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Smart Politics

February 27, 2010

I’m not sure whether to be pleased that a high IQ correlates to my personal characteristics (liberalism, atheism, male sexual exclusivity) or that my personal characteristics correlate to a high IQ.  I guess it’s obvious that I’m not surprised by either correlation, since I obviously think that my personal preferences and beliefs are more “intelligent” and rational than arbitrary.

The study found that young adults who said they were “very conservative” had an average adolescent IQ of 95, whereas those who said they were “very liberal” averaged 106.

I’m also not sure whether to be pleased that conservatives are actually less intelligent than your average person, since that seemed obvious enough that the extra indicator is almost superfluous.  This study almost tempts an individual into taking the intellectual shortcut of ad hominem attacks, though the ideas themselves can be readily disputed on their face without resorting to insulting the person espousing them.

The reason the ad hominem attack is dangerously facile is because it causes people to defensively retrench on their previously held stances and beliefs instead of engaging with ideas in their own right.  When the world is turning more and more into a direct democracy, it is absolutely critical that people are not encouraged to merely hold an idea or political preference merely because that’s what their raw interests cause them to prefer.

A clear majority of US voters oppose significant tax increases that affect middle-income households, and these are the only ones that could significantly improve the budgetary outlook. An equally clear majority rejects any reduction in government spending on health and pension “entitlements”, which are the only cuts that could conceivably save enough to prevent government insolvency if big tax increases are permanently ruled out. And just to confirm the Alice in Wonderland character of US politics at present, another clear majority believes that the budget deficit is the gravest problem facing America and must be eliminated at once.

Indeed, that was why the founding fathers constructed America as a republic: so that reason and deliberation would be filtered through a lens of detachment by the elected officials to separate politics from factious interests.  For example, people would rather deny global warming and believe those who offer an out based on their raw interests, but if they were forced to engage in the ideas on an empirical or intellectual level (rather than simply choosing which expert offers a more attractive opinion), they might not be as likely to retreat into mere preference.

Very few people really want to change in any meaningful way, and given half a chance to think they don’t need to, they’ll take it. Especially when it sounds expensive, and especially when the economy stinks.

Elected officials would need some policy expertise and awareness to be effective, and would be forced to engage with issues wholesale rather than piecemeal, forging compromises and filtering proposals to the most utilitarian and beneficial.  A direct democracy in which representatives merely reflect the infantile and presupposed preferences of a polity leads to the concentrated-benefits-override-dispersed-costs redistributive politics we see today.  Not smart politics.


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