Thursday, July 4, 2024

#186 / Happy Fourth Of July ("Dog Meat")

Back in April, one of my friends sent me an email, featuring the John F. Kennedy quote I am presenting below. I thought it would be appropriate to comment on my friend's email in this Fourth of July blog posting. 

The email from my friend not only cited to Kennedy, it also included a lengthy statement by someone named Fred Reed, who publishes a blog called, "Fred on Everything." Fred's" blog posting is titled, "Ignorance, Its Uses and Nurture." My friend excerpted the essence of what "Fred" was saying in that blog posting, as follows:

Democracy is flawed due to widespread public ignorance about international and national affairs. The article asserts that the public’s limited understanding makes functional democracy unattainable.

Along with the Kennedy quote, and the thoughts of "Fred" on the flaws in democracy, my friend included his own, personal summary of where we are, or seem to be: 

"We're Dog Meat!"

Frankly, I didn't know what to make of my friend's email, and particularly how to evaluate his "We're Dog Meat!" statement. I was, in addition, actually afraid to ask. Depending on the answer provided, my friendship might well have ended right there.

Did my friend agree with "Fred," holding that we are too dumb to make democracy work? The Kennedy quote could be read as an endorsement of the position staked out by "Fred." On the other hand, the Kennedy quote could also be seen as the opposite, and could be counted as an effort by our martyred president to rally our citizens to learn more, and to educate themselves more, in order to make democracy work the way it's supposed to.

The "We're Dog Meat!" editorial statement by my friend could, like the Kennedy quote, be read as an endorsement of what "Fred" has to say. It could be that my friend's statement that "We're Dog Meat" means that he agrees with Fred, and that we are all basically too dumb to make democracy work - and that because we are, we should just give up on that project, right now. 

Of course, as in the case of the Kennedy quote, there is an opposite interpretation of the "We're Dog Meat" comment, too. My friend might have wanted to say not that we are "Dog Meat," but that we will all end up being "Dog Meat" if we believe what "Fred" is trying to tell us, and if we give up on "democracy," as "Fred" apparently believes would be best.

Here is a bit more from "Fred," to give you a sense of his argument: 

Democracy may not be the silliest idea concocted by man but, for anything larger than a small town, it is crackpot. It consists in the idea that a public, on average knowing almost nothing, can choose leaders in popularity contests among provincial lawyers who know little more and are required to know nothing, except how to get elected. 
In a democracy, this ignorance is both a protected quality, like motherhood and a valued resource. By common consent, the ruled do not look too closely at the mentality of elected rulers, and the rulers speak solemnly of the wisdom of the people, who hve none. Reporters will ask, “Senator, what are your views on Afghanistan?” but never, “Senator, where is Afghanistan?” or “Can you spell Afghanistan?” ...  
To plumb the depths of democratic puzzlement, we might, by means of polls, ask how many voters can name three cities in China apart from Beijing, Shanghai, and Hongkong. Or how many can name even those cities. Or how many know even one date in Chinese history, or Can name a single province. Yet they know that China is perfectly dreadful and dangerous.

Ask what countries border on the Caspian or Black Sea. Or, seriously, how many have ever heard of the Caspian. In today’s politics, these are not quiz-show trivia but influence Washington’s choice of our next war. 

See how many have heard of the Minsk Accords. If they have not, they lack a hamster’s grasp of the Ukraine war. What they think they know probably comes through CNN and MSNBC, assiduous hawkers of the not so.

Gallup: Twenty-one percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth.

Fifty-four percent of Americans read below the sixth-grade level.

A good bet is that the lower third in intelligence of the population know nothing at all of international affairs and exceedingly little of national. Given the appallingly poor schools in the cities, another good bet is that the proportion of blacks cognizant of international geography or politics is vanishingly low. Since Latin American cardiac surgeons and system programmers do not swim the Rio Bravo to pick oranges in Florida, the Hispanic percentage is unlikely to be greatly better. Taken as wholes, none of these three groups is remotely qualified to vote.

What do you think? Is "Fred" right? Are Americans too "dumb," and ill-informed, and under-educated to make democracy work? And if my friend is agreeing with "Fred," do you agree with both "Fred," and possibly my friend, that we are all "Dog Meat" because we are too dumb to make democracy function?

To me, the question does seem an important one (and a question especially worth asking on the Fourth of July). How to answer the question comes down to the following choice, at least the way I see it. Do we wish to be "governing," or "governed"? 

If you think that there are smarter, and better educated, and more informed people than you are, maybe you agree with Fred's thought that those people should be in charge of deciding how the world should be organized and operated. If so, please be aware that those people will make arrangements that insure that the people in charge will get most of the money and the other benefits that the rulers always extract from the ruled. 

I have no qualms in saying that I do not agree with "Fred." I am not in favor of a "meritocracy" (or an "administrative state," to use a term with some currency in our current political debates). I do not agree that those who are more informed and better educated should rule over all the rest of us. 

I want to be someone - and I want everyone to be someone - who is "governing," not "governed." That means, of course, that the kind of "self-government" that I am supporting makes a demand upon us. I don't usually call our form of government "democracy." I usually call it "self-government," and if we want to have self-government, as I repeatedly insist, we will need to get involved in government ourselves

If it is or becomes relevant to know the names of the cities that border the Caspian Sea, then we need to find out about that. But the main point is to insist that we, collectively - all of us, and not just those "educated and informed" citizens that Kennedy mentions - need to understand that we're in charge. And then, we need actually to be in charge, too. 

As I have indicated, "I'm hoping that the email I got from my friend was intended to agree with what I have just said, and was not intended to send a message that "Fred" is right, and that we are simply too dumb, and ill-informed, and undereducated, to be in charge of our own government. 

I am hoping that my friend's statement that "We're Dog Meat" was meant to say not that we are "Dog Meat," but that we will become "Dog Meat," if we don't start exercising our power to achieve a political order that puts ordinary people, all of us, effectively "in charge" of our future - and of our present, by the way. That is, as I see it, what the Fourth of July holiday is actually intended to remind us.

The "rich and the famous," the "informed," and the "well-educated" tend to run the world (just in case you hadn't noticed). Self-government, or what is quite often called "democracy," suggests that we reject what "Fred" says, and run the world ourselves. I think that is what we should all be doing, and this is not a news flash to anyone who has read my daily blog with any regularity.

I have been quoted before to the following effect. Think about this, as you contemplate whether or not to join "Fred" in deprecating "democracy." Contemplate this, as you ponder the Fourth of July holiday that we are celebrating, today:

“The rich have so much power because the rest of us don’t use our own”

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