I’ve often wondered at the seemingly increasing level of ignorance that surrounds me. I’ve mentioned it before—how we seem to delight in over-simplification of complex issues and readily embrace the most revisionist of histories simply because we can sloganeer the answers. Even more stunning is how folks with education, experience and the unbelievable responsibility of governing our nation can continually spout the stuff that they do. I mean, can we really believe that folks like Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid think that what they say is reasonable? And, don’t point all the fingers at the left side of the aisle. The right side often doesn’t show much more intellectual prowess.
Well Holman Jenkins, an email editorialist for the Wall Street Journal, explains it very clearly for me. It’s called “rational herding” and depends on something called an “availability cascade”. Don’t let that put you off—take a moment to chase this link and read what he says: Herd Behavior
It’s downright scary. We’ve got the leaders of the nation doing what they think is required to fulfill the erroneous notions of the electorate. If there were ever a recipe for the failure of a democracy, this has got to be it. They know better (supposedly) but rather than attempt to enlighten the unwashed, they cater to their ignorance. Rather than fulfill democracy’s mandate to do what is best for the nation, they respond by reinforcing the propaganda that the poorly educated mainstream seem to suck up.
The herding concept now explains how folks who recall the run-up to the invasion of Iraq can grab onto the “Bush lied” mantra even though they lived through the reports of the various national intelligence estimates from not only the U.S. but from the Brits, Germans, French, Russians and others. They heard the speeches and saw the UN Security Council votes. They may even have lived through the Israeli raid on the Iraqi nuclear facility at Osirak back in the early ‘80s. They probably caught the news reports of Saddam’s yellow rain chemical weapons attacks on the Kurds in the North and the Iranians on the Southern front. But, despite the history they viewed with their own eyes and the Congressional record of the votes cast, they now cling tenaciously to the idea of some sort of presidential vendetta that brought us to war.
The herd mentality explains how otherwise rational individuals can see the elections and the development of a constitutional democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan while still spouting that the war effort is doomed and not winnable. They can ignore the often depressing numbers of casualties among the native peoples in these liberated areas while fixating on the remarkably small casualty figures of our own military. They can make the mathematical leap from single-digit death tolls to massive losses in Vietnam and consider it as equivalence in support for their defeatism.
The herd principle explains much about what is wrong with America’s political process, but is there any way to correct it?