Knowledge Gaps – The Problem with Voting

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In a friendly conversation with a stranger at a bar, it occurred to me that there is something fundamentally flawed with the way we perceive the world and how we react to our perceptions. The man, quite talkative with a thick Eastern European accent decided to discuss political affairs and some of the happenings around the world. In one of the subjects, he displayed an unusual sense of understanding of the region in question. He couldn’t properly identify which capital cities belonged to which countries, or what exactly was happening beyond what is apparent on the face of it.

It got me thinking about how all people are likely to have a similar sense of knowledge where they have different amounts of knowledge pertaining to different subjects. The idea intrigued me because I immediately thought of the process of polling, and elections, and they are fundamentally based on the idea that every person, above a certain age, belonging to a particular nationality, is allowed an equal vote like everyone else that shares those criteria that required no skill, effort, or intelligence. This imperfection of democracy is, of course, not a novel idea.

Churchill famously remarked, “The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter.”

There is, of course, political incorrectness involved in this idea. It implies that a certain amount of knowledge is required to make democracy something really worthwhile. It persuaded me to think of examples where either a double standard exists in our society that would overrule the political incorrectness of this idea.

Society is built upon the general principle that most high paying vocations can only be reached through passing certain criteria such as standardized tests or earning academic qualifications from a university. Job competency then is directly measured by the amount of knowledge and/or intelligence a person possesses. But if people need to be qualified in order to work, then why don’t they need to be qualified in order to vote.

In market research where companies compile data about consumer tastes and preferences, and use it to create a more suitable product, the ‘voter’ or person surveyed is not required to tick any boxes when it comes to qualifications. They just need to have a residence, access to the internet, and a general preference for things over others. It’s quite interesting to me that the process of voting has more or less the same criteria. Both forms of voting do not require any qualifications or proof of knowledge.

This seems to suggest that a presidential candidate is not elected on the basis of being competent. I say this because many people, even those who are educated, do not have the sufficient political, economical, or social knowledge to make an informed choice about who they think should lead their country. In the case of market research, the product is catered to be suitable for what most people want. The product is consumed within these groups of people, and a continual process of feedback would be taking place after that.

In the case of politics and presidential elections, the newly elected president is the product. However, in this case, the product has the ability to affect society, the economy, healthcare, and even other sovereign nations. It seems to me a little absurd that almost anyone can be part of these significant decisions.

If I hired a plumber to fix my sink, I would be sure to take note of his qualifications. I would also do the same for my mechanic, teacher, taxi driver, pilot, or anyone who is required to complete a job with any kind of competence at all. It would seem to follow that when it comes to deciding who the leader of my country is, I should want people with some kind of competency to decide.

The underlying insinuation from all of this is that the accessibility to the amount of power highlighted above is very odd. Of course, if asked about what a possible solution to this is, the immediate answer would be to test the competency of the voters in terms of political, historical, and social knowledge. Only those who have displayed adequate, relevant knowledge would be allowed to vote. In the same way a prospective drivers, job applicants, sports athletes, and police officers need to display competency in their domains, so should a prospective voter.

The fact that the situation as it is now is not like that seems to undermine the seriousness of voting and the actual impact it could have. It might indeed suggest that the process of voting is a meaningless exercise altogether.

As it was wonderfully put in the excellent 2001 movie, “Waking Life”, “You want the puppet on the right, or the puppet on the left?

The Catcalling Debate

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I saw a Youtube video about some guy and some woman debating whether or not men should catcall. I found it really fascinating that there was ‘another’ side to the debate. This all started when a short video showing a woman walking through New York City getting verbally abused by sexually charged compliments throughout her walk.

I wasn’t impressed by the finding because I thought it showed the weakness of the result rather than the strength. If she was walking through New York City for 10 hours, which is 600 minutes, and they were able to capture less than 2 minutes of catcalling, it doesn’t seem to me to be all that impressive or groundbreaking. The conditions were far from experimentally sound, and there are a lot of important details we don’t know about.

Going back to the video where there was a debate…

The guy made some embarrassing and highly unintelligent comments. My favorite was near the end when he suggested women should buy guns. That was nothing short of genius. I’m not really sure why there’s even an argument to begin with. If some women are bothered by this, then don’t do it. Even if it were true that some women do enjoy it, the fact that other women don’t and feel very uncomfortable means that men should not continue doing it.

There are even arguments about whether or not the compliments were sexually motivated. It doesn’t matter. Even if the comments had no sexual motivations whatsoever, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to do it. It is the act of harassing other human beings who feel embarrassed, threatened, and vulnerable that is the problem. The reason men catcall can come from several factors, all of which are completely irrelevant.

If I went up to a stranger and punched him in the face, me telling him that I only punched him because I was angry about my divorce and just needed to take it out on someone isn’t going to merit a kind response.

What shocked me was that a lot of men spoke up about this and defended their right to catcall. I used to think men who did these kinds of things were well aware that their actions weren’t highly esteemed by most women, but they chose to do it anyway because it was fun, and it could get them a cheap laugh. The positives outweighed the negatives, and I could understand why they would want to do it. I wouldn’t personally do it because for me, I don’t get much out of it and even if I did I’d rather not bother people for my own amusement.

Bullying is universally recognized as a serious problem, and a very few people would defend it. In fact, the only people I’d expect to hear defending bullying would be stand up comedians. The motivation is that it would shock people. It’s similar to how comedians joke about other heavy subjects like rape, death, and relationships. I think it’s entertaining when they do that, and I’m never offended by anything they say, and I think no one ever should be.

But these people are comedians, it is their job to entertain you, and they use this kind of material so that they’ll able to enhance your entertainment in some way. But in that video, that guy, although he was a comedian, wasn’t trying to entertain anyone, he was seriously presenting an argument that essentially supported bullying. I say ‘bullying’ because bothering people for your own amusement is bullying.

When you catcall, you aren’t trying to make girls happy, or boost their ego. You do it to make yourself feel better, entertained, empowered, or amused. The argument in the end of the video when he was calling for women to fight back was very ill thought out. Women don’t react because they’re terrified, because they know that if they talk back to the wrong person they can get raped or murdered. They know it’s a small chance, but they’re not willing to risk their lives over it, and I’d say that’s pretty reasonable. Women who do defend themselves should be congratulated and supported.

But to try to suggest that women who don’t respond should be more aggressive and/or ‘get a gun’ is completely ridiculous and moronic.

Inspiration, Ambition, and the Inverted U

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What inspires you? A child refusing to live ordinarily and choosing to showcase a remarkable ability to sing or dance or express themselves, an elderly person refusing to accept ageing and displaying an undying desire to maintain their youth through physically strenuous activities, a disabled person refusing to accept their handicap as a hindrance to their dreams, an underdog who worked tirelessly and sacrificed everything to become successful, an athlete who outperforms millions, a romantic story that defies all odds, a famous performer, politician, artist, author, leader, someone who overcomes discrimination and racism, a brave soldier, a loving parent who lifts a car to save her child, a genius?

We are all inspired by someone, or have the capacity to at least. We are often inspired by those who excel at a field that we take a passion in, those who have surpassed what we thought was possible, those who break all the records and touch our hearts in some way, those who are famous. I also believe that there is a lot of inspiration to be found in other, less explored, less popularized, less flashy areas in life.

There is a lot to be learned , for example, from immigrants who move to a new country where they don’t understand the language, the traditions, or the culture. They have a basic level of education, little to no savings, and yet are adamant at working tirelessly and quietly to make sure they can support their family. Because of remittances, they have no money to spend on themselves, to buy that marginally more expensive meal, or outfit. A lot of great people today have only been able to achieve their success because their parents were one of those people.

Many can also take admiration of people with a very demanding job who maintain the ability to have external interests, who find the ability to lead a well balanced life. There is a common theme between everything we find inspiring, it is the action of overcoming a large obstacle. Be it lack of financial power, lack of physical ability, fear, environment, circumstances, laziness, we all feel inspiration by someone having to overcome something.

No one feels inspired by someone who inherited money, or was sent to an excellent school. There is nothing inspiring about these people because they didn’t need to overcome anything; there’s very little romanticism and heroism in the idea of being born privileged in some way. Respect goes towards only those who had to work hard, and it is perhaps in this concept that the trade-off exists in being privileged.

When someone is privileged, they lose most of their ability to inspire others, and even, to inspire themselves. Their success can easily be attributed to favorable circumstances and thus lose the tenacity, hunger, and will to become successful. This loss of hunger will almost certainly cause them to fail. If you give a prehistoric hunter  a lifetime supply of any food he wants, would he still hunt? Would he still hone his skills and tirelessly try to improve? Of course not.

If there is no urgency, then it is extremely difficult to create motivation, albeit not impossible. This concept, explained by Gladwell in his book, David and Goliath, is coined “The inverted U”. It’s a representation of a two-dimensional graph where personal success is measured vertically, while inherited wealth is measured horizontally. In summary, poverty and excessive wealth are equally and fatal for an individual’s personal financial success. A person in poverty is handicapped for the obvious reasons of living in an unfavorable environment for proper education, lack of opportunities, lack of connections. A rich person on the other hand is well equipped with each of those things, however, suffers from severe lack of ambition and hunger.

The theory is something I personally find very intriguing and should seem counter-intuitive to most; I certainly think it is.  If the hypothesis is true, and that these extreme levels of wealth and poverty are both equally detrimental to an individual’s success, then shouldn’t that imply that we should feel inspired by someone who inherited a very large sum of money and was still able to become successful?

In other words, while it is clear that much admiration will be shown towards someone who overcame poverty to become successful, should it also be true that similar admiration should be shown towards someone who overcame extreme wealth to succeed?