By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
‘Democracy is other people, and the ignorance of the many has long galled the few, especially the few who consider themselves intellectuals,’ writes Caleb Crain in The New Yorker. Ostensibly a review of a book, the author writes a bit too glowingly of such 19th century concepts developed by J.S Mill of “give extra votes to citizens with university degrees or intellectually demanding jobs.” The article looks at a book by Jason Brennan; “Brennan argues that it’s entirely justifiable to limit the political power that the irrational, the ignorant, and the incompetent have over others.” The reader is treated to stories of the “average American voter’s cluelessness.” Brennan’s conclusion, “He sketches some options—extra votes for degree holders, a council of epistocrats with veto power, a qualifying exam for voters.”
Many readers of the New Yorker surely think of themselves in the enlightened camp of the new aristocracy, the neo-feudal class that it is proposed should have extra votes. It appeals to them. “If only we voted then the savages wouldn’t have a say.” After all, “we know what is best for them.” The them in this case is all the poor, the “white trash,” the “ghetto” people. The neo-feudal class has been having its say for a long time. Despite the theory that the “ignorant masses” are harming democracy, the reality is that in the US the progressive neo-feudalists have had their candidates win plenty of elections and “save” the masses from themselves. The wonderful projects built in the 1960s that turned into ghettos, the urban planning similar to council estates in the UK, townships in South Africa, Development towns in Israel and banlieus in France, have had their say. The enlightened intellectuals “helped” the poor, and the poor are still poor and, in this view, ignorant.
So what is really behind the constant yammering on about how “we should have more votes” and “those savages are a threat,” this snobbishness about how democracy doesn’t work and suffrage should go back to the Platonic or 19th century model. You know the model, right? Mostly white men get to vote and no one else. In the new model, the mandate would be given to women from the elite classes, and men, and most of them would be white. And this is passed off as “liberal” and “intellectual.” It’s the same kind of “intellectual” concepts behind “demography” when writers claim the poor have “too many” children and if only our society could “restrict them” and “educate them.”
On the surface the new feudalism is egalitarian in a sense. Everyone could in theory obtain a college degree or multiple degrees, so in theory it is about the hard work of the underlying person, its a voting meritocracy. But in reality what the new feudal lords want is to first restrict the franchise and then create to bifurcated classes, the voters, and the serfs. Once that has been done the concept is to provide better education to the “educated” class, while the “others” receive less and less education. A self-fulfilling prophecy of “ignorance” then feeds the cycle of who gets to vote, who is in and who is out.
This is the dirty little secret about terms like “educated” and “ignorant.” The educated are educated by virtue not of hard work but often because of the zip code they are born into. They are born into privilege and receive their education as a matter of course. Others receive ignorance by the bucket load in school, ignorance is manufactured by the system. This is by design. Everyone know that in order to throw off slavery or throw off colonialism the key was education. Whether it was Kwame Nkrumah or Gandhi, the key to removing the colonial overlord was the educated provided by the masters in the first place. These men were lucky, because the colonizer actually wanted to raise up a group of educated colonized. But the new neo-colonialism of intellectual arrogance wants to reduce the ignorant to a new form of colonial standing, except it is an internal colonization by the elites of their own country. Their own fellow citizens are to be colonized.
When they point to the existence of candidates such as Donald Trump as the “reason” that the ignorant must not be allowed to influence elections we need to ask hard questions. Both political parties prey on ignorance. Politics in general has attempted to prey on ignorance. It is why the US politicians won’t even discuss Guantanamo or the war in Afghanistan. In many ways it seems the average voter was more educated about the issues of the day in 1860 or 1960 than in 2016.
Yet in 2016 we have had generations influenced by an expanded system of public education. More people today have college degrees than ever before. Around 40% of Americans have a college degree and 60% have attended some college. In 1940 only 6% had degrees. Among the poor the percent with college degree is much lower, perhaps as low as 10-20%.
If the theory is that the “ignorant” pose a threat to democracy in 2016, then logically there were more ignorant people in 1940 or 1840 as a percent of society, judging by their low educational attainments. So why is it today, when more are educated, that the “ignorant” are such a threat? The reality is that the enlightened leaders of our education system created more access to education but produced large numbers of ignorant people. There is a janus face among this new feudal class. On the one hand they are responsible for depriving generations of a decent education. On the other hand they see the rising wave of educated people as a threat to their own insular aristocratic world. If there are too many educated people then the little class of elites will be swamped by new people demanding to get in the door.
The last measure available to the feudal authorities is to try to stem the tide before it is too late for them. This is the agenda behind the nonsensical idea to restrict voting, or the constant yammering about the “threat” of the “stupid people.” First of all you made them stupid, second of all you fear those among them who demand a seat at the table.
After coming so far in terms of democracy and freedom and creating more access to education, we cannot go back to the old days of apartheid and feudalism. The class of people who pat themselves on the back as “intellectual” must be broken up and made more diverse. It is one of the last bastions of pure white privilege. It works hard to maintain a homogeneity found no where else in America or the West. Businesses are more diverse than ever, board of directors are more diverse than ever, and yet among the “intellectuals,” the academics, the politicians and their NGO-founder cousins, there is a patrician class of people who hope that change will not come. They argue that what drives Trump is “fear of multi-culturalism and globalization,” but actually there are two sides to this fear. There may be a fear among white, lower class, men of certain changes in America. But there is the same fear among white, upper class, men and women. These two groups now are in a civil conflict. Surrendering to the suggestion that the “ignorant” must be denied rights or not listened to is a symptom of neo-colonial mentalities. Don’t accept it.