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Intellectual Meritocracy

Someone's got to do the thinking.
  (+2, -9)(+2, -9)
(+2, -9)
  [vote for,

I'm mostly concerned with US'ian culture here, so forgive me for not knowing if there's a system in another culture already similar to this.

AHEM. The problem with democracy is not that people, as a whole, are dumb. Talk to most people, individually, and they can probably make a pretty good point about what they want their government to do. Unfortunately, in the day to day hassles of everyday life, most people don't have time to think out the ramifications of everything they're being asked to decide on. So what winds up happening? They vote for the guy with the best haircut. Or they vote the way their friends are voting. Or they figure it wouldn't make a difference one way or another anyway, so they don't bother voting at all. As can be clearly seen by the low voter turnouts, most people would probably be perfectly happy having other people make their decisions for them and not having to vote at all. So they let someone else make the decisions, and just go about their lives.

The problem here lies in the question of who, then, gets to make the decisions. We are speaking, of course, of a country where the only thing that matters in an election is popularity. Therefore, politicians are those people who are willing to do anything to become more popular. Whoever's the best-looking, best-spoken, least offensive candidate will invariably win. Unfortunately, none of these qualities make someone, necessarily, a better leader. A leader must be willing to make the best decisions, not just the most popular ones.

A major problem with politicians is that most of them have never learned to actually think. They don't concern themselves with the ramifications of the decision-making process, only what decisions are likely to gain them popularity with the voters, or, for that matter, campaign contributions from a powerful corporation.

Therefore, I propose the establishment of an intellectual meritocracy. Intellectuals are those individuals who have learned to think through the study of many opposing viewpoints. It is an intellectual's nature to think about the ramifications of a decision before making it. Most importantly, intellectuals must earn their positions, they cannot simply be thrust upon them.

Most people will probably deride this idea as that of a ivory-tower government of sophists and elitists who never get their hands dirty. However, many fine intellectuals have arisen from the ranks of the working classes, and with proper encouragement, I believe many more can as well. I propose the following method:

1)Make high-quality education available to all. And by all I mean ALL. It should be free and fully-funded, including housing and meals.

2)Remove the age barrier. How many working-class men and women start wishing they could go back and relearn what they'd forgotten in grade school? How many hear about a recent discovery on tv and think "I could have done that if only I'd paid attention in school." Remove the barrier, and anyone can.

3)End mandatory education. This is very important. Education has gotten consistently worse over the years, not because students are unable to learn, but because they are unwilling. So the schools are crammed full of unwilling participants who would rather be somewhere else. Meanwhile, those students who show the most promise are stifled. Instead, we create a system of small, well-funded, boarding schools which anyone can attend who wants to. Make the classes challenging and demanding, with none of the multimedia dumbing-down we see today. Students should be willing to work hard to achieve their goal. Those who don't make it can always try again with no repercussions. Meanwhile, the herd is thinned and classes are made better for those who remain.

Students who have met certain qualifications, spent a certain amount of time in school, will then be granted the privilege of voting, in a system not unlike the current one. The difference here is that voting becomes a privilege rather than a right. It must be earned, and therefore becomes far more valuable. Individuals in the voting pool may, should they wish, run for office in government, the highest level of which would be a national congress, delegated the task of making decisions for the entire nation.

But wait, isn't all this emphasis on schooling and theory too theoretical to be useful? What about those who would rather do something practical? What about tradesmen, blue-collar types with their hands in the dirt living by the sweat of the brow? Don't they get some say in how things are to be run?

For the practical fields, experience has always been the best teacher. Many companies will not hire workers fresh out of trade school no matter how many certifications they have unless they can show they have some actual experience. For those fields, I recommend a system similar to that of the guild system during the Middle Ages. Anyone wishing to enter a certain field would enter into an apprenticeship with a master tradesman, usually working for little more than food and housing. Eventually, apprentices work their way up to become master tradesman themselves and granted a vote, only in a different section of government.

Thus, we have the makings of a two-house system, different from the Congress that exists in the US today. Probably more like the British Parliament with a House of Lords and House of Commons. Most importantly, everyone in it will have earned their place through hard work and diligence, not through weasling their way to the top.

Of course, the details of such a system are sketchy, and I admit that such a system would be far from perfect. Even among intellectuals there will always be a great deal of politics, and not everyone will earn his or her way to the top. Yet in a country where hard work has always been considered a virtue, it would be nice to have a system of government that reflects it as well.

DrAwkward, May 04 2002

The Republic http://ota.ahds.ac.uk/texts/1925.html
Get a copy here [mcscotland, May 04 2002, last modified Oct 04 2004]

(?) How it works in the real world http://www.tdi.net/cousino/gifted.gif
These are the guys that made velcro a necessary replacement for shoe strings. [half, May 06 2002, last modified Oct 04 2004]

Simpsons episode demonstrating this idea http://thesimpsons....sode_guide/1022.htm
Mensa takes over Springfield, Stephen Hawking saves the day. [mrthingy, Oct 04 2004]


       The solution is very simple:
1. Find the very meritocratic individual.
2. Give him a really good haircut.
3. Repeat as needed.
neelandan, May 04 2002

       Intellect is not everything, morality is equally important in the ideal politician. An intellectual may also be a completely out of his tree - I have known one or two.
po, May 04 2002

       Well now, where to start. I think I'll restrict myself to pointing out that a small group of people who think they know best, seizing power and suppressing democracy may just possibly be ever so slightly baked.
IvanIdea, May 04 2002

       I certainly don't agree with [DrA]'s (or, really, anybody's) elitist system-- however, in his defense, he doesn't ever mention "seizing power" from anybody else; he simply wants to establish the system.
jester, May 04 2002

       The intellectuals running the country for the benefit of everyone else? Read "The Republic". This is an idea that has been steadily watered down through the years by every philospher who considers it, always because the practical reality of such a system never matches the ideal. You might know better that the majority of the populace, but you cannot run the country inspite of the mob.

<pedant>Oh, and "Intellectual Meritocracy" is tautologic.</pedent>
mcscotland, May 04 2002

       Well, as far as the shortcomings of so called democracy goes, i totally agree with you. I wouldn't trust the average guy on the street to tie my shoes, let alone have a say in government. Personally, the proof of failure for me is that the USA can elect the "leader of the free world" to be a jumped up oil-funded texas hick... ;op   

       Brettjs- you say elitist like it's a bad thing! One of the problems in today's world is that, whilst we are discouraged from discriminating on grounds of colour, race or creed, we are now discouraged from discriminating on the grounds of ability! Don't you think that the person best for a job should get it? Or is that also elitism?   

       DrAwkward: the biggest problem, as i see it, is that the intellectuals would advance through academic progress. Most of academia relies on analytical thought, and this naturally encourages specialisation. My professors are very knowledgable on physics and mathematics, but I doubt very much that their skills would extend to, say, economics. The problem is that, while such skills are an advantage for a civil service, where one might dedicate one's life to one aspect of government, in politics it is a direct weakness, and one of the problems we see today. A polititian needs to be able to take a much more holistic view.   

       IMHO, the two most important criteria for a polititan should be a) can he do the job well and b) does he want to. For the perfect candidate, the answers should be yes and no respectively.   

       btw, is intellectual meritocracy a tautology? surely there can be other meritocracies based on other criteria?
yamahito, May 04 2002

       Uhm...that's what makes it tautological [yamahito]. (A meritocracy is not based on any arbitrarily selected ability, it *is* government by those with superior intellects)
mcscotland, May 04 2002

       The U.S. Supreme Court is a reasonable facsimile of what DrA. proposes, with the added moral component that po correctly mentions. True, they don't comprise the entire government, but there are very good reasons for that. Among those reasons is the need that any group of people has, not just for decision-making, but for leadership. And I can't think of any system where an effective leader is not going to be a politician, whether intellectual, meritorious, or neither.   

       p.s., a football team is a meritocracy that is not based on intellect.
beauxeault, May 04 2002


       According to the handy collins dictionary I have handy for just such an occasion:   

       Meritocracy ... a social system based on rule by persons of superior talents *or* intellect..   

       So the "merit" need not be intellect: as beaux points out, it may depend on a particular skill or ability.   

yamahito, May 04 2002

       We already have an intellectual meritocracy, in a Machiavellian sense. They may not be Mensa members, but most politicians, I'd say, have superbly developed social intelligence - cunning, craftiness and guile. It takes a certain savvy to know when to lie, what lie to tell and who to tell it to. Granted, the public figureheads may appear to be, in the main, either stupid and mean or well-meaning but naive or simply ingratiatingly populist with no real principles whatsoever, but their advisors know exactly what will fly with Joe Public. In Britain, it used to be that these advisors all rose through the ranks of the civil service by way of an Oxbridge education, not unlike your suggested route to power; now we have the more 'meritocratic' spin doctors who gained their positions not through privilege but through hard work and a sheer talent for duplicity - tradesmen and pragmatists all of them. And, whether they paid their dues in student politics or the trade union movement, whether they work in the showroom of politics or at the drawing-boards, designing the new product, these ideological salesmen and advertising execs are supremely gifted thinkers; it takes as much intellect to manipulate the hearts and minds of an electorate as it does to manipulate a couple of variable in an equation.   

       After all, intelligence is more than just abstract reasoning; just because someone is a Mensa member, a great chess-player, brilliant at solving crossword puzzles, a mathematical whizz-kid or a genius logician, does not mean they have the ability to apply that faculty in any and every situation that it might be appropriate. Many great intellectuals have had appalling levels of social intelligence and no real understanding of the practicalities of human motivations and responses. This social stupidity of the intelligentsia can range from the rudeness and arrogance in their treatment of others to the downright ignorance of human nature that permeates their great works of ideology or philosophy. Marxism. Hmm, yeah, that's gonna work. No. The guys in power now are there because they *are* the intellectual elite in this arena. It may be the ruthless, greedy cunning of a political psychopath with no empathy, no ethics and no grasp of the greater ramifications of their actions, but it's still an 'intellect'. They're masters of the cold calculus of survival, much better at keeping us all (well some of us, anyway - the ones that count) comfy and cosy in a cruel and crazy world. That's why we leave them in power rather than shooting them dead like the dangerous animals they are. At least, that's what I figure; I can't see any other reason for not rising up in Spartacus-style wage slave rebellion. But maybe that's just me.
Guy Fox, May 04 2002

       I have to concur with [Guy Fox] and a few of the other annotators. If you can't have an educated, reliable electorate, then your best bet is to spread the authority for running the government across many individuals. The hope being that the combined best of the individuals will guide it through.
phoenix, May 04 2002

       I went to college with a lot of very gifted, bright people whom I'm very relieved don't run things. There is often a certain paralysis of action among the intellectually-driven, due to our lopsided personality.   

       Bring back the monarchy. Unity of command, I say.
RayfordSteele, May 05 2002

       I updated the description to reflect a more democratic version of what I had in mind. It's true that those in academic circles often have little ability to lead, and even less desire to. I am fairly certain, however, that the voting masses would be far more likely to consider a candidate's background and stand on the issues before voting, unlike the system we have now.   

       The point I'm trying to make is that the current system of government concentrates too much power in the wrong places. Power is about influencing the masses, and who influences the masses better than the huge corporations who've been doing so through advertising for more than a century now? Intellectuals are far more likely to consider where a candidate's backing comes from than under the current system.
DrAwkward, May 05 2002

       My opinion on the overall value of "intelligence" was formed by a brief experience in the 4th grade as a member of a program for "Mentally Gifted Minors" (dunno who came up with that). My observations can quite accurately be summarized by my all time favorite "Far Side" cartoon. (See link). On that basis, this idea gets a fishbone.
half, May 06 2002

       As po wisely pointed out, what appears to be lacking in our leaders is not education but morality. Considering many of the decisions our leaders make, if they were genuinely interested in the welfare of their citizens they would have to be so unbelievably stupid they would by dead in accidents related to putting on their ties in the morning. (I suggest British Bakers read "The Captive State" by George Monbiot.)   

       Perhaps the problem with politics is that moral people are disinclined to enter it, since it involves compromise, consorting with unpleasant people, and little real power. If you want to improve people's lives, entering politics would not appear to be the career to choose. Commited people are more likely to choose to work for NGOs or pressure groups, or in education or healthcare.   

       Unrelatedly, the rich have always had better access to education than the poor, so any system based on giving power to people based on formal educational achievement will disproportionately privilege the rich.
pottedstu, May 06 2002

       I agree with 1 point...make high quality education available for all. On a related topic I have voiced that companies should be involved in the education process more agressively...and that layoffs can be countered by more aggressive, creative businesses aimed at providing high tech "temp services" over a broad range of technnologies and services. I will soon propose that the concept of free education over the internet can be achieved through soliciting a vast resource of retired workers or other willing educated participants...who will gain true appreciation from contributing to a worthy cause (while keeping their minds sharp in the process).   

       In America, the system is broke only because the people truly admire the rich. They actually google over the ultra rich. The average person is not aware of the sheer statistics of the problem....that the upper 1% control up to 50 Trillion dollars....that a significant number of indivduals will soon be capable of operating in such a protective "shell of money" that they will exist as separate states or entities which can operate largely independent of the government.   

       You see, the average person is unaware about that. Try education on that point alone and you might start getting somewhere. Are you aware of the fact that there are statistics which at the press of the button can tell you exactly what you OWE.....but there is no such statistical base for what you HAVE. There are obvious reasons for this. Maybe some true research aimed at defining the extent of the problem should be done.   

       I forgot to mention that there is also an inherent sense that the ultra rich have a much better understanding of how to invest money. Since we tend to concentrate on success stories, and not failures, there is a viseral view that money begets money and success is largely inevitable.   

       With the exception of the medical industry, which I truly admire....the entire endeavor represented by the bazillions of dollars of industrial machine cranking away at a feverish pace is a true embarrassment in terms of providing advances in the most mind boggling common sense areas of:
BobWade1, May 13 2002

       sorry...to continue.... 1. lower cost, renewable energy sources 2. lower cost, more efficient transportation 3. lower cost housing 4. affordable health care   

       Finally, I must disagree vehemently that a group of highly educated people, even if they are gracefully integrated into the government, will have any effect on the problem. Such panels exist on many different areas world wide. They have clearly provided to government studies, for instance, that conversion to hydrogen power is a practical course for the future.   

       You see...the problem is simply a question of priorities....and the ability for people to simply endorce what should be clear, effective overall national goals.   

       The founding fathers created an environment which did result in a wonderful machine which creates an amazing amount of output....now at the point of megavolumes of output....and still we struggle with CAFE standards because of short sighted profiteering.   

       America, the "greatest" country in the world, should at least be leading the way in terms of energy utilization. The fact that the average miles per gallon average is 22 is an overwhelming embarrassment.
BobWade1, May 13 2002

       My goodness, what a variety of discourse so far off the subject (and some ON the subject, if perhaps off the mark. My sympathies DR A.
panamax, Aug 30 2002

       More aside, I'll recommend _Meritocracy and Economic Inequality_, Arrow, Bowles, Durlauf, eds, even though I haven't finished it yet. Lots on merit, definitions of, results of definitions of, morals likewise.   

       What does it have to do with intellectual meritocracy? The first essay opens with Amartya Sen quoting a letter Quine wrote to him & John Rawls. Better proof than a not-too-French French bean.
hello_c, Sep 06 2002

       half, i think
there's a mistake in the link.
pashute, Nov 02 2002

       Ohmigod! I thought Robert Heinlein was dead!   

       Seroiusly though, I agree with UB and also with yama's statement about giving power to those who don't want it. The idea of almost *any* of the 'intellectuals' I know in positions of power is almost enough to make me wet myself. I also have an extreme dislike of structured class systems. Fishbone.
madradish, Nov 03 2002

       The problem is that 1/2 the people are dumber than average!
PiledHigherandDeeper, May 22 2003

       No need to include me in your rant, a_passmoore. I only posted the link, nothing more.
mrthingy, Jun 04 2003

       a_passmoore: Let the record show that people have better things to do on the Halfbakery than argue with a Libertarian about his religious beliefs.
Aristotle, Jun 04 2003

       //Frighteningly often, the typical college grad starts out in a 30k desk job while your average bus driver makes 50k.//
In the Scottish legal profession, university graduates can spend 2 years earning less than £13,000 per anum. But these same graduates have the potential to earn more than £500,000 p.a., assuming they make partner. Blue collar workers do not have this potential within their "chosen" career paths.

       //So let's say that this idea cuts K-12 attendance by 30% net...
That means that fully 70% of the population remains entitled to vote...
We're talking about a very moderate change here //
Are these figures just conveniently concocted to illustrate the potential for a minor change in school attendance, or are they carefully calculated to prove that any such change would certainly be of this scale?

       // There are very few instances when illiterate people will endanger the public.//
But is it OK that they endanger themselves? Non attendance at school will result not only in illiteracy but innumeracy, poor communication skills and, I'll hazard, a limited experience with dealing with authority. This *is* a disaster. I have known people who can neither read nor count - their lives are very different from what someone who takes their literacy for granted may expect.

       //I bet a lot of factory assembly line workers haven't read a novel in years anyway.//
No, but they may have read a newspaper. They may have read letters from their banks. They may have read road signs. They may have read only the tattoos on the knuckles of their co-workers. But they have read.

       //At most, only 10% of schoolchildren will joyously abandon school ... With any luck, we'll get 30% abandonment net, over the whole K-12 spectrum. //
Leaving aside the origin of the figures quoted, I would be grateful if you would please translate "K-12 spectrum" for the less American types present.

       //Won't the 10% lacking education make life miserable for civilized society? No, because free technical/trade education would also be available to anyone. So only the truly unscrupulous, criminal-at-heart types will fall through the cracks. Everyone who wants to make an honest living will get educated, or get trained in a trade.//
Though there is an observable correlation between poor performance in the education system and criminality, it is not the only correlation. Criminality is more closely (but not exclusively) related to social exclusion and a disrupted family life. Also, not all criminals were habitual truants in their youths - white collar crime still exists, y'know.
my face your, Jun 04 2003

       Each person's vote is multiplied by the factor IQ/100.
mystic2311, Dec 22 2003

       Definitely there is something in this.   

       Half bakery is meritocratic. The internet is democratic.   

       What is better?
Danny_, Feb 18 2004

       The internet is anarchy.
GenYus, Feb 18 2004

       One thing I've seen overlooked in the mentions of what high-IQ individuals would be like in charge, is that most highly intelligent people are severely traumatized in the current school system by bullies and so forth. This does irreparable damage to self esteem and socialization skills. In a school system that would favor the intellectual over the cheerleader or 'popular' bully, this would not happen. I'm for it if only for this reason, since I had to drop out of public high school after being nearly hospitalized on a few occasions. (I'm also an erstwhile Mensa member, in case anyone was wondering.) I also wish to add that I think schools should be smaller so as to allow students more individual attention, and that IQ testing should be done on a regular basis... and if a child with a high IQ is consistantly underachieving, their environment should be investigated to determine why.
WhiteDove01s, Jul 15 2004

       I am strongly in favour of intellectual meritocracy, but not like this. As some have pointed out, a person with great merit in one field does not necessarily have any merit in another.   

       I would favour a system of direct democracy where people's votes are weighted based on their merit *in the specific referendum they are voting in*. For example, in a vote calling for a ban on state funding of complementary therapies (homeopathy etc.), people with academic or work experience in sciences would have a more powerful vote than those without. Patients who have been treated by these therapies (for better or worse), would also have an elevated vote as they have direct experience.   

       I would suggest that this might work by having an optional entrance exam where voters are given the opportunity to demonstrate their merit and increase their voting power. The questions would be set by people on both sides of the debate, meaning only voters with a balanced understanding can gain elevated enfranchisement.   

       The problem of course is how to ensure the questions are set fairly; by posing a very difficult question (e.g. what colour shirt was I wearing at the pro-homoeopathy rally; a question only those in favour of homoeopathy are likely to know) many with the opposing viewpoint could be locked out. I don't know the solution to this.
idris83, Feb 13 2011

       [i83] But people who know something about a subject often have a vested interest one way or the other.   

       Newton, Copernicus, etc. would have all been trashed (were actually) by their contemporaries who held various titles and positions.   

       "Big Oil" wins all the energy debates since they have the bulk of the scientists on hand.   

       The town square gets turned into a garbage dump since the people who know the most about land usage are the ones who buy and sell land regularly.
FlyingToaster, Feb 13 2011

       / "Big Oil" wins all the energy debates since they have the bulk of the scientists on hand. /   

       The number of scientists employed by big oil companies are far outweighed by those that are not. This is true more broadly; any company with selfish vested interests would inevitably be far out-weighed by companies and academics considering the greater good. Besides, a scientist's individual ethics can override the morals of their employer when it comes to the privacy of a polling booth. Finally, residents who use the village green would have an increased vote simply by being closely affected by the issue.   

       Furthermore, "merit" can be defined, if appropriate to the referendum, by other traits such as a person's community involvement, integrity, even empathy. The problem remains, that whoever decides which traits and knowledge should be tested, can effectively control the outcome of each vote.   

       The advantages of such a system are that media cannot retain a stranglehold on government by brainwashing TV viewers, by feeding them a horribly biased version of events: to gain merit, each individual must show that they understand the opposing viewpoints. Tyranny of the majority, although still a problem, is reduced slightly by the minority of individuals being directly affected by (and so seen as having more insight into the issue) becoming empowered.   

       Ultimately, the increase in each vote wouldn't be that large; perhaps ranging from one vote (the default), and gaining say, one extra vote for each of the above criteria, up to a maximum of 5 votes. So even if a minority with selfish vested interests did end up with the full enhanced weighting, a conscientious majority could still potentially outvote them.
idris83, Feb 14 2011

       <pedant>[mcscroteland] "pedent" (sp. "pedant")</pedant>
hippo, Feb 14 2011

       I've seen some cowardly things before but to see an Englishman wait nearly seven years before deciding that it was safe to insult a Scotsman is just feeble. I'm sorry hippo, but you are a disgrace to our nation! I suppose you spend your evenings standing on Beachy Head and shaking your fist ineffectually at the continent, safely under the cover of darkness, don't you!
DrBob, Feb 14 2011


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