The Science News’ report, Uncommitted newbies can foil forceful few, explains why both democracy and Taoist views have never played a large role in human culture. (Also, ‘Google Uninformed individuals promote democratic consensus in animal groups’)
We are ostensibly a democratic culture, along with many others in the world today. Alas, I’m afraid that is more an ideal (or myth), than reality. Currently, power blocks of a forceful few make the real decisions, be they on the left or right.
This research, seemingly ironic at first, shows how important impartiality can be for any truly democratic relationship. The more that power blocks square off against one another, the more this pulls everyone in-between into making a black and white choice to join one side or the other, despite personal reservations. Then too, there is the large segment of the population that doesn’t bother to do anything. It is even debatable whether current democracies are more democratic than monarchies of old. Not a debate for today though; that’s another story.
Impartiality also lies at the heart of Taoist thought. The first line of chapter one of the Tao Te Ching deals with this straight on… “The way possible to think, runs counter to the constant way. The name possible to express runs counter to the constant name. Being so staunchly in the middle, with no favorites in the game is so foreign to human tribal nature. We love to name names and choose sides. However, choosing sides doesn’t serve democracy as well as we think. Consider this excerpt from the Science News’ article:
Decisions can be more democratic when individuals with no preset preference join a group.
Odd as it sounds, adding wishy-washy members to a group can wrest control from a strongly opinionated minority and make collective decisions more democratic. “It’s quite counter-intuitive,” says study coauthor Iain Couzin of Princeton University. “What we’re trying to do with this paper is put out a new idea.”
The study “supports a growing body of evidence that larger groups are better decision makers than smaller groups,” It also echoes economic research showing that having some fraction of uninformed traders in a market can reduce volatility.
In his laboratory experiments with real people pushed to reach consensus, Kearns says, “when the minority wins, it tends to happen fast — it’s almost shock and awe,” he says. So he can imagine that adding neutral, perhaps vacillating parties could give a majority a chance to recognize and exert its force.
“Maybe the optimum state isn’t everybody being highly informed and having very, very strong political opinions,” Kearns speculates. Perhaps an ideal world would still need a little ignorance. “Maybe the role of these ignorant individuals, whether they be fish or American voters, is to provide a stabilizing, mediating effect,” he says. But whatever the ideal dose of ignorance may be, current levels clearly exceed it, he says. “I think we’re very, very far from the optimum.”
Ignorance and rash certainty are a lot more dangerous than ignorance and hesitant uncertainty. Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results. Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial. The central problem is that the most ignorant among us don’t know they are ignorant… which is what makes them the most ignorant. However, that will be changing in the coming centuries as the human life-span steadily increases. The longer each of us lives, the more likely our understanding can approach its optimum ‘full’ extent (i.e., our own life being our fundamental learning experience). Then, as chapter 10 puts it, when understanding reaches its full extent, can you know nothing?
In short, the longer people are able to live, the more likely they will truly realize how little they know. With this increase in humility comes impartiality. That bodes well for true democracy and even a boost for the Taoist worldview. Okay, that is all the good news I have for today.