• Cuthbert
    396
    OK let's give it a whirl. Before we go ahead, how do I explain to my next door neighbour that he gets only one vote and I get three when he is as good as me and as much a citizen as I am, only without the honors degree? I suppose I could persuade him that I know best. But I'd like some back-up. He's a gentle guy and I'll need the rational debating kind of back-up. But there are others, more prone to frustration, who will see the degrading of the value of their votes as a provocation. And, in the absence of an effective ballot, they may make their feeling known by less gentle means. Heck, even without that worry, I'm with them, no matter how many votes Brennan allows me. I'm not putting up with this divisive and patronising nonsense for a minute.

    "So, I don't really see the objection." - as above.

    "We treat democracy as if it is above reproach."

    I agree with Churchill that democracy is the worst imaginable system of government aside from every other system that has ever been tried.
  • Chany
    352
    Regarding minors voting, Brennan actually makes use of minors in an intuiton pump. He asks why six year-olds can't vote and points out that we, in large part, deny the right to vote to six year-olds because they lack the mental capacity and knowledge required to make political decisions. We wouldn't accept the verdict of a six year-old on a jury, and we would not accept a six year-old making political decisions for us.

    We can then go up the age until we get to the teenage years, like 16 and 17 year-olds. I mean, it is odd that someone who is 17 can't vote but is in the same peer group and shares the same general lifestyles of an 18 year-old who can vote. But this seems odd. I mean, we could give them a chance to vote through some type of test, but then why do we allow everyone to vote without the test? We already acknowledge that certain people are not rational or capable, so why do we do things by age?
  • CuddlyHedgehog
    457
    The idea is that, so many voters being relatively stupid, the better educated voters should get more votesCuthbert

    Better educated doesn't necessarily mean less stupid.
  • Chany
    352


    Who gets to vote and how many votes they get would does not need to be tied to education level, but some other metric that anyone could do to show competency. Someone does not automatically get more votes under an epistocracy. I wouldn't do it. I've been to college and seen some of the people who get degrees; I would not automatically assume they should vote just because they have a piece of paper for no-name university somewhere.
  • Cuthbert
    396
    Precisely so. I was giving a not too charitable summary of the position I am attacking. The epistocratic assumption is that the uneducated lack the wisdom and good judgement to vote responsibly and it is false.
  • Cuthbert
    396
    "Someone does not automatically get more votes under an epistocracy."

    I'm attacking Brennan and Estlund who argue for that exact policy. "Brennan suggests that since voters in an epistocracy would be more enlightened about crime and policing, “excluding the bottom 80 percent of white voters from voting might be just what poor blacks need."" https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/07/the-case-against-democracy
  • Cuthbert
    396
    I'm more inclined to go with Pseudonym and deny the premiss that it's right to exclude minors from voting whilst hanging on to the view that everyone should have a vote regardless of their achievement in tests of knowledge or intelligence or maturity. But it's a weakness in my position on this thread, I have to admit.
  • Erik
    614


    From the article:

    "The political scientist Scott Althaus has calculated that a voter with more knowledge of politics will, on balance, be less eager to go to war, less punitive about crime, more tolerant on social issues, less accepting of government control of the economy, and more willing to accept taxes in order to reduce the federal deficit."

    I only skimmed the article, but these were the only policy positions I found which intimated specifics concerning the alleged "wisdom" of these hypothetical Epistocratic elites, who would apparently be running things on behalf of benighted fools like myself. Needless to say that while I personally agree with many of those positions, I'm skeptical of the notion that high levels of intelligence and education lead to such a consensus.

    I'm almost certain Brennan conveniently left out details entirely, and focused instead on the problems of democracy along with the potential theoretical strengths of his proposed system. But imo his inability (or unwillingness) to outline specifics shows just how elusive identifying something like political wisdom is. And if we can't at least point out some of its most basic features, then trying to create a system which allows for a higher concentration of "it" doesn't make much sense.

    Contrast Nietzsche with JS Mill. Both highly educated men whose writings continue to exert significant influence on us. Nietzsche famously felt that Mill was an idiot (I believe a "blockhead" is the specific term he used), and I'm almost certain Mill would have reciprocated had he been aware of Nietzsche's writings. Whose perspective, if either, more closely resembles wisdom? They're radically opposed on essentials concerning politics, ethics, and pretty much everything else.

    Setting aside obvious foreign counter-examples which challenge the assumption that the more educated someone is the more peaceful and progressive they will tend to be, even here in the relatively well-established bourgeois democracy of the United States one finds extremely affluent and highly educated Straussians (aka neoconservatives) who clearly don't share these basic positions, especially on war and crime. They are in many ways more barbaric in outlook than even the uneducated mob.

    Come to think of it, this nation was an Epistocracy of sorts at its inception. But far from being unanimous in their views, the Founding Fathers vehemently disagreed over essentials regarding the government they brought into existence. In their collective wisdom they couldn't foresee things that seem obvious to us in hindsight, such as their inability to anticipate and/or proactively address the slavery issue which would nearly destroy the country in the not-too-distant future. (Of course one could counter-argue here, paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, that they did in fact agree on principles while only disagreeing in opinions.)

    But that was an interesting and fun read. I think I'll go back and read it again in more depth. My impression is that while Brennan is (apparently) a legitimate scholar at a respected academic institution, he comes across as a provocateur more than anything else. But hey, maybe he's doing our democracy a service by questioning some of its most cherished assumptions, all in the hopes of reinvigorating it.

    It just seems like the democratic instinct is so deeply ingrained in the populace of the Western world, and increasingly everywhere else, that there's no viable alternative to it. If an alternative political system were to somehow come into power, it would have to cloak itself in democratic garb. Epistocracy is completely unrealistic imo and not necessarily even desirable.
  • Cuthbert
    396
    Erik: "But who knows, maybe he's doing democracy a service by questioning some of our most cherished democratic assumptions in the hopes of reinvigorating it."

    So it's a masterly work of devil's advocacy? That's a cheering thought, but I'm afraid it's all too sincere and dismal a thesis to be ironical.

    I think the democratic instinct is so strong because everybody counts and nobody is of lesser account than anybody else.
  • Erik
    614


    I agree with that assessment concerning the strength of the instinct.

    While Francis Fukuyama has been wrong on a number of things I do think he makes a valid point on this matter: liberal democracy is the only form of government which satisfies the "desire for recognition" which has developed in the West over hundreds of years through the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, etc. and is felt so strongly by individuals (and groups).

    There may be temporary setbacks of course (e.g. failure to recognize marginalized groups which inspires SJW's), and the system will doubtless continue to be implemented imperfectly, but there's just no going back to monarchy or aristocracy or anything else, and every government which arises in the future will have to address peoples' desire to be recognized as the political equals of their fellow citizens, regardless of other differences.
  • Erik
    614
    So it's a masterly work of devil's advocacy? That's a cheering thought, but I'm afraid it's all too sincere and dismal a thesis to be ironical.Cuthbert

    Haha you're probably right about that. But can't one have a little fun in academia? I guess this is an indication of the democratic instinct in me that I can't even take the (vague) idea he puts forth seriously. Says a lot about the strength of my own biases, I guess.

    I got offended just reading his proposals, and I'm going to flatter myself and assume I could easily pass whatever tests he or anyone else would design to limit participation in the system.
  • Chany
    352
    I'm attacking Brennan and Estlund who argue for that exact policy.Cuthbert

    Brennan (I cannot speak for Estlund) is arguing that there is nothing inherently wrong with restricting suffrage based on the notion of political intelligence and capabilities, or knowledge in general. His point is that the nonconsequentialist arguments for requiring democracy fail, the general electorate is incompetent, and, as a result, if we can devise a system in which we restrict the electorate based on some standard of knowledge (and obviously produces overall better outcomes), then we ought to do that. Heck, his overall thesis for the book is just "if epistocracy produces better outcomes than democracy, then we ought to use epistocracy.

    What that exactly entails is up for debate. His example of 80 percent of white voters is just that: an example. I could be an epistocrat and maintain that we devise a system that effectively excludes the bottom one percent of the population, or even less than that. The barrier can be so low that practically no one fails to meet the requirements. Education level does not have any necessary connection here.
  • Cuthbert
    396
    "The barrier can be so low that practically no one fails to meet the requirements."

    Yep, that suits me. A barrier so low that everyone gets over it is not a barrier. So let's have no barrier. Practically no-one is exactly no-one, because everyone is practically someone. One person, therefore, one vote and no less or more.

    I agree that as you say Brennan thinks the non-consequentialist arguments fail. The idea behind this thread is to test that view. As for the consequentialist arguments - one of the outcomes that the mere proposal of epistocracy has is the prospect of protests from people like me who are threatened with exclusion from the democratic process to which we have a right. Not a good start for a consequentialist project, I submit.
  • Chany
    352
    I agree that as you say Brennan thinks the non-consequentialist arguments fail. The idea behind this thread is to test that view.Cuthbert

    Alright, so what is the non-consequentialist argument? Consider that political power requires justification. States have a monopoly of violence which is considered legimate to use. When the state dictates a law, disobeying that law can result in the loss of my life, liberty, and property through violence. Consider why we don't allow children to vote. You could make a strong argument for allowing people much younger than the current age to vote, but there is still going to be some age which is universally considered too young to properly assess facts and ideas related to politics. I'm sorry, but if a group of people are learning how to do basic addition and subtraction, then they don't deserve to vote on how our society is set up.

    I have a right to a fair trial. If a jury is obviously imcompetent, unfair, corrupt, utterly unconcerned, and/or demonstrably biased, then my trial is not fair. I require a competent jury. I require a competent jury even if having a incompetent one would lead to a better overall outcome in the end. It is unjust for a police chief to pay off a jury to find me guilty, even if the consequences of said action would greatly protect and save many lives. So, let's assume that epistocracy is shown that is produces overall better outcomes in terms of policy and justice compared to democracy and that many of the criticisms against epistocracy are unfounded or mitigated. For what reason must we maintain democracy over epistocracy?

    As for the consequentialist arguments - one of the outcomes that the mere proposal of epistocracy has is the prospect of protests from people like me who are threatened with exclusion from the democratic process to which we have a right. Not a good start for a consequentialist project, I submit.Cuthbert

    I agree that epistocracy currently lacks the empirical rigor that we desire. I do think that we need a lot more discussion and research on the subject. I can point out several flaws and weak arguments in Brennan. And I do think the major potential benefit of democracy, less violence within the state, is probably the strongest potential objection. Perhaps the sacred cow of democratic thought is needed both as a practice and an idea to help prevent violence, a benefit that would outweigh the gains made in any epistocracy.

    However, I do not think the situation is totally against epistocracy. Democracy and universal suffrage were not exactly empirically verified (and still have problems) when their early supporters argued for it. The same arguments for suffrage for certain groups were lobbied as being dangerous to society and risky. So, we need to first present arguments in favor of epistocracy to gain ideological traction. In order to do that, we first have to actually get down to Winston Churchill's statement. Democracy is not desirable in and of itself; there is nothing worthwhile in the idea of "one person, one vote" besides the pragmatism behind it. It is not romantic at all. If we want democracy, it is because it is the least of all the evils. Only then can we actually compare the two. After that, I would start setting up experiments to see if epistocracy even has a chance of working. We can go from there if the results are positive.
  • Cuthbert
    396
    Democracy is not desirable in and of itself; there is nothing worthwhile in the idea of "one person, one vote" besides the pragmatism behind it.

    One worthwhile aspect of 'one person, one vote' is that it is the political expression of the ethical viewpoint that every person counts and no person counts for any less than any other. "I'm backward, I know little and still I'm as good as you." Every person is of worth in him or herself and not merely of value in relation to ends pursued by others or by the State. It is the kingdom of ends argument.

    Another argument is that the vote symbolises a social contract. "You want to govern me - first let me give you consent." So one non-consequentialist argument is that my vote is a right contracted in exchange for rights that the State has over me. Degrading my vote will erode the State's authority. Why should I obey when I have no say?

    There have been 'natural experiments' of epistocracy in which those who are better informed and better educated have more votes than others. For example, boys used to get a much better education than girls in the UK and as a result men ended up with more votes than women in adulthood. It was easiest just to give the women no votes at all. Some women appeared content with this situation and unobtrusively ceded political power to those with supposedly better minds and a clearer view of world affairs. So that is one experiment that has been tried. I am not sure that the results were very encouraging for epistocracy in the long term.

    Chany: "I'm sorry, but if a group of people are learning how to do basic addition and subtraction, then they don't deserve to vote on how our society is set up."

    Tit for tat. If a group of people wish to deprive another group of people of a basic civil right - the vote - then they don't deserve to vote on how our society is set up. We can all think of excuses to deprive each other of votes. The point of a democracy is that millions of people can live together in peace despite these reasons. So in a democracy I will allow epistocrats to vote (fools that they are) and you will allow the illiterate and innumerate to do so. But you are right that I don't have a good reason to exclude minors from voting, although it leads to absurdities - it's a weakness in my position.
  • DarioCLS
    2
    1. It should indeed be 'epistemocracy'. Epistocracy shows a very crass comprehension of ancient Greek, if at all.

    2. Isn't epistemocracy, broadly speaking, synonymous with Platonism? That's the philosophy that advocates in broad terms that a government and a society should be ruled by someone who possesses perfect knowledge (The Philosopher King), in a society arranged according to each own's epistemic compatibility in relation to the Truth. No?
  • Christoffer
    836
    5. We ought to, if we can, experiment or find ways to test epistocracy to see how outcomes go.Chany

    I prefer epistocracy over democracy but I find there are too many socioeconomic problems that might exclude people that didn't have the chance to educate themselves. All while sudies have shown that high intelligent people often argue for their personal opinion to such extent that they adjust facts to fit their narrative. Epistocracy might then become a ruling class political system by the process and progress alone, which isn't good.

    Epistocracy needs more framework to function, it needs protection of society from the risk of a ruling class. It needs to have a political system after election that review and govern the government based on the facts that the election was built upon. Otherwise it will just be a more advanced form of propaganda in which facts are adjusted or misrepresented in order to steer the educated into a certain vote.

    I have some ideas for this. First, the epistocratic election includes a section that's for those not able to vote in the primary and their result will guide the elected with a popular need that the entire population have voted for. This need is a statistic that needs to be adressed in the coming government. Second, the government need to be more socialistic in nature, in order to counter the corruption that can arrise from a ruling class elite. I would say, that a more proper name would be "social epistocrat", like with "social democracy". The elected government must also adress their politics with transparency of the supporting facts. A governing agency would review policies and decisions based on the facts and if the facts are manipulated or wrong, the policy would not be able to be implemented in society.

    It's possible to continue fine-tuning epistocracy to be a more functioning political system, it's easy to spot problems when something is in it's infancy.
  • Christoffer
    836
    However, as a small step forward, we may be able to do some things.

    I'm not sure how it's done in US, but in Sweden every citizen gets a voting card to have with you while you vote. This card is attached to your identity so that you can't vote more than once. Once used, it's used. Instead of it just being an identifier, it could be changed to a questionnaire in which you need every answer correct in order to be allowed to vote. This questionnaire focus on basic political questions and you are allowed to use whatever resource you have to be able to answer. So it's not a questionnaire out of knowledge but out of commitment. It would push away the lazy voters, the uneducated who can't even understand basic texts and those who never seek information and only gets spoon-fed propaganda. The process in itself would create a situation in which the dedicated and committed are the ones who gets to vote. In my prediction, it would function as a half step towards epistocracy but not be so strict that it might undermine democracy as we know it. It would erase pure incompetence and pure inability of political understanding.

    Maybe called Dedicracy? Dedication in democracy.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    It's a stupid idea. Much better to limit democracy.

    I think people have unrealistic expectations of democracy - its core function is simply to avoid civil war, and then secondarily to manage whatever can and ought to be managed by a State. That discussion about "can" and "ought" should go on outside the democratic process, as part of the great conversation of society - that's where you'll get the greater proportional contributions of smarter people.

    But the idea of "one man one vote" is core to the idea that, given the power of strength in numbers, and given the fact that if you zoom out, human beings are about as equally dangerous in the raw, then when you have groups of people with strongly held, opposing opinions, the best way to handle it is by a vote, that everyone agrees at a meta level to abide by, in the secure knowledge that if they can convince others and get their turn, they'll be able to implement at least some of what they want to implement.
  • Jonny
    1
    I would stick up for something like epistocracy in this way: I believe that love and knowledge are intimately interconnected. I believe knowledge and love confer property rights. WHat makes a room yours, or a garden or a bicycle yours is that you know it and love it. Money has muddied the water, but I think intuitively we feel less strongly about a case where someone has their property stolen if we learn that that the owner did not even know the property or love it in any way, even if they fully paid for it and had the receipts in order etc. I believe in democracy. But people should have more of a say in things that concern them. I don't believe that it is easy to separate out interests from knowledge. It should be those who know about and are interested in a particular state of affairs that should have the most say in how it is run, or maintained. This isn't the epistocracy you were picturing in the original post. But I am defending a more broad interpretation that knowledge, and love, confer rights and responsibilities.
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