This is It

This is what I’ve been trying to put my finger on:  cognitive misers

In a democracy, the intellectual “center of gravity” drifts from a society’s best and brightest and, instead, finds its home amongst in the mind of the cognitive miser, who forms the bulk of humanity. The net effect is that there is an inevitable “prole drift’, not only of political debate, but of culture and morals, everything eventually gets vetted by the people (within their cognitive limitations)  But there is another factor that needs to be considered here, namely economic democracy, i.e the free market. In a free democracy, cognitive misers do not just exert their malign effect through political power, but through economic power as well. Elitist activities–activities which represent the high point of civilisation– such as opera, classical music and and art, esoteric academic disciplines, and libraries struggle to survive economically in a market where the proles do not appreciate their intrinsic worth.  The is not an argument against the free market, but an argument against the notion that everything has to pay for itself, it’s this latter notion that ensures that prole economies of scale overwhelm  everything which eludes their comprehension.

I’m so stealing this.

The only thing I’d like to see added — and I’m going to grab the book to see if it’s already there — is a term for, and analysis of, cognitive misers who fancy themselves intellectuals and behave accordingly (i.e. all American liberals).

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7 thoughts on “This is It

  1. Robert M Mitchell Jr.

    I confess, my first thought while reading this was “Another sad Leftist trying to justify being a Dictator”. Perhaps a bad time to be pushing the “Wisdom of the Elites”, given that the “elites” loved Clinton, love Obama, and Hated McCarthy. And then the bug awful ignorance about the examples of “economic proles”! Libraries are not going down in flames because the “proles don’t appreciate their intrinsic worth”, they are going down in flames because our “elites” have proclaimed they are to be homeless shelters, that they are public spaces that cannot deny anyone access to them. How can you talk about “The Best and Brightest” (With the obvious implication that you are, of course, one of them) and not know about the Tragedy of the Commons? And perhaps you could try to explain why Classical Music is the high point of Civilization, because it seems to me that it’s just music from hundreds of years ago and we forgot the dross. Yes, the one percent of Classical Music that survives to this day is amazing. But current music is pretty good, if you only listen to the stuff that Weird Al puts out……

  2. Severian

    The “elites” the author is referring to, though, are the Victorian critics of direct democracy, who got most of their best arguments from classical liberals like our Founding Fathers.

    They certainly believed that direct democracy appeals to the lowest common denominator. That denominator is absurdly low, because most people aren’t bright enough to think beyond the narrow parameters of their immediate self-interest. That’s why the Founders were against direct democracy, and put all kinds of safeguards in place against it. The idea of “cognitive misers” is just one way — a pretty good one, I think — of describing the nature of the electorate’s limitations.

    Check out this fellow’s bio and blogroll. He’s hardly a leftist.

  3. Robert M Mitchell Jr.

    I am aware of all that. But we don’t have those “elites”, so he is in the odd position of arguing for more power for the people who got us in the current mess. And worries about the “lowest common denominator” is kind of silly at this point. It was not the LCD that gave us “Gay Marriage”. The “elites”, in their burning need to prove they are not the Proles, gave us something way worse then the “LCD”, which, after all, has a floor by definition……

  4. Robert M Mitchell Jr.

    And the timing is very, very bad. We have seen the “elites” keep the proles voting until they got the “right” answer, in the EU, and in the current frothing over Colorado. Very odd that someone would choose now to worry about the proles, and how they keep trumping the “elites”, given the current track record, if you are actually a conservative (and not just another blue blood snob)…….

  5. Severian

    Yes, I think he’s referring to the elite we ought to have — the cognitive elite, the “aristocracy of merit” as Thomas Jefferson put it — rather than the guys who currently have the political and social power. And so he’s probably more or less spitting into the wind there.

    But on the other hand, the GOP / conservative movement / whatever (god alone knows what connection, if any, there is between the two anymore) is doing itself no favors by not recognizing the obvious. You can’t pander to the lowest common denominator, because Democrats will always be better at it. But at the same time, one can’t run a Romney-style above-it-all kind of campaign. You have to get the proles emotionally involved in conservatism somehow.

    And that will pretty much by definition come from an “elite” of some kind, be it a change of tack from the current leadership (not bloody likely) or from the rise of a new elite within the party (or a new party).

  6. Robert M Mitchell Jr.

    I don’t know. The GOP is doing pretty good. Lots of Governorships, control of the successful states, turning unsuccessful states around when they get control of them, stopping the Democrats with a slight majority in one half of one of the three branches. Compare Obama, when he had absolute power, to what FDR and LBJ did. Doing something right. Maybe not perfect, but given how badly the last “time to teach the Republicans a Lesson!” worked out, I’m kind of of the opinion, “if it an’t broke, don’t fix it.”. Given the large numbers one would need to pull of a “change of tack”, I think all that would happen, again, is a period of great, unearned power for the Democrats.

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