g,, Reagan, Schwarzeneggar) and comedians (e.g., Al Franken, Tom Ammiano.)

Would America not more wisely be led if its significant local, state, and federal leaders were selected by a blue-ribbon panel of respected for-profit, non-profit, government, and military leaders, small business owners, artists, scientists, philosophers, randomly selected citizens, plus the incumbent leader?


Jeffrie said...

I have rolled my eyes at all of those things, and others, at some point or another.

While I am consistently begging for more work to do & am being repeatedly ignored, several of my coworkers, including one who is best friends with my supervisor, gets away with as little as possible. That makes me roll my eyes.

People gossip about the latest celebrity breakup. That makes me roll my eyes.

Because of my race & gender, I am not allowed to have an opinion apart from the status quo. That makes me roll my eyes.

But before I can declare my lack of respect for the typical person, I remember that I do stupid things every day, and I'm just as typical as the people who earned my eye rolls.

Can I actually respect the typical person? Can I answer that without separating myself from the typical population? I don't think I can.

Anonymous said...

A lot of those things are to do with intelligence. Do you support eugenics? No, then stop complaining.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

To me, everybody's a piece of garbage until they prove otherwise.

Yes, I do roll my eyes at many of the things you mentioned. But the truth is, I'm guilty of a few of them myself!

Serge said...

Humans are emotional animals. I know, for example that marriage and children is simply the genes way to propogate themselves. Yet, that knowledge doesn't stop me from longing for a family. So, men work themselves to death in unfullfiling careers, because physical and psychological wellbeing is secondary to sexual success from evolutionary viewpoint.

So, while altruism may have its evolutionary role, especially men would rather watch an action movie than help a local soup kitchen because evolutionary they derive more benefit from the "training" (even if its illusionary) the movie provides.

Hating humans for being selfish and vain, is like hating cats for being keen predators and killing birds. Human's thinking brain can overide only so much its emotional/evolutionary instincts.

Links said...

I'm just glad I didn't create more average folk. Yay for Planned Parenthood!

F.S. said...

Marty - you wrote:

"Most people forgo careers they'd really enjoy--creative careers, for example--so they can make more money beyond what's needed for a decent existence."

I listen to your radio show pretty regularly, but correct me if I'm wrong: don't you often argue something close to the opposite: that people often unrealistically want to be writers and artists and musicians and such for a career, when they would probably be more content and secure if they got a decent, meaningful job and pursued their creative endeavors in their free time?

Marty Nemko said...

Reasonable question, F.S. But there are creative careers that aren't as risky as actor or musician. For example, I'm a career counselor who writes and does radio shows as part of that career. (And yes, play piano and act and direct plays as a hobby). That's a much more creative life than in the careers I mention in the blog post, and the zillions of other minimally creative but lucrative careers, for example, corporate widget sales representative or even, for example, dentist. Much of that career is very routinized.

Marty Nemko said...

Serge, I don't hate them, I just--as I wrote in the post, have a hard time respecting them.

Marty Nemko said...

And Serge, is there an evolutionary explanation for such behavior as continuing to eat a cholesterol-drenched diet after you've had a heart attack and the doctor tells you'll die? "Make way for the young?" In the end, discipline, along with intelligence, are the two most important attributes, and too often the most lacking. I'm guilty too--I overeat. No I haven't had any health issues, but eating Indian buffets once a week can't be healthy.

Dan said...

Marty, Remember Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground?" One of the main themes of the monologue is that humans rarely act in their best self interest. So most of us are genetically disposed to illogic. How often do your clients actually take your advice?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Marty for having the courage to write this.

Until we can be HONEST with each other about how we live, we will never get better. I think the vast majority of people have the capacity to be good human beings, but they figure "hey, everyone else is watching tv/eating fast food/believing in angels/etc so it must be true". Just because it's popular/common doesn't mean it's good or right. We need more honest posts like this if we're ever going to wake up as a species.

Chris said...

Not Serge but I will say humans are programmed to intake as many calories as possible when they are available because throughout most of evolutionary histories, calories were tough to come by especially without a proportional energy expenditure that may or may not have been worth the effort.

As far as the limbic systems know this is still the case and the rational brain does not have full control of the limbic system. I have read that current thinking in brain physiology is that we have a triune brain - the reptilian brain, the limbic system, and the forebrain. They do not have perfect communication and the forebrain where rational thinking occurs does not have total control.

Fat and sugar pack a lot of caloric bang for the buck and when they are options parts of your brain literally think this is the best survival strategy you can employ. The fact that another part of the brain disagrees does not mean it gets to carry the decision,

Marty Nemko said...

Dan, you're absolutely right. A significant percentage of my clients do not follow through on the counsel that both s/he and I agree are in their best interest.

F.S. said...

Thanks for posting my question and following up. And funny you should list dentist as a non-creative career: one of my high school friends is a dentist and she says, with all seriousness, that it's like doing crafts all day. (I guess dentists do get to play with some cool power tools to create tiny sculptures that nobody ever sees ...)

Serge said...

Chris is right about calories. Now, humans who have hard time following through something because of conflicting intrinsic motivations, can try tricking themselves.

For example, whenther I need to get up early for work, I have GREAT diffiulty IF the alarm is by my bedside. I simply keep pressing snoose button over and over, and feel almost paralised getting up. This way I was late for work many, many times. And I could have been fired, if I had not moved the alarm clock, a VERY LOUD alarm clock far away from reaching distance. So now motivational balance changed, and the desire to get rid of painful stimuli (loud sound) becomes greater than the desire to sleep.

Similarly we should come up with a website in which the user enters (1) their current weight (2) the desired weight change (3) taste preferences (4) price preferences. This website will then automatically "shop" for the user among various websites that deliver groceries home like
The user thus will avoid setting foot in a grocery store, and end up eating whatever he is delivered which would be low-calorie food (and maybe even save some money).

The key is for an algorithm or a low-cost Indian to shop, since even online it's tempting to add that cherry pie that is on sale for only $1.99...

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, Plato believed that the best form of government was a constitutional monararchy. Also, if I remember correctly, Liechtenstein and Monaco are two modern examples of a constitutional monarchy.

Seraphim said...

"Are you too rolling your eyes at average folk?"

No, Marty, I roll my eyes at intellectual hubris, which is a far more serious issue.

And by the way, we don't have a democracy -- we have a plutocracy masquerading as a republic.

turbine said...

Our country is not a Democracy, it is a Representative Republic. The Founders designed our form of Gov't to account for dumb, ignorant and apathetic inhabitants.

Voting is a check and balance in our system. Our screwed up Country is mostly the fault of our Representatives, their greed and avarice and partly the fault of us apathetic voters.

Don't blame the dumb voters or the Citizens, blame the Government!

Basil Fawlty said...

I guess it is time to watch "Idiocracy" again.

Marcus said...

How silly this is!

I'm a U Chicago grad, earned an M.A. and J.D., speak four languages, practiced law on Wall Street and now work on the finance side, have published papers on political science and economics and...and...I believe in the Devil. Why? Because I'm a practicing Catholic.

The criteria you use to discredit the hoi poloi is just a Jewish version of standard secularism: how can anyone who is not an easy going nihilist a la Seinfeld be trusted with power?

The men who founded the country you now live in, the one who took your eastern European peasant family in and allowed you to flourish, believed in the Devil and, most likely, some form of divinely-attuned angels.

The secular nirvana that awaits us will not have one-thousandths the humanity and goodness as the society created by beleivers.

BTW, it's the folks who believe in God, the Devil and Angels who support your precious Israel, not the atheists.

Lastly, no one has a problem with Israel being a "Jewish state." Our problem is that all too often American and European Jews will not allow OUR Western nations to be our own. Israel for the Jews but Italy, France and America for the multicultural masses! No go - not fair. Behind every open borders, multicult organization is a secular Jewish lawyer agitating for two things: ethno-nationalism in Israel and multicultural deconstruction in the West. That is the problem, not other Middle Eastern, Semitic states. Frankly, Israel's neighbors don't concern me.

Marty Nemko said...

Yes, in 2011, a small percentage of educated people are True Believers in such things as the Devil but the poor and uneducated are the largest group.

Re Jews, the stereotype is very unfair. Jews, on average, are smart and also value education, hard work, etc, so you'll find them overrepresented in leadership, but not just among the multiculti advocates, in most things, including their opponents, that is, the neo-cons. I for one, feel that forcing diversity tends to, net, yield greater disadvantages to the world than advantage.

Serge said...

I am reading "Foreskin's Lament" memoir by Shalom Auslander and it's quite revealing (and entertaining). He was raised in an ultra orthodox Jewish school, but since denounced God of the Bible as a monster who enjoys torturing belivers and non-belivers alike (there are many examples of that in the Bible) Yet, he can't stop believing in him!

I am also a firm atheist, rationalist, humanist...yet tonight my dreams were full of superstitious characters: vampires, devils etc... Maybe I am on wrong medicine, have a cold, watched too many supernatural movies...or maybe we are biologically predisposed for superstitions ?

Yet it is true that intellect and education tends to limit manifestations of our most absurd superstitions to dreams and drug induced hallucinations.

Surprisingly, Americans tend to elect leaders substantially smarter than themselves, like President Obama, who not incidentally is much less superstitious than his predecessor President Bush (one of the few Presidents matching its average electorate IQ)