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Dumb versus dumber – some more thoughts on the forthcoming US elections

Concerning these elections that are coming up in the USA in a week or two’s time, there seems to be a big argument going on about how smart the Democrats are compared to the Republicans. How smart or dumb are Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and the rest of them? Who, for instance, is being smarter or dumber about the year 1773? But those who worry about how smart or how dumb the various candidates for election are, or how smart or how dumb are the particular voters they are each trying to pander to, are, I think, missing a bigger point.

If you think that you and people like you should control large swathes of society and large swathes of the economy, then you really had better be very – make that impossibly – smart, and you are not smart, if only because you believe in this seriously dumb idea. But if the notion that you keep repeating during your campaign is that neither you nor people like you, nor your political opponents nor people like them, should have this kind of centralised power over everything, then provided you are sufficiently smart to make that one smart idea stick and have political consequences, it really doesn’t matter how dumb you may be about anything or even everything else.

Obama has many smart opinions and many dumb ones, I think. But if he and his ilk are to have the kind of power they seek over the world, then them being quite smart and quite dumb guarantees not smartness but dumbness, in all the areas of life where regular people have found that they want to do things in their own various ways, while Obama and his friends think that something that they consider smart is preferable. And the smarter Obama and his friends think they are the dumber they end up being. (Alternatively, as Paul Marks likes to say, Obama is smart and is being dumb on purpose. Either way, it is not smart to vote for him.)

It is said that Sarah Palin and her ilk have many dumb opinions. Clearly Palin couldn’t have got where she is, any more than Obama has got where he is, without being smart about some things. But yes, I’m sure Palin’s fairly dumb about some things. But the difference is not merely that Palin is smart and dumb this much, while Obama is dumb and smart that much; it is that their dumbness or smartness have profoundly different consequences if Obama and friends think that President Obama and friends should boss lots and lots of things, while Palin and friends think that President Anyone and friends bossing lots and lots of things is dumb and are able to act on that notion.

So, for instance, if you have (what I would consider to be) dumb opinions about God, evolution, and so on, it doesn’t matter, if, when you win your election, your most important political idea about God, evolution etc., is that both you and I should be allowed to worship God or not, think seriously (as I would see it) about science or not, as you imagine that your God is telling you to, or as I think makes sense. If that’s what you’ll do when you win your election, that’ll do for me. And our agreement actually goes deeper than this. If the major political consequence of you believing in your God is you also believing that nobody on earth should try to play God, then I agree wholeheartedly. Politically, we are more than mere allies; we are kindred spirits.

My worry, and the worry of lots of others who believe in the government bossing as little as possible, is that the team which now says it is against politicians bossing everything, even against themselves doing it, may do very well in their mere elections, but then, when the power to boss everything actually is right there in their hands, they will forget the one truly smart thing they were saying during their campaign, and start being truly dumb. The bad news is that quite a few of the people on my preferred team probably already think like this. The good news is that others in the team I support are already looking beyond the elections, and saying that if that is how things then go, they won’t go along with it.

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17 comments to Dumb versus dumber – some more thoughts on the forthcoming US elections

  • Alasdair

    Well said, Mr Littlefield !

  • jane

    I don’t want anyone “smart” to win elections. We do not need any more academias. We need regular American folks with American values and principles and good ole common sense to take the reins this election. I love Jim DeMint and understand exactly what he is saying. We have too many rhinos (republican in name only) immersed in the Republican party and too many Lefties who have taken over the Democratic party. They need to be weeded out and we need to put in the regular guy who got off his couch and threw his hat into the ring to represent us. Looking forward to Nov 3rd.

  • Dayam, and lefties like to claim nuanced thinking for themselves.

    How about, you get the most intelligent policies from people who are bright enough to realise they are too stupid to come up with policies intelligent enough to actually work.

    Well said Bri.

  • James Waterton

    A former colleague of mine was one of those exceedingly cerebral Russian science/maths boffins. He would teach maths in English for four months of the year to rich Chinese high school grads destined to study in the West. Then for the remaining 8 months of the year, he’d burn through the money he earned working on whatever mad scientist projects he could dream up. An extremely intelligent but also mild-mannered and courteous gentleman.

    I had a number of chats with this man, and once sounded him out regarding his political views. He told me that his ideal political system was one where the more educated and intelligent you could prove yourself to be, the more votes you would receive in an election. Furthermore, access to public office would be made easier based on the same criteria. I remember finding this amusing. It seems obvious to me that out of all the countries that have been ill-served by extremely intelligent people (and there are many), Russia would have to have suffered the most under the yoke of the super smart who thought they were so intelligent that they had the right to tell those who they saw as less intelligent how to live.

    The irony that this borderline genius still wasn’t smart enough to heed the abundantly clear lesson from his country’s past, and would, in his ‘perfect world’, introduce something similar, was not lost on me. Clearly people like this should be kept as far away from the levers of power as possible.

  • pete

    GWB was thick, so was Reagan.
    Clinton was clever, so is Obama.

    It’s always the same from ‘liberals’. They are just an incestuous little clique of people who are convinced they are clever and are the only ones who can recognise cleverness in others. Usually the only smart thing about them is their decision to work in the public sector so they can live secure lives on other peoples money. They often do this in an ungrateful manner because the public rarely recognises their true cleverness and woefully underpays them. They’d be earning much more if they hadn’t sacrificed themselves to serve the public.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    One other reason to prefer stupid politicians: it’s easier to catch ’em when the inevitable corruption sets in.

  • Bod

    You’d think that eventually, the idea that we need Philosopher Kings would fall into disrepute.

    Well, among people other than us.

  • Doc

    Just for the LOL’s, I’ll throw this monkey into the wrench. Clearly the author wants limited gov’t, perhaps nearly/completely libertarian/laissez-faire/etc. I won’t argue about the details: he wants much less gov’t than the leftards, anyway. He wants freedom. And so do I, and I welcome his support for limited gov’t, and I admire his stance, and the fact that he at least refrains from outright ridicule of his ‘fellow-travelers’ politically who are worlds apart from him on world-view otherwise (i.e., it appears that he’s an evolutionist and therefore thinks creationists are at some level nuts; that’s OK, we think the same about evolutionists. If I am mistaken in this impression, I humbly apologize).

    But here’s a little thought experiment: you are bright, well-connected to the levers of power, making a good living that at least in part consists of sponging off the body politic. You completely understand that continuing massive gov’t means less freedom for many. You completely understand that, in the end, it’s unsustainable. You even admit that at some level it’s oppressive and unjust. But you’re doing fine with it personally because you make a good living, and you calculate that you’ll be dead by the time it all goes kaboom. By (what I perceive to be ) the author’s world-view, why should you bother to take an explicit stand against the nanny-state/freedom-killing statists? Especially when, by so doing, you risk losing friends/job/influence/etc?

    Another more real-life thought experiment: you’re a slave trader in early 1800’s England, or someone who makes money off the slave-trade (ship chandler, sail-maker, etc). If slavery is made illegal you’ll lose your shirt. Why would you listen to Wilberforce? Some vague idea that slavery is against evolution? Please. It could be argued that slavery is nearly the natural state of most human beings, judging by history.

  • This little missive from the Guardian has an arrogant streak as wide as my head. The most patronising and silly thing I’ve read in ages.


  • Bod


    Wilberforce may not have been a slave owner, but I think I’m on pretty safe ground stating that if he had wanted to participate in the trade, he was wealthy enough to have done so, and in taking the position he did, he assumed a certain degree of career risk. So let’s not talk about hypotheticals, let’s talk historical reality. Why did Wilberforce do it?

    Wilberforce had principles. And he stuck to them.

    Your thought experiments are only interesting to the extent that you explicitly ignore the only important variable – whether the subject of the experiment has principles which he’ll stick to, even at his own expense.

    The point is that if I claim that like you, I am pro-freedom, and I behave in the manner your thought experiments propose, then I’m a liar and a hypocrite.

    And I’d probably be a troll.

  • Doc

    Goodness! I certainly am not trying to be a ‘troll’. As I said, I appreciate the pro-freedom/anti-socialist bent I perceive here. I do think evolutionist libertarians and (e.g.) conservative Christian Constitutionalists have a large swath of political common ground. I just like a good conversation about the deep things of life.

    Yes, re Wilberforce, that’s exactly my point: he took a considerable risk, and managed to convince others to likewise take considerable risks, including financial risks, in order to adhere to a particular set of principles.

    But if in fact ‘principles’ are in any significant way evolutionarily derived, and it turns out that at a particular point in life clinging to a particular principle has anti-survival properties for the individual who has it, why continue to cling to it? Isn’t survival a principle as well?

    Now if all this is deemed by the blogmaster(s) to be trollish, delete it and let me know. I’m not trying to be a pest.

    [editor: after careful testing and poking with a stick, this post is officially certified TROLL FREE ]

  • Bod

    I have no idea if principles are derived as a result of biological evolution or not (and I’m not sure whether it matters where they are derived from), but where is the anti-survival principle in believing that other people, as well as yourself, should be free?

    Using slavery for such a thought experiment is a poor choice, I believe. Wilberforce was not putting his own existence or freedom at risk by advocating the abolition of slavery, except to the extent that someone might have been prepared to break existing (and reasonable) laws to do so. This is not to belittle Wilberforce’s achievement, by the way, simply that he was really taking a reputational, rather than existential risk.

    Without trying to put words in either the blogmasters’ or other peoples mouths, I think that the general response would be that as flawed human beings, the temptation to become a tyrant or one of the tyrannical class, should you be given the opportunity, might be great, but that we’d all hope to be able to hew to our principles and avoid the temptation. Some of us would fail the test. So what?

    Superficially, the more interesting ‘thought experiment’ would be if Wilberforce would have been prepared to lead a boarding party to take an armed slaver, and to personally string up the captains and crew, instead of relying on the force monopoly of an aggressively militaristic Royal Navy. Maybe his principles would not have led him that far. It’s always going to be somewhat easier to use a proxy to advance your agenda, whether it is ‘noble’ or not.

    But it’s not *that* interesting an experiment, because the right of a West African tribesman to his liberty trumps your right to capture him, transport him against his will to another location, and leave him unfree. The only significant issue is what sanctions society should take against you for doing so.

    Which is why when it comes down to it, almost all the laws that libertarians, minarchists and our ilk agree should exist, are property laws, because if you own yourself, ‘criminal’ law is a crime against someone’s property. Themselves.

  • Cascadian

    “Obama has many smart opinions”…errr really?

    Name two.

    He is the first affirmative action president having swanned through university on the basis of race alone, please point to any real educational or work achievement. Or to come back to your point any opinion that is not lifted from radical socialism or white liberal slave guilt (get over it)

    He was elected basically by naive college students swooning over this “cool” candidate rather like they do for Justin Bieber.

    I would have thought that his lack of managerial skill and working with private enterprise would have been revealed to europeans during the BP oil-spill debacle.

    Smart he ain’t except in the sense of the sartorial smart.

  • Paul Marks

    “If you were ten times as wise you would still have no right to rule me or mine”.

    Although it is “smart” (i.e. intelligence) that is the thing here – wisdom is a rather different thing.

    Brian is right.

    People think that (for example) Christine O’Donnell is stupid. These tend to be people who have never seen her debate – and are basing their view of her on the basis of how she talked as a teenager.

    However, what would you rather have – Chris C. taking over your money, or Christine O’D NOT taking over your money.

    “But Paul – Christine will take over my body….”

    The basic fundemental misundertanding about mainstream Christians in the United States.

    They might disapprove of you (for example) drinking yourself to death – but they are not going to use FORCE to stop you.

    Even many years ago (as Jonah Goldberg tries to explain in “Liberal Fascism”) it was the “religious nutjobs” (i.e. the traditionalists) who were AGAINST euguenics (and all the rest of the real hard core nastyness) it was secular Progressives that were behind this.

    Yet (as they write the history that is taught in the schools and colleges and is presented in the MSM) the truth has got flushed down the toilet.

    There are areas of policy with which most British libertarians WOULD disagree with someone like Christine O’Donnell (abortion is an obvious one) – but there are not nearly so many as people might think.

  • Jacob

    The lefties think that anyone who disagrees with them must be dumb because they are incapable of grasping an idea different from their dogmas.

    Reagan wasn’t dumb, Dubya isn’t dumb, Palin isn’t dumb, its’ just the way the lefty MSM portrays them. As Goebles said: if you repeat a lie long enough, it’ll stick.

    Dumb are those who can’t grasp the logic of an opposite point of view, and can only characterize it as dumb. Which is to say: the lefties.

    As to the lefties’ main dogma: that you can engineer society and transform it by force according to your wishes (if you had power enough) – This view is delusional and criminal. Worse than dumb.

  • Verity

    Cascadian, you get my vote! Nail on the head.

    This individual with a will destroy was floated in on a dream and a raft of prejudice (against Caucasians). His entire experience in adult life was as a neighbourhood fixer, like the “uncles” in islamic enclaves in Britain. He had no achievements that weren’t handed to him on the basis of “race”. Or make that, “semi-race” as he had a white mother. She was the one, after his dad got his ticket back to Africa, who brought him up, took him to Indonesia, got him a stepfather, got him an Indonesian passport …

    I believe I’m the first on the internet to have dubbed him “the Manchurian candidate” – on the same day he got the nomination.

    I’m interested to note that his agenda didn’t work out.

    Not talented enough. Just a cypher. A historical note.

  • A person has to be very clever indeed to believe that he is cleverer about my needs than he is about his own: