Trump won. Brexit won. Hofer was close. Soon Le Pen and Wilders may win. And there are many more examples where democracy seems to have failed — populist are getting votes from people that are angry and aren’t thinking, people who has no idea what is happening and that have no view of the way forward. Or at least that’s what the intellectual elites soothe themselves with.
Without viewing myself as part of some “intellectual elite” (it’s not a clearly defined group anyway), I’m a person that can give a lot of arguments against extreme nationalism, against Brexit, against Trump, and against many things that more and more people are impulsively liking. And at the same time other extremes, like this — “It’s time for the elites to rise against the ignorant masses”, sound morbidly attractive.
So what? Does it mean anything when the elite says “we know what’s best” and “we can make things better”? The truth is — it doesn’t. It’s learning by observing and studying the environment and trying to take informed decisions.
And that leads to “the problem with experts” (although “intellectual elite” and “experts” are not the same thing) — those that aren’t 100% certain in their claims are not invited to talk on TV, and there are the true experts — the people who know what to do, but do it “quietly, in the corner”, knowing that there is no absolute truth and there is no way to be 100% convinced in something.
That in turn leads to experts (or “pundits”, as they aren’t always real experts), arguing about topics disconnected from reality, and fields that they aren’t particularly good at, leave a vacuum. They leave too many people with the inability to make informed choices, without realizing it. They leave a vacuum for people like Trump, who know that facts don’t matter.
We can quote hundreds of studies showing that world is becoming a better and safer place. But “perception is reality”, and the the perception of those unwilling, lacking time and analytical skills to analyze all the data, pressed by the problems of the day, is that things are getting worse and only a radical move can improve the situation.
And I wouldn’t use the word “failure”, but the rule of the elites has left a lot to be desired. Just a glimpse at the history of the middle east for the past 40 years leaves us with the impression that nobody had any clue what are we doing there (apart maybe from the petrol interests) and we had no idea how we are influencing the fragile local relationship by supporting one dictator or another, one armed group or another. And then, after the consequences are literally starting to blow up in our faces, the explanations that terrorist attacks are fewer than they have been in the past, or that the attackers are not from the ranks of the refugees, simply don’t work.
The “elites” are writing in-depth analyses and papers about the problems of crime, immigration and the economy, and the stereotyped “flyover state” American is perfectly happy with the proposal to build a wall, which would magically solve all three problems at once. And there’s no analysis in the world that can change their mind — they either won’t read it at all, or will scratch it off as “liberal gibberish”.
I’m drawing this line of distinction on purpose — distinction between elites on one side, and the masses on the other; of intelligent, rational people on one side and a majority of impulsive, disgruntled people on the other. Because this type of inequality is also rising. We can call the masses whatever we want, but that won’t change them. And no matter how safe we feel in our intellectual bubble, we will soon have to go outside. And see the populists that reap this inequality.
Inequality rises, of course much too often for the benefit of the elites, and all in-depth economic or philosophical debates about the interference of the state in the distribution of resources are meaningless to those on a minimum wage who watch billionaires on TV explaining how the problems he has aren’t the actual problems.
Maybe that sounds like an ironic cliche, like “people have nothing to eat and he’s talking about values”. But it’s obvious there’s something wrong and it’s not “people are getting dumber” — there are reports claiming this isn’t the case. And “education” is the universal recipe that unfortunately almost nobody has been able to implement properly.
Maybe the elites should stop being complacent with the fact that they are elites. Yes, maybe you are clever, but that doesn’t mean you have more rights or privileges. Being highly educated, well-paid and holding a high position doesn’t mean more rights — it only means more responsibilities. And maybe it’s time to realize that before going into analyses of how dumb the masses are. Because this complacency doesn’t just mean “loss of power”. It means more hate, uncertainty and division. And we’ve already seen that movie — it doesn’t have a happy ending.