I swear, you just can’t make this stuff up. The Wall street Journal insists that American democracy works (it does?) because voters are no smarter than fish:
Why are democracies so vibrant even when composed of uninformed citizens? According to a new study led by the ecologist Iain Couzin at Princeton, this collective ignorance is an essential feature of democratic governments, not a bug. His research suggests that voters with weak political preferences help to prevent clusters of extremists from dominating the political process. Their apathy keeps us safe.
To show this, Dr. Couzin experimented on a rather unlikely set of subjects: fish. Many different species, such as schooling fish and flocking birds, survive by forming a consensus, making collective decisions without splintering apart. To do so, these creatures are constantly forced to conduct their own improvised elections.
The scientists trained a large group of golden shiners, a small freshwater fish used as bait, to associate the arrival of food with a blue target. They then trained a smaller group to associate food with a yellow target, a color naturally preferred by the fish. Not surprisingly, when all the trained golden shiners were put in one aquarium, most of them swam toward the yellow dot; the stronger desires of the minority, fueled by the shiners’ natural preference, persuaded the majority to follow along.
But when scientists introduced a group of fish without any color training, yellow suddenly lost its appeal. All of a sudden, the fish began following the preferences of the majority, swimming toward the blue target. “A strongly opinionated minority can dictate group choice,” the scientists concluded. “But the presence of uninformed individuals spontaneously inhibits this process, returning control to the numerical majority.”
Recall the pre-fab form factors for “news” from the social sciences:
1. We now know we know nothing!
2. Your good behavior is not to your credit, but at least your bad behavior is not your fault!
3. Dancing Bears are just as smart as you!
This story is a two-fer: Number Two — it’s not your fault that you vote like a sheep — and Number Three — because your Dancing Bear is a fish!
The “study” can be dismissed as a Weak Analogy. Fish seem to move by consensus (an indefensible claim). People seem to vote by consensus. Therefore fish and people “think” the same way. If you want a measure of decadence in latter-day America, consider that many people got paid for emitting this nonsense.
Are you itching to raise an objection? Look at this again:
“A strongly opinionated minority can dictate group choice,” the scientists concluded.
This is the imputation of “opinion” to fish. To have an opinion, one must have the ability to think in concepts — in fathertongue — which cannot possibly be the case for fish. The described behavior is simply trained pattern-matching, which is a perfect description of all Dancing Bear conduct to be observed in animals.
That’s important. Every Dancing Bear story is about pattern-matching among trained animals, nothing else. There are many interesting things to be said about animal behavior, but none of them will guide you to an understanding of free will in human beings.
Of course, many political scientists have criticized this extrapolation from golden shiners to democratic government, noting that not all independent voters are ignorant—some are simply moderate—and that a minority doesn’t always represent an extreme view.
That is what they objected to? Calling humans fishwits is okay, so long as you don’t make a Sweeping Generalization.
Ignoring the culpability-free Dancing Bear angle, the gist of the article seems to me to be a false flag:
If every voter was [sic] well-informed and highly opinionated, then the most passionate minority would dominate decision-making.
I don’t see how that follows. The contrary would seem to be the case. This is certainly what Jefferson was aiming for.
So the next time a poll reveals the ignorance of the voting public, remember those fish. It’s the people who don’t know very much who make democracy possible.
No, inattentive voters would seem to be the necessary ingredient in a Democratic Kleptocracy, which, not coincidentally is exactly what we have in the U.S. — and the type of government a Wall Street Journal reader might be expected to favor. It is much easier to steal a man’s property if he’s paying attention to something else.
To sum up:
1. It’s not your fault that you’re a sheep
2. Because you’re just a dumb-ass fish, anyway
3. Which is good, because if you were paying attention to what is being done to your life, liberty and property, there would be blood in the streets.
If you can’t hear Marie Antoinette in that “argument,” you need to clean out your ears.