It’s a new week, and for me, that means a new plane trip. And a new
plane trip means new reading material.
Having finished Jared Diamond’s (excellent) Collapse — post
forthcoming, eventually — I’ve moved on to GMU Professor Rick
Shenkman’s book Just How Stupid Are We?
I saw Shenkman on “The Daily Show” a few weeks ago and ordered the
book based pretty purely on that; he seemed like an intelligent guy
making an interesting point. (Also, I needed something to round out
an Amazon order. Yay for free shipping.)
It’s a short book, written in fairly large type. Perhaps this is
appropriate given Shenkman’s overall thesis: over the past 50 or 60
years, we as a society have given the ‘American Voter’, otherwise
known as ‘The People’ (as in “we the People…”) far too much credit
and far too little blame for our policy failures as a nation. In
other words, we’re all a lot more stupid than we like to think (and
have our leaders tell us) we are.
In our search for places to lay blame, few stones have been left
unturned. Bankers, investors, lobbyists, corporate executives, trial
lawyers, members of the media, and of course politicians generally
have all faced criticism. But only very rarely does anyone take the
American people, collectively and as a group, to task for their
complicity for the outcomes of government.
It’s a controversial question to ask because most of us have been
taught, and probably believe quite sincerely, that “more democracy =
better”, and it’s hard to blame the people for much of anything
without considering whether that’s necessarily always true. Put
bluntly: ‘Is more democracy really better democracy, if the people, by
and large, show little-to-no inclination to do anything besides
blindly accept whatever they’re told?’ Even raising the question
endangers some very sacred American cows, and opens the questioner to
accusations of being “undemocratic” or “elitist”.
One thing that I haven’t encountered in the book so far — and I’m
about 60% of the way through, and will hopefully finish it later this
week — are any proposed solutions to fix the system that we’ve
created. It’s all well and good to criticize how we got to where we
are, but that doesn’t provide much help in moving forward. So I’m
hopeful that he’ll make some suggestions as to how the level of
discourse or the system in general can be improved.
I’m holding off overall judgment on the book until I’ve finished it,
but in general I thought the premise was pretty good. We’ll see if my
feelings change once I make it through the conclusion.