The Problem of Complexity and Low Information Voters

The hard question of direct democracy and voter qualifications

By Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ November 14, 2019

At some point we need to begin dealing with our planet’s problems. We’ve spent the last three years fooling around and indulging the least educated and most simplistic parts of the human population.

That indulgence has resulted in Brexit, the massive corruption of the Trump regime, and the absurd resurgence of nationalist fascism. This situation is not just some bad politics but represents a new requirement for what we call citizenship and may well mark the entire range of existing representative governments as obsolete.

The nature of the indulgence and the changed requirements are the refusal to directly discuss the failure of a significant part of the voting population in their respective nations to make the effort to understand fundamental paradigmatic changes and what is needed to address this new reality.

This failure is, itself, beyond the understanding of much of the population. It is not binary, either/or, black versus white but complex and much like thinking about quantum mechanical super positioning. Not easy and generally written off as too difficult for ordinary people. But that attitude, I’m afraid, is a luxury we can no longer afford.

This disruption has accelerated the destruction of the 20th century concept of modernity. It also presents us with very complex solutions with no simple options. There is nowhere to go from here but where a lot of people are unable to even identify as a place. The beginner slope has disappeared. There is no ‘get out of jail free’ cards in the human game anymore.

Hence the reversion to desperation and blind allegiance to tribal war lords, even previously failed and those currently mentally crippled. This is the traditional human reaction to confusion and fear with the perceived failure of traditional knowledge. But that is now not even a pretense of a solution, see the absence of easy options noted above.

The social sheer line or breakpoint for this change is now voter levels of education. Previously, in modern pseudo representative governmental systems, the political division of major groups was not purely on education but on class, race, change acceptance and adversity, usually as tradition versus innovation. This could cut across education levels and distinguished rural, small town, and then suburban populations as far more traditional than the steadily growing urban populations.

With the normal cultural inertia, modern political systems, while not democracies in a real sense, were structured to provide a certain broad buy-in for a national population that would balance things by favoring mass populations assumed, logically, to be predominantly in rural and none urban areas. This is the critical failing of the US constitutional system that became increasingly unrepresentative through the 20th century.

The US system was heavily loaded against democracy with almost all authority given to property owners originally assumed to be gentleman farmers and estate holders. The various checks, balances, and budgeting power given to the House of Representatives allowed slow change but not nearly enough. Things continued to work as long as the balance between ‘parties’ was the traditional one between owners and farmers/workers with education relatively unimportant.

A fundamental assumption, unstated, was that the educated population would be nearly synonymous with the white, male, property owning population. That held true until the last half of the 20th century. First generation university education was still shaped by parents and family of the minimally educated and rural tradition. By the end of the 20th century those first generation college educated gave birth to a second and then third generation comfortable with and expecting much higher levels of education.

In a working political culture this was disruptive but not extremely so given that the distribution of change adverse people is a minority population as are all extremes. Traditionalists tend to be more affected by greater education and a wider information base than neutral and change positive people by nature. Hence the active fear of education by those vested in the traditional social groups.

This educational disruption became a major factor when demographic forces broke the old political system. Structural failings of capitalism and the modern world order, neoliberal, oligarchic, and with racist authoritarianism could no longer be hidden or camouflaged. The late capitalist ruling oligarchy became increasingly greedy while feeling safe in ignoring any pretense of democratic ideals beyond their narrow class. Knowledge, communication, and complexity began to expand geometrically.

Asset distortions with both intentional and unintentional hoarding inherent in late stage capitalism could not be easily fixed. While the full extent of the climate crisis was identified in the late 20th century it was hidden as its complexity was well beyond the ability of the older population to understand as well as unacceptable to the change adverse. The political divisions shifted from change adversity/acceptance to education required to understand the changes now happening and the need to handle planetary scale problems.

This disruption was surprisingly quick and devastating breaking long held patterns of social stability. In the US the tremendous trauma of the 2016 election shocked everyone. The shock was the emergence of the low information and less educated predominantly non-urban population as a political force that was frightened and could not understand what was needed and fell to the crudest manipulation and war lordism.

This was new and quickly destroyed the last vestiges credibility of the old republic representative systems. The 18th century nation state system assumed that the decisive voting block would be heavily influenced by the traditionalist owner class. In the US this was the purpose of the electoral college as a safeguard ensuring the predominantly rural, Caucasian, land owners would decide and control executive power while holding control of the elitist Senate.

By the 21st century this had become a distorted tool of the corrupt authoritarian class that had come to power as a result of the massive wealth of late capitalist distortions. This massive wealth allowed direct purchase of the great majority of Congress and removed the need for anything but a token voter percentage to maintain Electoral College. This was handled through information control in lightly populated, rural states with the, now infamous, swing states allowing a a few thousand voters to take the entire electoral college for that state.

Despite widespread educational credentialing this ruling elite was an owning class based on ignorance and denial of education. The means to political control in the US was manipulation of the remaining low information voters who had completely replaced the traditional landed yeoman and gentry as citizens and were a retrograde force.

There are no simple dyads here providing easy solutions that would be good enough to get by. There is now either educated citizens as sentient planetary residents actively involved or tribal serfs captured by ignorance and exploited for sacrifice to the climate disasters already underway. The elite’s assumption is that they will be able to ride out the climate crisis with their massive wealth and the masses are now ‘others’ who are useful only as tokens for political control.

Education as the definition of political class threatens human survival if the less educated can be used to gain political control. But that type of control is no longer viable, no matter what the oligarchy thinks, with any hope of overcoming the climate disasters that our previous economic and political systems produced. The requirement is for democracy because the complexity is far too great for a nonscientific or small ruling class to survive.

To put this clearly, there can no longer be citizens of old style regional nation states that hold full voting rights on the basis of birth alone. The modern evolution of human society requires educated decisions by the mass acting as a ruling elite. This is the shared consciousness of the virtual society. We have never dealt with this before.

Amazingly this is not a top down change but bottom up evolution. In a networked social matrix masses of people can work together to achieve necessary social goals without traditional leadership. This characteristic has been reappearing on the world stage with growing instances over the last thirty years usually in systems with heavy authoritarian governments: Tiananmen, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and many others now including the Hong Kong freedom movement.

As was apparent in the early form of Athenian democracy 2,500 year ago, government must be local and respond to the consciousness of the citizens. But that consciousness is now planetary and must become morally unified to survive. Put another way, direct democracy is the ultimate source of innovation and we need that innovation desperately to handle the problems that we have produced over the last four hundred years.

Evolving virtual citizenship is just beginning to assert political power but with limited effectiveness. As with all major innovation in human social organization this defaults to a generational change. Currently we are seeing this in Hong Kong but however each instance works out we see it again somewhere else.

The real point is that the old systems of government with, greater or lesser, authoritarian elements no longer work. This is obvious with the repeated failures to achieve solutions or even form a functioning government from polarized factions that are unable to even communicate yet agree.

This is always tied to the resurgence of low information groups being manipulated by bad data and propaganda designed to foment racism and ethnocentrism. The basic assumption of a shared responsibility for public life by all citizens can easily be destroyed by these techniques. The weakness of the 18th century republic government model is always at the lowest level of citizenship.

This is what motivated the establishment of severe limitations on democratic government in the US as it was formed. The low information voter can be easily manipulated by the powerful. Ironically this became reality as the capitalist and political elites directly took advantage of their ‘farmed’ constituencies who cold be maintained as low information voters in a nation that disenfranchised its majority urban populations.

For the US and other Western style governments the threat is authoritarian elites powered by vast disparities in wealth. The danger was not the mass ‘others’ tasking advantage of too much democracy but the elites blocking any democracy and the critical diversity that gives birth to social innovation.

But the real cause of polarization is not just this traditional form of political manipulation but the inability to even understand the extent and implications of a planet in crisis. Everyone is frightened but those that can begin to understand the complexity that we are facing know that there is no hope in past solutions and that this must be solved by all of us at the planetary level.

We will need to redefine the concept of citizenship and polity be based on in local government directly in the hands of the educated population. But what do we do with those who are not ready for this and are being used to block what we need to survive? Time is ultimately the answer but we have made that a limited resource. Perhaps too limited to allow the natural process of education.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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