Thursday 28th of January 2021

voter ignorance has worried political philosophers since plato till trumpism...

If most voters are uninformed, who should make decisions about the public’s welfare?

Voter ignorance has worried political philosophers since Plato.
(From The New Yorker magazine)
Democracy is other people, and the ignorance of the many has long galled the few, especially the few who consider themselves intellectuals. Plato, one of the earliest to see democracy as a problem, saw its typical citizen as shiftless and flighty:

Sometimes he drinks heavily while listening to the flute; at other times, he drinks only water and is on a diet; sometimes he goes in for physical training; at other times, he’s idle and neglects everything; and sometimes he even occupies himself with what he takes to be philosophy.

It would be much safer, Plato thought, to entrust power to carefully educated guardians. To keep their minds pure of distractions—such as family, money, and the inherent pleasures of naughtiness—he proposed housing them in a eugenically supervised free-love compound where they could be taught to fear the touch of gold and prevented from reading any literature in which the characters have speaking parts, which might lead them to forget themselves. The scheme was so byzantine and cockamamie that many suspect Plato couldn’t have been serious; Hobbes, for one, called the idea “useless.”

More than once, Brennan compares uninformed voting to air pollution. It’s a compelling analogy: in both cases, the conscientiousness of the enlightened few is no match for the negligence of the many, and the cost of shirking duty is spread too widely to keep any one malefactor in line. Your commute by bicycle probably isn’t going to make the city’s air any cleaner, and even if you read up on candidates for civil-court judge on, it may still be the crook who gets elected. But though the incentive for duty may be weakened, it’s not clear that the duty itself is lightened. The whole point of democracy is that the number of people who participate in an election is proportional to the number of people who will have to live intimately with an election’s outcome. It’s worth noting, too, that if judicious voting is like clean air then it can’t also be like farming. Clean air is a commons, an instance of market failure, dependent on government protection for its existence; farming is part of a market.

But maybe voting is neither commons nor market. Perhaps, instead, it’s combat. Relatively gentle, of course. Rather than rifles and bayonets, essentially there’s just a show of hands. But the nature of the duty may be similar, because what Brennan’s model omits is that sometimes, in an election, democracy itself is in danger. If a soldier were to calculate his personal value to the campaign that his army is engaged in, he could easily conclude that the cost of showing up at the front isn’t worth it, even if he factors in the chance of being caught and punished for desertion. The trouble is that it’s impossible to know in advance of a battle which side will prevail, let alone by how great a margin, especially if morale itself is a variable. The lack of certainty about the future makes a hash of merely prudential calculation. It’s said that most soldiers worry more about letting down the fellow-soldiers in their unit than about allegiance to an entity as abstract as the nation, and maybe voters, too, feel their duty most acutely toward friends and family who share their idea of where the country needs to go. 

Published in the print edition of the November 7, 2016, issue, with the headline “None of the Above.”


(From Forbes magazine)

How COVID-19 Is Also Killing Democracy

If there is one lesson we can draw from these first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that draconian emergency measures have become the new ‘normal’ and so will they remain for some time. We are all now subject to an increasing number of rules of unprecedented pervasiveness. Our governments have attempted to anticipate the virus timeline to avoid that “the virus makes the timeline”. As of April 1, over half of humanity is in lockdown, cowed into their homes by governments through confinement, quarantines, curfews and/or intimidation.

Sadly, the high speed with which the authorities have changed our lives’ normative settings to answer the exponential growth of COVID-19 is proportional only to the skepticism and the poor leadership skills they have displayed in recognizing the speed and stealth with which the virus spreads and kills.

Perversely, government measures have come to represent a litmus test designed to measure their control of both territory and people’s mobility, their own competence in guaranteeing their citizens’ health and, ultimately, their respect for democracy. In hindsight, we can say that governments have widely failed all these tests.

The Banality Of Isolationormativity

In his book 
Cause: … and How It Doesn’t Always Equal Effect (2018), sociology professor at Brooklyn College, Gregory Smithsimon, reflects on the devastating consequences of isolation and loneliness. After exploring experiments and data throughout contemporary history, Smithsimon concludes: “People cannot live isolated from others, and avoid doing so even for short periods. Even partial isolation is dangerous, and sometimes permanently damaging, to a substantial proportion of people.”
This is why I’d like to suggest coining a new term: isolationormativity. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines normative ethics as that part of moral philosophy, or ethics which is “concerned with criteria of what is morally right and wrong”. In this case, isolationormativity is used to designate some actions or outcomes as desirable or permissible while others are seen as undesirable or impermissible. Let’s not forget that “isolation” is not a political, legal or sociological term — it comes from epidemiology. According to the WHO Disease Control Priorities handbook, isolation is a key precaution to reduce pandemic threats in the absence of antivirals, antibiotics and vaccines, as is the case of COVID-19. To be effective, isolation (for the infected) must be accompanied by quarantine (for those who had contact with the infected) and social distancing (for everyone else). As these three terms grew as essential components of current language and media, they have generated a powerful narrative about isolation’s protective character, which most citizens took for granted without questioning their exclusionary and segregational social implications.

Social distancing as segregation

The new isolationormativity also widens the existing gaps within society and exacerbates the occasions for violence and abuse. This is probably the most dangerous element of the stay-home narrative, wrongly equating home with security. Security from the virus, perhaps, but certainly not from psychophysical violence.

Not only will such regulations not save more women, gays, lesbians, trans and queers from exploitation, subordination and domestic violence, but they also oblige them to live 24/7 with their toxic husbands, partners, parents or siblings. There is nothing anecdotal about domestic violence in France increasing by 36% only one week into the isolation period. Hate crimes and speech are also on the rise, especially with populists blaming foreigners, and particularly the Chinese, for either spreading the virus throughout Europe or lying about it, or both. Keeping an eye open on these phenomena is extremely important to help deconstruct the dominant pandemic narrative, which tends to draw all our attention on the pandemic itself and its related apocalyptic number-touting. One way to face the pandemic is to demystify its narratives.

Looked at from this angle, the pandemic is socially more pervasive than COVID-19. The governmental packages will drop their segregating effects onto people who stay at home, wash their hands and respect social distancing prescriptions, all the while excluding those who are homeless, waterless or live contingent lives in crowded places.

Some homes are safe spaces, but not all home spaces are safe. Some homes are more equal than others.


Matteo WINKLER is a Professor at HEC Paris. He is a leading scholar on the rights of LGBTI community.

Read more:

human loneliness and health are connected in evolution...


Isolation, Loneliness…

"Tedious were it to recount, how citizen avoided citizen, how among neighbours was scarce found any that shewed fellow-feeling for another, how kinsfolk held aloof, and never met,” wrote Giovanni Boccaccio in the Decameron ca. 1349, having retreated to a villa outside of Florence amid the “great dying” of the bubonic plague (1). More than three centuries later, Daniel Defoe recounted similarly trying times in A Journal of the Plague Year: “When every one's private Safety lay so near them, that they had no Room to pity the Distresses of others…The Danger of immediate Death to ourselves, took away all Bonds of Love, all Concern for one another” (2).

Our lives are overturned by such “emergent occasions,” as John Donne reported in 1624 in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions: “We study Health, and we deliberate upon our meats, and drink, and ayre, and exercises, and we hew, and we polish every stone, that goes to that building; and so our Health is a long and a regular work; But in a minute a Canon batters all, overthrowes all, demolishes all; a Sicknes unprevented for all our diligence, unsuspected for all our curiositie…summons us, seizes us, possesses us, destroyes us in an instant” (3).


“The existential inconvenience of coronavirus,” as Geoff Dyer described our moment in the New Yorker in March (10), alludes to Jean-Paul Sartre's truth that in a time of existential crisis, “hell is other people” (11). But our ability to physically distance while remaining socially connected through social media has also brought forth playful parallels offering poignant critique: “We all have Schrödinger's virus now,” wrote one Mat Krahn, now enjoying his 15 minutes of Facebook fame. “Because we cannot get tested, we can't know whether we have the virus or not. We have to act as if we have the virus so that we don't spread it to others. We have to act as if we've never had the virus because if we didn't have it, we're not immune. Therefore, we both have and don't have the virus. Thus, Schrödinger's virus” (12).

Historians tell us that there is a rhythm to life and death [see: interpreting inevitability...], not only for individuals but also for societies. “Epidemics start at a moment in time, proceed on a stage limited in space and duration, follow a plot line of increasing and revelatory tension, move to a crisis of individual and collective character, then drift toward closure,” the historian of medicine Charles Rosenberg has written (13).

Luis Campos
Science  01 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6490, pp. 478-479


The link between loneliness and health is rooted in the evolutionary history of humankind. As a social species, early humans depended on their communities for food, shelter, and safety. Survival required building and maintaining relationships with others, and exclusion from these relationships was deadly. Given this history, it is no wonder that the drive to connect with others—and the pain experienced when disconnected from others—emerged as a very important survival instinct.

Just as experiencing physical pain signals our body to move away from the pain source, the pain we feel when separated or excluded from social relationships can serve as a signal to reconnect with our friends, family, and community. When forming or maintaining these important social bonds proves difficult, our mental and physical health suffers.

Whereas early humans would have lived in tight-knit communities where social connections were guaranteed, advances in mobility and technology in modern society make sustaining social relationships both effortful and difficult. Many of us live far away from our families and friends, and hectic careers quickly absorb the time needed to cultivate relationships. Many of our social interactions now take place through screens rather than in person, and increasingly individualistic cultures cause us to put less priority on our relationships.

Murthy describes how many such cultural and technological factors can have both positive and negative impacts on our relationships. Social media, for example, can help us keep in touch with friends and family across long distances and enable us to reconnect with loved ones from whom we have grown apart. At the same time, technology can prevent us from investing in our relationships with those closest to us, leading to greater disconnect.

Collectivistic communities—those that emphasize the needs of the group over the needs of individuals—can foster connectedness by providing social institutions that bind people together. But oppressive social norms inherent in many such communities can cause undue stress, and those who do not conform to these norms can be ostracized and left even more isolated than those from individualistic communities. Understanding the profound necessity of connectedness and how we can protect ourselves from isolation in modern society can help us to take deliberate action to cultivate our relationships with others.
For those who are fortunate, the practice of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic may provide valuable opportunities to reconnect with family and loved ones quarantined at home. For many others, the situation will be dire. Those living alone will experience increased isolation, and those most at risk, such as the elderly and ill, may be kept in isolation from their loved ones. On a societal level, the public health implications of this widespread disconnect may be severe

Read more:
Joanna Schug
Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World 
Vivek H. Murthy Harper Wave, 2020. 352 pp.

Science  01 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6490, pp. 480


Instant New York Times Bestseller!

The book we need NOW to avoid a social recession, Murthy's prescient message is about the importance of human connection, the hidden impact of loneliness on our health, and the social power of community.

Humans are social creatures: In this simple and obvious fact lies both the problem and the solution to the current crisis of loneliness. In his groundbreaking book, the 19th surgeon general of the United States Dr. Vivek Murthy makes a case for loneliness as a public health concern: a root cause and contributor to many of the epidemics sweeping the world today from alcohol and drug addiction to violence to depression and anxiety. Loneliness, he argues, is affecting not only our health, but also how our children experience school, how we perform in the workplace, and the sense of division and polarization in our society.

But, at the center of our loneliness is our innate desire to connect. We have evolved to participate in community, to forge lasting bonds with others, to help one another, and to share life experiences. We are, simply, better together.

The lessons in Together have immediate relevance and application. These four key strategies will help us not only to weather this crisis, but also to heal our social world far into the future.

• Spend time each day with those you love. Devote at least 15 minutes each day to connecting with those you most care about.
• Focus on each other. Forget about multitasking and give the other person the gift of your full attention, making eye contact, if possible, and genuinely listening.
• Embrace solitude. The first step toward building stronger connections with others is to build a stronger connection with oneself. Meditation, prayer, art, music, and time spent outdoors can all be sources of solitary comfort and joy.
• Help and be helped. Service is a form of human connection that reminds us of our value and purpose in life. Checking on a neighbor, seeking advice, even just offering a smile to a stranger six feet away, all can make us stronger.

During Murthy's tenure as Surgeon General and during the research for Together, he found that there were few issues that elicited as much enthusiastic interest from both very conservative and very liberal members of Congress, from young and old people, or from urban and rural residents alike. Loneliness was something so many people have known themselves or have seen in the people around them. In the book, Murthy also shares his own deeply personal experiences with the subject--from struggling with loneliness in school, to the devastating loss of his uncle who succumbed to his own loneliness, as well as the important example of community and connection that his parents modeled. Simply, it's a universal condition that affects all of us directly or through the people we love--now more than ever.


Note: we've been there before: of happiness... in more happiness for your bucks?...