Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Uninformed Electorate

Thomas Jefferson was a staunch believer in informed citizens as demonstrated by these two quotes.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.

Imagine his consternation then at the results of a recent Pew survey. Americans were asked 11 questions about various current events. On average, people only got 5.8 questions correct! The questions are very simple, but people don't know the answers. What does that say about the state of our nation? We certainly seem to be living in an age where education and knowledge are disdained as elitist which is, I believe, a serious problem. We face serious, complex issues such as global warming. Naturally not everyone is going to be up to the task of solving things like this, but we certainly need most people to have a baseline understanding of events so they can't be manipulated by power-hungry demagogues more interested in advancing their own interests than the interests of the electorate at large.

Some people are always going to be smarter than others, but we should all demand of each other to be as knowledgeable as possible about as much as possible so that we can make informed decisions. People will naturally still disagree on things, but disagreement based on reasoned thought is much preferred to disagreement stemming from ignorance.

For the record I got 11/11 on the survey. I'm not bragging. The questions aren't hard and people should do better than 5.8.

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