Friday, November 14, 2003

Re: The Will of the People

Since I don't feel that I was entirely convincing in the previous post I'd like to elaborate on my point regarding personal weaknesses entering through back door, and add one other consideration.

In advocating that the role of a representative is to advocate the hypothetical position of the perfectly informed average-man, it is supposed that the representative should know what that is. The representative, while in a position to be considerably more informed than the average person, is still limited by imperfect knowledge. The sum of their knowledge is everything they have learned, experienced, and concluded over the course of their lifetime. So if the representative were to make their best effort to imagine an "average person" with perfect knowledge they would be obligated to project onto that person all of the knowledge that they, the representative, have acquired. While I believe that each individual person bears some unique psychological traits, I also believe that the information they've gained through their education and experiences is critical to their positions and decisions. It is not that hard to imagine that a representative would calculate that given all of their personal knowledge and experiences an "average person" would think more or less as they themselves do. And so you end up right back where you started. In this sense pretending to advocate in terms of the "average person" rather than your own personal position seems a bit dishonest.

I suppose that it could be proposed that the representative restrict the knowledge that they project onto the "average person" to only those few details directly pertinent to the issue at hand. This seems equally dishonest. If the representative had done extensive research into economic systems, and through this research had determined that supply-side economics is a bunch of crap, should they not project this onto the "average person"? Is that not an element of perfect knowledge? How is this to be managed? I think different representatives would draw this line differently; they would choose different points along a continuum, and in every case personal values, biases, and follies would enter the picture. As far as I can tell, foisting this duty onto our representatives sets an impossible standard for them, and leaves them with no good options. It does not shield us from whatever flaws the representative carries, and simply adds an additional layer of bullshit between the representative and their constituents.

My additional consideration goes toward the ideal of the Jeffersonian meritocracy. Jefferson felt that each person had different strengths and weaknesses and that through a free, equitable, and competitive system, each should rise to the level of their ability in the field of their strength. Does it not make sense that some people would be better equipped than others in leadership and public speaking? In determination of public policy? In grinding the gears of the political system to achieve effective results? In guarding the public from their transient impulses? Do you see no differences in these regards between George W Bush and John McCain? Between Russ Feingold and Michael Moore? Are we not better served by mining the populace to find those most qualified and naturally talented in the duties of a representative to serve in that role rather than the "average man"? If you are willing to trust the public to decide on policy matters, do you not trust the public to decide on these distinctions? The system as it stands surely has flaws in deciding these matters, but are we not better served attempting to correct those flaws than overthrowing it for one that still contains the same flaws and, in my view, adds deeper and more intractible flaws? I believe it should not be considered elitist or evil to think that elected public servants may be more capable than the average citizen, but rather that this should be recognized as one of the goals and strengths of a representative system.

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