13 votes

All people are created educable, a vital oft-forgotten tenet of modern democracy

6 comments

  1. [4]
    mieum
    Link
    I'm teaching a class about this now, actually. I have really tried to emphasize the significance of this shift, but it is really hard to paint the picture! There are so many details and dynamics...

    I'm teaching a class about this now, actually. I have really tried to emphasize the significance of this shift, but it is really hard to paint the picture! There are so many details and dynamics involved.

    7 votes
    1. [3]
      vord
      Link Parent
      "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" has never been more appropo. Animal Farm should be required reading in schools. My father (being a Red Scare child) saw it...

      We (mostly he) looked at many examples over many times, places, and regimes, and observed after innumerable case studies that a consistent defining characteristic of conservative thought over time is the belief that some people are better at ruling than others, thus that the best way to run a government and society is to put those superior people in power. Whether it’s a hereditary aristocracy, an exam-based meritocracy, an earn-the-franchise-through-military-service timocracy, or a divine right monarchy, many systems posit that some are more capable of rule than others, and that the best system will put them in power.

      "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" has never been more appropo. Animal Farm should be required reading in schools. My father (being a Red Scare child) saw it purely as a criticism of Communism, but I'd say its a solid criticism of all the patronizing governments of the world, USA included.

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        The line you quoted is a good bit of satire. I think one of the points of Animal Farm is that lines like "all men are created equal" are political slogans, and you shouldn't give people all that...

        The line you quoted is a good bit of satire. I think one of the points of Animal Farm is that lines like "all men are created equal" are political slogans, and you shouldn't give people all that much credit for the slogans that they repeat. What people do is more important than what they say.

        It's of course the case that humans are similar in some ways and diverse in others. Whether you emphasize the similarities or differences depends on context and purpose.

        1 vote
        1. vord
          Link Parent
          Its more of an allegorical story than a satire. The whole point of the novella is that the slogan was the pigs performing a gradual warp from "All animals are created equal" and "Four legs good,...

          Its more of an allegorical story than a satire.

          The whole point of the novella is that the slogan was the pigs performing a gradual warp from "All animals are created equal" and "Four legs good, two legs bad" at the beginning of their revolution against the farmer, over their course of governship afterwards. Culminating in a shift to "Four legs good, two legs better" when the pigs began walking on two legs. At which point the other animals could not distinguish between pig and man (a great punchline to be sure).

          This narrative was paralleled equally in in the American Revolutionm the Russian revolution, and to a lesser extent the French Revolution.

  2. vord
    Link
    I think this ties in nicely to the recent discussion about lottery-based representation. You can teach civics, logic, and law just as easily as reading and arithmetic. A system like that would...

    I think this ties in nicely to the recent discussion about lottery-based representation.

    You can teach civics, logic, and law just as easily as reading and arithmetic. A system like that would incentivize it.

    4 votes
  3. skybrian
    Link
    From the article: […]

    From the article:

    Many in the 18th [century] who thought democracy was absurd rejected it because they disagreed with this thesis, believing that the majority of people (even of white men) were not educable, i.e. that even with educational resources most people were born incapable of being guided by Reason and making sound political judgments. Those who believed this predicted that government by the people would collapse into absurdity, since it would be led by a parliament of fools. We get a taste of what such critics of democracy thought would happen to America in the satirical scenes in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2 in which Jack Cade’s populist rebels happily kill each other and laugh about it, and believe they can end hunger by having everyone eat on the king’s tab at restaurants and making the gutters run with wine (and which is the source of the much-misunderstood “First thing we do is kill all the lawyers,” step 1 in which executing everyone who can read is their step 2) — this is what many 18th c. anti-democrats believed would happen if governing was truly done by the people.

    […]

    The principle that souls of gold (i.e. souls fully capable of being educated & of wise rule) are a tiny minority, and that most humans are immutably not educable from birth, was very thoroughly absorbed into European belief, and dominated it for 2,000 years. In Dante, we see the entire structure of Hell revolve around the appetites/passions/intellect distinction. Medieval epistemology, psychology, and even ideas about medicine and plants incorporated this principle, and spun elaborate explanations for how and why different souls perceived the heavenly world (Good, Justice, Providence) better than others. Eugen Weber’s powerful history, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914, shows how people in the period wrote about their own French peasants in incredibly insulting, infantilizing, quasi-bestial terms, strikingly similar to the racist language we’re used to the Age of Empires using to demean non-Europeans. Anyone who hasn’t looked at period sources will struggle to believe how ferociously confident the European majority was in the thesis that the majority of people even in their own country could never understand a book, a moral quandary, or a political proposition. Keeping the rare wise elites in charge was the only barrier between order and savagery. The fact that so many people were willing to believe in the totally mythical tragedy of the commons (yes, it’s totally invented, real peasants took great care of their commons) is one relic of how certain people were for a long time (and some still are) that most people are not capable of making the kinds of prudent, sustainable judgments necessary for custodianship of a polity.

    It took a lot to get even a small radical fringe by 1750 to entertain the notion that all people–or even just all men–were created equally educable. A long survey of the causes would get unwieldy, but they include (among other things) contact with indigenous cultures in the Americas and other regions which had functional governments without European-style systems, revolutions in medicine and the understanding of the sense organs which undermined old hierarchy-enforcing ideas about how cognition and sensation functioned, second-order consequences of the rags-to-riches path opened by Renaissance courts employing scholars from any background so long as they had good Latin, and Protestantism’s second-order implication that, if people didn’t need priests as intermediaries between their prayers and God, perhaps they didn’t need aristocrats as intermediaries between them and power. But by 1750 that fringe existed, and had enough momentum to implement its experiment in the new United States, which most people who were considered sensible at the time thought would quickly degenerate into chaos, because they didn’t think most people were capable of understanding the world enough to vote sensibly, draft legislation, or serve in a congress, and that the tiny wise minority would be drowned out by the majority wanting to vote for dining on the king’s tab and killing all the lawyers.

    3 votes