Are We Too Dumb for Democracy? We Asked, You Answered

Are We Too Dumb for Democracy? We Asked, You Answered

Why you should care

Because we’re more divided than ever.

Last week, we asked: Is the public well-informed enough to trust with democracy? You answered, and here are your thoughts, edited for clarity.

William Fairchild, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California

The public is not well-informed. Most of them do not study real situations going on in the world, as everyone is busy taking care of their own needs. They really must listen to all sides of an issue to learn what the problems are. The news usually paints only one side of the picture (if you listen to only one channel), and if you listen to only one side, you will have only one opinion.

Michael Harriman, Las Vegas

There is enough information available to the public to be trusted with democracy. Unfortunately, I also believe that the public as a whole chooses not to use the devices and information at its disposal to make informed decisions. I attribute this to apathy and an unwillingness to search out and read news sources that don’t necessarily agree with personal ideology. The public’s reliance on information from social media and uninformed or narrow-minded sources creates a vacuum in an informed decision-making process.

Another issue is the rewriting or complete disregard for history.… There is the constant bombardment of “fake news” being thrown around. This propaganda has been used in the past with other names by other tyrants and political parties in other countries, to the demise of a free press. As a result of the public’s refusal to become self-informed, the repression of objectivity in media has become a very real possibility.

Jo Anderson

Americans choose to be ignorant and silent. My husband took a job in Arizona six years ago, and I’d never before lived in a place where people don’t read and educate themselves on important issues. This state is a sh*thole! It’s ranked at the bottom of the country in education. People don’t read anything, don’t participate. They’re all too busy with soccer practice because their kids are surely going professional. This is a choice, and until they start hurting from it, they will continue to ignore what’s happening right under their noses. Very sad.

Peter Johannssen

This is why America is a republic with an Electoral College. We are not a true democracy. My faith remains with the American people. They are still awake, as our last election has demonstrated.

John Shanahan, San Antonio

It’s trite to say so, but the U.S. has never been a democracy, and the Founding Fathers were, in fact, hostile to the idea, fearing what they called “mobocracy.” Which is why our republican system has been set up to constrain public participation in favor of economic and political elites guiding legislation and selective enforcement of laws. The average person spends little time pondering the issues of governance — for instance, progressive versus regressive tax policy — as compared to their immediate concerns about their family, their job or their local sports team. So, the average person is hopelessly ignorant and uneducated about the issues of our political system and would likely be outraged at the realities of decision-making at the national level. “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

Dian Blomquist

Wait … are you asking if the general public should trust in the voting judgment of the pod-eaters that are currently coming of voting age? Hmm, no.

Tom Atlee, Eugene, Oregon

This question dances around an even bigger, even more important one: Is it realistic to depend on our current form of democracy when its collective intelligence is undermined by the following: a) There is an almost infinite number of issues, candidates and proposals, all of which are quite complex; b) both the choices and most of the information surrounding them are presented by polarized sides; c) journalistic neutrality is being increasingly eroded and corrupted by the money-based power dynamics of ownership and advertising; and d) traditional informational “gatekeepers” are weakening, while highly participatory mass media is rising.

When we search for new ways of doing democracy, we discover exciting options that just need to be intelligently integrated into our existing politics and governance. The most obvious example of such new approaches is the expansion of the jury model into the realm of public problem-solving and policy guidance, such as randomly selected policy juries or citizen assemblies. Some political theoreticians and visionaries have proposed expanding this model into randomly selected “citizen legislatures” that have real law-making power. This approach suggests that the public can be informed enough to be trusted with democracy if they are provided with trustworthy councils of their peers who are given sufficient support to wisely digest the complex choices we all face as citizens. These councils can provide us with more neutral, deliberative information and perspectives than the various pundits, interest groups and targeted political advertisements upon which most public opinion is based today.


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