Ask anyone who voted in the recent election why they voted the way they did, and they are sure to have some answer. They will give you some reason why they considered one candidate good, and/or the other candidate bad. Generally, these answers will be understandable in the context of the culture in which they were made, even if you don’t agree with them. The question is, how much sense do they really make when you peel off all the obscuring layers of culture and penetrate to the emotions that are the ultimate source of all these “logical” explanations. There are those who are convinced that their answer to this question is so far superior to that of the average voter that they should have more votes, or even that the average voter should have no vote at all. Coincidentally, the “average voter” is almost always one who doesn’t vote the same way they do.
Claire Lehman recently wrote an interesting essay on the subject at the Quillette website. Her description of these self-appointed “superior voters” might have been lifted from the pages of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. In that book Haidt uses his parable of the elephant and its rider to describe the process of moral judgment. It begins with a split-second positive or negative moral intuition, which Haidt describes as the “elephant” suddenly leaning to the left or the right. Instead of initiating or guiding this snap judgment, the “rider” uses “reason” to justify it. In other words, he serves as an “inner lawyer,” rationalizing whatever path the elephant happened to take. Here’s how Lehman describes these “riders”:
This is one reason why charges of wholesale ignorance are so obtuse. “High information” people ignore evidence if it conflicts with their preferred narrative all the time. And while it may be naïve for voters to believe the promises of Trump and the Brexit campaigners — it has also been profoundly naïve for the cosmopolitan classes to believe that years of forced internationalism and forced political correctness were never going to end with a large scale backlash.
In fact, high information people are likely to be much better at coming up with rationalisations as to why their preferred ideology is not only best, but in the national interest. And high information rationalisers are probably more likely to put forward theories about how everyone who disagrees with them is stupid, and is not deserving of the right to vote.
As a representative example of how these people think, she quotes the philosopher John Brennan:
And while I no doubt suffer from some degree of confirmation bias and self-serving bias, perhaps I justifiably believe that I — a chaired professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy at an elite research university, with a Ph.D. from the top-ranked political philosophy program in the English-speaking world, and with a strong record of peer-reviewed publications in top journals and academic presses — have superior political judgment on a great many political matters to many of my fellow citizens, including to many large groups of them.
It would seem “some degree of confirmation bias” is something of an understatement. What, exactly, does “superior political judgment” consist of. In the end it must amount to a superior ability to recognize and realize that which is “Good” for society at large. The problem is that this “Good” is a fantasy. All it really describes is the direction in which the elephant is leaning in the minds of individuals.
There can be no rational or legitimate basis for things that don’t exist. It is instructive to consider the response of secular philosophers like Brennan if you ask them to supply this nonexistent basis for the claim that their version of “Good” is really good. The most common one will be familiar to readers of secular moralist Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape. Whatever political or social nostrum they happen to propose is good because it will lead to human flourishing. Human flourishing is good because it will lead to the end of war. The end of war is good because it will result in the end of pain and suffering. And so on. In other words, the response will consist of circular logic. What they consider good is good because it is good. Question any of the steps in this logical syllogism, and their response will typically be to bury you under a heap of negative moral intuitions, again, exactly as described by Haidt. How can you be so vile as to favor the mass slaughter of innocent civilians? How can you be so ruthless and uncaring as to favor female genital mutilation? How can you be so evil as to oppose the brotherhood of all mankind? Such “logic” hardly demonstrates the existence of the “Good” as an objective thing-in-itself. It merely confirms the eminently predictable fact that, at least within a given culture, most elephants will tend to lean the same way.
Philosophers like Brennan either do not realize or do not grasp the significance of the fact that, in the end, their “superior political judgment” is nothing more sublime than an artifact of evolution by natural selection. They epitomize the truth of the Japanese proverb, “Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass.” In the end such judgments invariably boil down to the moral intuitions that lie at their source, and it is quite impossible for the moral intuitions of one individual to be superior to those of another in any objective sense. The universe at large doesn’t care in the slightest whether humans “flourish” or not. That hardly means that it is objectively “bad” to act on, passionately care about, or seek to realize ones individual moral whims. It can be useful, however, to keep the source of those whims in perspective.
One can consider, for example, whether the “rational” manner in which one goes about satisfying a particular whim is consistent with the reasons the whim exists to begin with. The “intuitions” Haidt speaks of exist because they evolved, and they evolved because they happened to increase the odds that the genes responsible for programming them would survive and reproduce. This fundamental fact is ignored by the Brennans of the world. What they call “superior political judgment” really amounts to nothing more than blindly seeking to satisfy these “intuitional” artifacts of evolution. However, the environment in which they are acting is radically different from the one in which the intuitions in question evolved. As a result, their “judgments” often seem less suited to insuring the survival and reproduction of the responsible genes than to accomplishing precisely the opposite.
For example, the question of whether international borders should exist and be taken seriously or not was fundamental to the decision of many to vote one way or the other in the recent U.S. presidential election. Lehman quotes Sumantra Maitra on this issue as follows:
[T]his revolutionary anti-elitism one can see, is not against the rich or upper classes per se, it is against the liberal elites, who just “know better” about immigration, about intervention and about social values. What we have seen is a “burn it all down” revenge vote, against sententious, forced internationalism, aided with near incessant smug lecturing from the cocooned pink haired urban bubbles. Whether it’s good or bad, is for time to decide. But it’s a fact and it might as well be acknowledged.
It is quite true that “forced internationalism” has been experienced by the populations of many so-called democracies without the formality of a vote. However, it is hardly an unquestionable fact that this policy will increase the odds that the genes responsible for the moral whims of the populations affected, or any of their other genes, will survive and reproduce. In fact, it seems far more likely that it will accomplish precisely the opposite.
A fundamental reason for the above conclusion is the existence of another artifact of evolution that the Brennans of the world commonly ignore; the universal human tendency to categorize others into ingroup and outgroups. I doubt that there are many human individuals on the planet whose mental equipment doesn’t include recognition of an outgroup. Outgroups are typically despised. They are considered disgusting, unclean, immoral, etc. In a word, they are hated. For the Brennans of the world, hatred is “bad.” As a result, they are very reticent about recognizing and confronting their own hatreds. However, they are perfectly obvious to anyone who takes the trouble to look for them. As it happens, they can be easily found in Lehman’s essay. For example,
Bob Geldof calls Brexit voters the “army of stupid”. US philosopher Jason Brennan describes Trump voters as “ignorant, irrational, misinformed, nationalists.”
She quotes the following passage which appeared in Haaertz:
But there is one overarching factor that everyone knows contributed most of all to the Trump sensation. There is one sine qua non without which none of this would have been possible. There is one standalone reason that, like a big dodo in the room, no one dares mention, ironically, because of political correctness. You know what I’m talking about: Stupidity. Dumbness. Idiocy. Whatever you want to call it: Dufusness Supreme.
In other words, the hatreds of the “superior voters” are quite healthy and robust. The only difference between their outgroup and some of the others to which familiar names have been attached is that, instead of being defined based on race, ethnicity, or religion, it is defined based on ideology. They hate those who disagree with their ideological narrative. Outgroup identification is usually based on easily recognizable differences. Just as ideological differences are easily recognized, so are cultural and ethnic differences. As a result, multi-culturalism does not promote either human brotherhood or human flourishing. It is far more likely to promote social unrest and, eventually, civil war. In fact, it has done just that countless times in the past, as anyone who has at least a superficial knowledge of the history of our species is aware. Civil war is unlikely to promote the survival of the human beings effected, nor of the genes they carry. “Low information voters” appear to be far more capable of appreciating this fundamental fact than the Brennans of the world who despise them. The predictable result of the “superior judgments” of self-appointed “high information voters” is likely to be the exact opposite of those that resulted in the existence of the fundamental whims that account for the existence of the “superior judgments” to begin with.
It is useless to argue that human beings “ought” not to hate. They will hate whether they “ought” to or not. We will be incapable of avoiding in the future the disastrous outcomes that have so often been the result of this salient characteristic of our species in the past if we are not even capable of admitting its existence. When Robert Ardrey and Konrad Lorenz insisted half a century ago that the existence of ingroups and outgroups, what Ardrey called the “Amity-Enmity Complex,” is real, and made a few suggestions about what we might do to mitigate the threat this aspect of our behavior now poses to our species in a world full of nuclear weapons, they were shouted down as “fascists.” In the ensuing years the “experts” have finally managed to accept the fundamental theme of their work; the existence and significance of human nature. They have not, however, been capable of looking closely enough in the mirror to recognize their own outgroups. Those who spout slogans like “Love Trumps Hate” are often the biggest, most uncontrolled and most dangerous haters of all, for the simple reason that their ideology renders them incapable of recognizing their own hatreds.
There is nothing objectively good about one version or another of “human flourishing,” and there is nothing objectively bad about social unrest and civil war. However I, for one, would prefer to avoid the latter. Call it a whim if you will, but at least it isn’t 180 degrees out of step with the reason for the whim’s existence. We are often assured that flooding our countries with unassimilable aliens will be “good for the economy.” It seems to me that the “good of the economy” can be taken with a grain of salt when compared with the “bad of civil war.” It is hard to imagine what can be fundamentally “good” about a “good economy” that threatens the genetic survival of the existing population of a country. I would prefer to dispense with the “good of the economy” and avoid rocking the boat. By all means, call the “low information voters” racist, bigoted, misogynistic and xenophobic until you’re blue in the face. The fact that one was “good” rather than “bad” in these matters will make very little difference to the rest of the universe if one fails to survive.
I have no idea what the final outcome of the Trump Presidency will be. However, I think “low information voters” had reasons for voting for him that make a great deal more sense than those given by their “superiors.” One does not necessarily become more rational or more intelligent by virtue of having a Ph.D. or reading a lot of books.