Against epistocracy

by John Quiggin on July 6, 2017

I’ve finally been got around writing something about US philosopher Jason Brennan’s arguments for “epistocracy”, that is, restricting voting to people who are well-informed about the issues. For a long time, I assumed that such an idea would be ignored, and fade into oblivion, as most academic ideas do. But it’s popped up here in Australia. Nathan Robinson in Current Affairs has a trenchant piece on a variety of anti-democratic commentators, including Brennan, to which I can’t really add much.

So, I’ll try to offer some more specific objections to Brennan’s case for epistocracy.

First, suppose for the moment that university/college education was the criterion for having the franchise. What difference would that make to the outcome of recent elections? The answer, as far as I can tell, is “not much”. Other things equal, more highly educated people tend to be more likely to vote for left or centre-left parties. But other things aren’t equal. Higher education is correlated with higher income, and people with higher incomes tend to vote for right or centre-right parties. Historically, the income effect dominated, so people with more education, on average, voted more for the parties of the right. Nowadays, the two effects roughly cancel out. For example, exit polls from the US Presidential election suggest that most college-educated white voters supported Trump, though the margin wasn’t as great as for white voters without a college education. Divisions on age and race have generally been sharper than those based on education.

Under current conditions, restricting the franchise wouldn’t make a lot of difference. But even if it did, the discussion above points up the obvious problem. Whether more or less informed, voters are likely to support policies that benefit them personally (for example, by reducing their taxes) or reinforce their prejudices (by enacting their preferred cultural policies). Given the right political alignment, an election confined to college educated voters might produce outcomes that were more socially progressive (in the way this term is usually used) and more economically regressive (favorable to high income earners), than we see at the moment, simply because those are the policies that would suit the restricted electorate. I don’t know whether Brennan supports such an outcome (from what I’ve seen of his writing, I suspect so), but there is no justification for loading the political dice in its favor.

So far I’ve focused on the decision of which party to vote for, and what kind of broad policy platforms we might expect. But what about specific policies? Brennan holds out as an example the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was politically unpopular and was abandoned by Trump. According to Brennan, “most experts” agree that the TPP “is good for the global economy”.

That depends on what you mean by “most experts” . Certainly, experts from thinktanks that specialise in these deals supported the TPP, but that’s not very surprising – it’s what they do. Also, a lot of foreign policy experts backed the TPP as a way of enhancing the influence of the US at the expense of China, but that’s not obviously “good for the global economy.” At least as far as the Australian economics profession is concerned, I’d say the range of opinion ranged from lukewarm support to strong opposition. For those who focused on traditional trade issues, the TPP represented the final abandonment of the global approach represented by the long-stalled World Trade Organization negotiations. Most were unenthusiastic at best about the emerging bilateral and plurilateral deals. For those concerned with intellectual property issues, the TPP was seen as a disaster, embodying even more monopolistic protections for the owners of such “property”. And on the left, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement procedures, and the closed-door negotiations, were seen as entrenching corporate power.

There’s no need to resolve these divergent positions here. The crucial point is that Brennan has chosen to illustrate his argument for requiring voters to be better informed about the issues by picking an issue on which he himself is clearly not well-informed. This is, I think, a case where ad hominem argument is entirely appropriate.

Finally of course, Brennan’s casual reference to “most experts” raises the obvious problem with epistocracy. Who gets to decide who is well-informed? And who gets to decide who gets to decide? (I’ll have a longer post touching on this v. soon)

{ 109 comments }

1

Gareth Wilson 07.06.17 at 2:02 am

Wouldn’t “epistocracy” mean rule by people who write a lot of letters?

2

Nick Rowe 07.06.17 at 2:12 am

Your last paragraph is key. It needs a pithy latin translation, similar to “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” And in representative democracy we are all supposed to choose our experts. And we can take advice from other experts on which experts to choose.

3

JRLRC 07.06.17 at 2:47 am

Good post, John.
Brennan´s idea is a bad one. Every philosopher-king perspective is not an experimental option and the “philosopher-citizen mini king” idea is a lousy experimental option.
How to decide who is “well informed”? College degrees? Trump and Kushner have some of those…

4

Ted Lemon 07.06.17 at 3:20 am

The answer of course is “the voters.” I don’t think this issue will do well in the polls. Speaking as someone who made an economic decision not to pursue my college degree after realizing that my teachers were phoning it in and the market was hot, I would obviously vote against it. This idea was actually tested in the U.S., but the test was whether you were a white, male property owner, not whether you had a college education. We also had poll taxes.

I find it somewhat miraculous that all these disenfranchisements fell one by one, but fall they did. I would be astonished if anything short of a putsch could get them back.

5

Sam Bradford 07.06.17 at 4:21 am

I’ve done university! It’s full of idiots, just as much as any other place. (I was surprised at first. Small-town boy, only actually smart kids were ever sent off to university.)
I’ve also met many professional politicians. They were very knowledgeable about politics, but still, our parliaments are full of idiots.
I’m a teacher. A voting cadre entirely of teachers would probably do pretty well, but still, more than enough idiots in our ranks to send things doolally on any given day.

Silly idea.

6

Omega Centauri 07.06.17 at 4:51 am

There some issues that are largely separable. Covered here for the most part of the estimated effect.
Of course the issue of who gets to design the test, looms large. But, another issue wasn’t mentioned, and that is the perceived legitimacy of the results. How much respect, are those who aren’t credentialed as voters going to give the government? Especially given the current anti-expert sentiment, I suspect it is very low respect.

It might also be possible, with a system trending towards direct democracy, to separate issues according to expertise. For instance, the are issues which are primarily about values -presumably everyone has values. Then there are more technical issues such as, do we support Nuclear power, or fund scientific research in fields XYZ, for which a case for selective voting might be made. And economics and so on. We could even give voters weights based upon the tested level of expertise about issue X. Those with greater alleged expertise get a higher weight -but even the high school dropout gets a nonzero weight, so at least he has some input.

7

James Grimmer 07.06.17 at 4:57 am

“Jason Brennan is the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.”

I have lived in academia for many years, and this may be the most confusingly grand and deflationary–and simply surreal–job title I have ever seen. It does have the virtue of being funny.

It’s in itself evidence that those who deem you expert may not be expert.

8

otto 07.06.17 at 5:18 am

Dont we have elements of epistocracy in part from the influence of independent central banks, courts, autonomous bureaucracies etc, all coexisting with universal adult franchise? Surely, the political and institutional influence of experts is not an all-or-nothing arrangement that primarily depends on restrictions on voting rights but grows up even within mass voting systems as elected politicians find the institutions useful for a variety of reasons?

9

Sancho 07.06.17 at 6:28 am

Rather than formal education, an epistocracy could weigh votes by demonstrated knowledge.

So, in the Australian context, the Australian Electoral Commission would formulate and administer a multiple-choice test to determine a voter’s understanding of Parliament, the Senate, the role of the Reserve Bank and other institutions, and key moments in Australian political history and current affairs.

Anyone could take the test at any time, supported by regular AEC educational sessions to improve voter knowledge, and the test score becomes equivalent to vote value.

That way, a rich political ignoramus with a PhD would have less electoral influence than a highschool dropout with strong political awareness.

Obviously this could be gamed in all sorts of ways – and maybe Brennan discusses something similar – but there are more meritocratic methods of doing epistocracy than by education or wealth.

10

richard thomas 07.06.17 at 7:09 am

Well, you can either let people vote to create what they perceive to be a fairer society or deny them the vote and have them take matters into their own, bepickaxed, hands. I know which I prefer.

11

NJM 07.06.17 at 7:37 am

Dammit, I knew I should have finished this paper sooner. There goes my catchy title.

12

Guy Harris 07.06.17 at 7:51 am

James Grimmer:

“Jason Brennan is the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy…”

…with a fried egg on top and Spam.

13

Marc 07.06.17 at 8:11 am

I’ll just leave this link here; suffice it to say, this approach has a history in the US, and it’s not a good one. Some states had this, applied of course to only some voters (e.g. southern blacks), and it was banned in 1964 by the Civil Rights Act. In earlier years it was a tool used against recent immigrants.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy_test

14

Metatone 07.06.17 at 8:15 am

I’d propose that the reawakening zombie of epistocracy does relate to a real concern:

How do our democracies grapple with complex problems?
(Let’s be clear, I don’t think epistocracy is the answer.)

I’ll point to CO2 emissions & global climate change as the obvious example, but I’m sure everyone can point to a few more in their own countries.

Voting is necessarily short cycle, to keep the politicians on a leash. But what institutions exist to preserve a longer view?

15

Adam Roberts 07.06.17 at 8:55 am

It’s the oldest idea in modern (I mean, post-classical) European democracy, really: that voters should only be enfranchised if they have some ‘stake’ in the polis upon which their votes will have an effect. For the longest stretch of democratic history this ‘stake’ was defined monetarily: property owners with property of a rentable value above a certain sum, for instance. This I’d argue underlay the exclusion of women, whose property was legally only theirs after majority and until they married (I’m not denying the broader structural sexism of these societies of course). The arguments used then were basically the ones Brennan uses, swapping out ‘expertise’ for property ownership. But since the education he is talking about it expensive to acquire and socially/culturally overdetermined by class attitudes he is, in essence, simply reaffirming 18th-C British constitutionalists that only the middle class can be trusted to vote ‘correctly’.

It’s worth remembering that the last hundred-years-or-so of expansion to a universal suffrage is the exception, not the rule, in the larger history of democracy as such. And there’s nothing about it that guarantees it will remain. Robert Heinlein spent his later decades arguing that only people who had devoted some portion of their lives to ‘public service’ should have a vote, since only such people had proved that they were able to put the state’s collective interest before their private concerns (his paradigm for public service was military service, of course). He also suggested, a la Brennan, that voting booths should automatically lock the door once the voter had stepped inside, present him/her with a IQ test of some kind, allow them to vote if they passed and kill them if they didn’t.

16

kidneystones 07.06.17 at 9:59 am

Good post, John. Appalling suggestion and positively otherworldly. Democrats and left of center ‘liberals’ claim that producing id at the voting booth constitutes voter suppression. My observation that 75 percent of California’s male African-Americans of high school age cannot read, or right was greeted with yawns.

What would a literacy test do to voter turnout and election outcomes, not to mention tests of cultural knowledge? Only a complete twit would even suggest language requirements, or even the most basic literacy tests as eligibility standards.

Democracy is messy, imperfect, and the outcomes often difficult to predict. Worth treasuring, worth defending at the very least until women have had the vote for a full century. Do Brenner et al ever envision themselves being among the ineligible?

Not f’ing likely. But depriving others of their rights is an idea that never gets old, so it’s good of you to bring this ‘proposition’ to our attention.

17

kidneystones 07.06.17 at 10:02 am

Wonderful irony, no?

18

Dipper 07.06.17 at 10:07 am

“First, suppose for the moment that university/college education was the criterion for having the franchise”

well to some extent this did happen in the UK where up until WWII graduates from Oxford and Cambridge had an extra vote. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_constituency

19

Alex SL 07.06.17 at 11:14 am

This is one of those ideas that sound intuitively attractive at first, because who hasn’t met somebody who is too ignorant to make an informed choice as a voter? (Let’s start with “leave your government hands off my Medicare”, pause to consider the many Spanish voters interviewed on TV in 2011 who said they hated the austerity implemented by the socialists and were now voting conservative, which party had of course campaigned on much harsher austerity, glance quickly in the general direction of the British voters who thought that Brexit meant deporting the citizen descendants of immigrants who had come in the 1960s, and end on my Eastern German relative who had somehow come to believe that Helmut Kohl was personally responsible for the economic prosperity of the Western Germany.)

But yes, who gets to decide what topics are crucial and by what measure somebody is competent enough? It is just unworkable in practice. Politics is in the first instance about competing interest groups, and only secondarily about expertise.

20

Gareth Wilson 07.06.17 at 11:15 am

It might be relevant here that Mexican law now assumes that most Mexicans are not competent to decide which beverages they should drink. They have to be discouraged from sugary sodas by taxes. So, is every Mexican competent to vote?

21

bob mcmanus 07.06.17 at 11:45 am

Achen and Bartels Democracy For Realists 2016 and the Myth of the Rational Voter.

“They demonstrate that voters―even those who are well informed and politically engaged―mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. They also show that voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties. “

JQ:Who gets to decide who is well-informed? And who gets to decide who gets to decide?

Well, standardized objective national tests of course. I am having a little trouble distinguishing epistocracy, noocracy and sophocracy, but the principle of being ruled by embodied knowledges is very old. The questions are what kind of knowledge will rule, and how it is to found and empowered.

Plato and the Chinese Mandarins thought we should be ruled by scholars of history philosophy, maybe political economy and of course law, the embodiment demonstrated by a staged set of competitive examinations and contests. (Best poems helped in many cultures.) Law, business, and military knowledge tested and ranked by competition (including elections) still rule us.

Democracies as nations have struggled to determine the most efficient form of knowledge to rule, needing a universal knowledge to make public discourse efficient, and since the Enlightenment have sought the most and evermore universal common forms of knowledge/experience, in a process of abstraction that parallels and served the rise of capitalism. A knowledge that transcends and unifies the usefully competitive interests of the populace, like what, a shared humanity? A nation? But mostly it is about the wisdom of crowds, the rational voter and an equilibrium reached via the clearing of the marketplaces of ideas. Not just a General Will, but a emergent General Wisdom, a Collective Intellect. But also a kind of epistocracy.

What kinds of ruling knowledges/experiences we desire to rule/serve us varies tremendously, and is the basis of identity politics. Needless to say, personal experience of oppression and subordination was not previously valued so highly.

22

Ronan(rf) 07.06.17 at 1:00 pm

If you were to restrict voting to the college educated, would you not get a significant age gap in voting, ie the young are much more likely to have gone to college than those over 50. As such, the political incentives of the main parties would be completely different(they would need to much more explicitly court young voters) so the outcome wouldn’t be a Brennan epistocracy so much as a politics built around the preferences of the young.

23

Frowner 07.06.17 at 1:06 pm

When I consider various failed social policies, especially the “bootstraps” kinds, I am reminded that actually, rich people are not informed or expert about the lives of the poor.

In particular, I’m reminded of all the proposals to add “just a dollar” as a co-pay for medicine provided on state programs. “It’s only a dollar,” say the middle classes. “It makes people more responsible!” And of course, programs like that actually decrease the rate of treatment, because “just a dollar” is what people are already spending on bus fare to the clinic, or they have ten medications because they are disabled and they can’t swing $10, etc.

“Who are the experts” is an important question, but it needs to be modulated into “what do we consider worthy of ‘expertise'”? In general, we do not consider what life is actually like for poor people or any marginalized group to be especially important in creating policy.

24

soullite 07.06.17 at 1:42 pm

I have a feeling that being ‘informed’ about the issues will essentially mean ‘agree with the neoliberal elite’.

I’d war anyone thinking about that kind of thing that these aren’t the 1800s anymore. Remember those bombs back in Boston, made from the kind of things you can buy at Wal-Mart? Imagine them going off a few times a day. Hell, imagine them tearing up the roads you need to bring food into your cities, or destroying the machines you need to harvest that food. I could build a fleet of rockets in my garage, and I’m not even that smart. They wouldn’t have guidance systems, but I could build enough to make that unfortunate, but just an after-thought.

You start dismantling democrac, and the social contract goes right out the window. I don’t really think that you co-called ‘educated’ folk want to find out what your average mechanic can think up with a metal press and a few sticks of dynamite, especially given how many of them would have seen just how easy that setup can tear apart a tank in Iraq. Or how easily an earth-mover covered with armor can flat-out flip a tank over.

You’re well past the level of technology you’d have to be at to make this work.

25

Z 07.06.17 at 2:04 pm

I am obviously totally in favor of epistocracy (even in the entertaining Heinlein variety), as long as I get to design the test.

To me, epistocracy, its cast of apparent supporters, their apparent inability to conceive of the obvious counterarguments, their apparent ignorance of the historical precedents Marc and Adam Roberts above recall and even their rather bancal command of etymology (the latter two suggesting it would be appropriate to bar them from voting according to their own tenets) are much more interesting as symptoms than as object in themselves. According to Piketty et al., we are entering a level of inequality which has never historically co-existed with meaningful democracy with universal suffrage and equal share of the political power. It is thus perhaps not surprising to see voices arguing against universal suffrage getting louder, actual policies restricting it half-heartedly challenged (if that) and general defiance against the “one man, one vote” idea rising.

26

Uriel Fiori 07.06.17 at 2:06 pm

maybe the best way to restrict franchise is simply “skin in the game”. if you put your money / property at risk, you get a proportional vote. like, you know, a joint-stock corporation.

27

Ben 07.06.17 at 2:13 pm

Surely we need to test whether a potential voter is adequately able to judge their own desires? That’s why we need to restrict the franchise to people who can describe the history of psychoanalytic thought, up through Winnicott.

Test answers will also be useful for rooting out Lacanians, who will be sentenced to hard labor.

28

RD 07.06.17 at 3:01 pm

Solar Lottery:
On 12/31, every adult’s ID is put in a hopper.
One is drawn and the winner is absolute ruler for one year,
and is then executed by the Praetorians.
New drawing ensues.

29

Faustusnotes 07.06.17 at 3:09 pm

That Current Affairs article is very good, and robustly angry!

30

Manta 07.06.17 at 3:13 pm

Only people who agree with me should vote.

31

Ogden Wernstrom 07.06.17 at 4:00 pm

I think our governments in the US already kill too many people; let’s not start offering voter-roulette/suicide booths.

32

Flaxx 07.06.17 at 4:10 pm

Professor Quiggin, did you read the whole of Brennan’s book or are you arguing against quotes and summaries? I have not read the book yet but I imagine it to be a deeper philosophical argument than just “only smart people get to vote” and”let the experts run things.” I would be interested in reading your deeper critique of his more nuanced argument, if you ever have the time.

33

arnold 07.06.17 at 4:18 pm

Let’s try two kinds votes—one for what we Feel and one for what we Think—perhaps providing a common Sense result…

34

Layman 07.06.17 at 4:32 pm

The obvious argument against it is the certainty that it would be used as a voter suppression tool. Any faction in power has an obvious incentive to define ‘educated about the issues’ to mean precisely what they need it to mean in order to stay in power. The idea would be even worse in the US, where the question would certainly be answered at the state level. Imagine the current voter-ID based suppression efforts in a legal environment where there isn’t actually a clear right to vote at all.

35

Tom Hurka 07.06.17 at 4:40 pm

The current issue of The Economist has data, probably more current than the Guardian ones JQ links to, showing Clinton even with Trump among those earning over $100K while 12 points behind him among those earning less than $50K, and 21 points ahead of him among those with postgraduate degrees while 5 points behind him among those with only high school degrees. These data make the income effect weaker, and the education effect stronger, than the OP suggests.

36

ThM 07.06.17 at 4:43 pm

> What difference would that make to the outcome of recent elections? The answer, as far as I can tell, is “not much”.

I don’t know that it’s true. 538’s conclusion was, for instance : In short, it appears as though educational levels are the critical factor in predicting shifts in the vote between 2012 and 2016.

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/education-not-income-predicted-who-would-vote-for-trump/

and I think there was something close for Le Pen in France.

37

Stephen 07.06.17 at 6:39 pm

The argument that the common people are all too stupid and ignorant to be trusted with a vote has a long pedigree. In the UK, it did not survive Benjamin Disraeli’s Representation of the People Act, 1867. (Note for US readers: Disraeli was both a Jew, as you might have guessed, and a Conservative prime minister who greatly broadened the franchise. Does not compute?)

Small step in this direction. In the UK and I think the Irish Republic (Ronan if he is still around will correct me here) there used to be University seats in the Parliament/Dail. Not many, but sometimes they were useful. Look up the reforms brought in by Alan Herbert.

Step too far. Why stop at having a university degree for the franchise? Nowadays, some are patently worthless. BSc, University of Poppleton, in yoghurt knitting is a fictional example; degrees in dance & equine studies, aromatherapy, judicial astrology and so forth are alas not. Surely we should restrict the franchise to those having degrees in serious subjects (to be decided by serious people) from serious universities. In the UK, Oxbridge of course, Edinburgh to keep the Scots if not exactly happy (a futile objective) at least no more aggrieved than usual, the London trio of ICL, UCL, KCL, possibly Manchester which has become semi-civilised since so many BBC people moved there … are there any others?

38

peterv 07.06.17 at 7:42 pm

We’ve been here before. Under pressure from London from the 1830s onwards, the British colonies in Southern Africa adopted non-racial franchises based on gender, property ownership, literacy (in English, usually) and education. As late as 1979, many Rhodesians were able to convince themselves that their restricted franchise with conditions not explicitly based on race showed their polity to be non-racial, despite the minuscule numbers of non-white voters who met the conditions. Policies and laws adopted by provincial and national governments in Southern Africa during the century and a half of restricted franchises give one not the slightest confidence that such franchises lead to intelligent, sensible, honest or fair governments.

39

Joseph Brenner 07.06.17 at 9:05 pm

Adam Roberts@15:

Robert Heinlein spent his later decades arguing that only people
who had devoted some portion of their lives to ‘public service’
should have a vote, since only such people had proved that they
were able to put the state’s collective interest before their
private concerns (his paradigm for public service was military
service, of course).

That’s the original version, as published in _Starship
Troopers_. Later, in an essay in _Expanded Universe_ he talks
about what’s essentially a variation (he didn’t remember
precisely what he’d said), where conscientious objectors could be
put to work doing something else to earn their vote.

He also suggested, a la Brennan, that voting booths should automatically lock the door once the voter had stepped inside, present him/her with a IQ test of some kind, allow them to vote if they passed and kill them if they didn’t.

That’s just one of the ideas he floats in the _Expanded Universe_ essay. Another idea was that the franchise could be restricted to women-with-children on the theory that they’d have an instinctive long-term perspective. He also thought there would be some justice in this because women had been denied the vote for so long.

40

Joseph Brenner 07.06.17 at 9:54 pm

I can’t say I think much of Jason Brennan’s title, “Against Democracy”: if you want to argue the point seriously, you’d argue you’re interested in variations of democracy, not in favor of eliminating it completely. We do not, and never have had a *universal* franchise, e.g. currently the US prevents anyone under 18 from voting, the status of convicted felons remains a hot topic, there are many people living in the US who aren’t regarded as full citizens, and then there’s the oddity of those “territories”…

The first chapter of Brennan’s book is available for free from the site:
http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10843.html

He (reminiscent of Heinlein) floats a number of ideas for variant political systems. The one that I like is:

Enfranchisement lottery: … Immediately before the election, thousands of citizens are selected via a random lottery to become prevoters. … they earn the right to vote, but only if they participate in certain competence-building exercises, such as deliberative forums with their fellow citizens.

I’d probably be most interested in reading Chapters 2 & 3, where he claims to be dealing with the empirical evidence. In Chapter 1 he’s posturing about being all scientific and refers to how “Psychologists, sociologists, economists, and political scientists have spent more than sixty years studying how people think … ” but in this chapter he just gives us a folksy cartoon of three kinds of voters that’s worthy of a Thomas Friedman.

Brennan quotes Schumpeter approvingly: “The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field”, but I’m skeptical of that myself. The common sense wisdom of normal people living their daily lives is not immediately obvious. Why is advertising valuable? How do Los Vegas casinos stay in operation? Why haven’t the tobacco companies gone out of business? And how do you explain a *sequel* to _Guardians of the Galaxy_?

41

Heliopause 07.06.17 at 10:59 pm

“Against epistocracy”

I always find it funny that such things even get argued.

“First, suppose for the moment that university/college education was the criterion for having the franchise.”

The short version of your explication on this is that we already have a de facto epistocracy.

“Who gets to decide who is well-informed?”

Again, these mullahs already de facto exist in the form of elite media, the permanent political party duopoly (speaking of the US here), and so forth. They get their way the vast majority of the time, and on those rare occasions they don’t we notice. Looks like de facto Epistocracy isn’t the perfect system either, huh.

42

bruce wilder 07.06.17 at 11:04 pm

Ireland has six seats in its Senate elected from two university constituencies, three from each at the moment but subject to future reallocation to more schools. The indirectly elected Irish Senate is structured on paper to be a kind of assembly of experts generally, with an advisory role in revising legislation. It can delay a bit but has no veto and the government of the day is practically guaranteed a partisan majority.

43

Helen 07.06.17 at 11:42 pm

My observation that 75 percent of California’s male African-Americans of high school age cannot read, or right was greeted with yawns.

and even their rather bancal command of etymology

We need a name for the Law that when lamenting the English skills of others in forum posts, a howling solecism, typo or other error will happen.

44

Moz of Yarramulla 07.07.17 at 12:09 am

We already have epistocracy. Almost every democracy has a competence test, and that’s hard to view any other way (if you’re declared incompetent very few democracies will let you vote).

But then there’s the “none dare call it a test” stuff. Most blatantly the US has their racial gerrymandering and black-to-prison pipelines that work with their “no vote for felons” laws to disenfranchise rather a lot of people. So sure, there’s no “you have to be white to vote” law, there’s just a distinct racial bias in the “who is allowed to vote” statistics.

But the tests most so-called democracies have are possession of ID, age, citizenship (Aotearoa being one of the few that lets legal residents vote) and residence (many democracies require that you actually visit the country at least occasionally). All of those are arguable, and I think could be usefully shrunk down to “can prove you’re legally in the country” and “can understand the voting form”.

To answer the obvious objection about 5 year olds voting… we let 95 year olds vote, even when they have to be “guided” in filling out the voting paper. There’s no legal barrier of the form “has to understand that they’re not voting for President Eisenhower”, they just have to have voted in the past. Until you’re willing to stop those people voting, claiming that infants are so dramatically different that they should be disenfranchised is, I think, unsustainable. The infants will have to live with the consequences of their vote for a lot longer than the geriatrics will (on average).

45

James Grimmer 07.07.17 at 12:37 am

There’s no need to resolve these divergent positions here. The crucial point is that Brennan has chosen to illustrate his argument for requiring voters to be better informed about the issues by picking an issue on which he himself is clearly not well-informed. This is, I think, a case where ad hominem argument is entirely appropriate.

This gets to the core of the case. There may be reasons for there to be deliberative organizations with traditions and norms meant to represent us well. I myself grew up in California and have witnessed over the years the way the referendum system has had bizarre effects. One also wants , say, the CBO and other such institutions to get between big rhetoric and the rest of us believing it, whatever the claim. Look, we need mechanisms assuring that we pay special respect to reports from the National Academy of Sciences on GMOs or, say, to the NIH when it comes to diabetes treatment. There are important ways we can make sure expertise informs our institutions so that popular prejudices don’t immediately and destructively hold sway. Epistemic mediation by reliable institutions is deeply important.

But restricting the vote itself? Very different. And imagining a reliable mechanism for doing that? That seems to be weirdly off on the nature of expertise itself, let alone the point of universal franchise. Here are some considerations roughly in line with what Quiggins says:

I like to think I’m roughly expert in what I’m a specialist in and in its implications for society as a whole. I also like to think that, as an expert at such and such and roughly an expert, very roughly, on its implications for society as a whole, that my expertise has taught me enough to teach me the absurdity of epistocracy. I do not for a second think it’s credible for there to be an institution that reliably, even remotely reliably, or at all, restricts voting rights in the name of expertise. Simple knowledge of the nature of expertise itself teaches you this. Living with the word “epistemology” for a significant amount of time would teach you this. Teaching teaches you this . . .

46

Joseph Brenner 07.07.17 at 12:41 am

Helen@44:

We need a name for the Law that when lamenting the English skills of others in forum posts, a howling solecism, typo or other error will happen.

https://www.thoughtco.com/muphrys-law-english-usage-1691140

But you missed this one…
kidneystones@16:

Do Brenner et al ever envision themselves being among the ineligible?

It’s not completely impossible he was trying to hassle me about
something (but who would that “et al” be?), but most likely he
was talking about Jason Brennan.

47

GeoffKemmish 07.07.17 at 1:02 am

Neville Shute ” In the Wet “, 1953

Australian ( and eventually British ) citizens could acquire up to seven votes, in any combination, according to the following criteria:

The first vote is given to every citizen on reaching the age of 21.
The second vote is for university graduates and commissioned military officers.
The third vote is earned after living and working abroad for at least two years.
The fourth vote is for raising two children to the age of fourteen without divorcing.
The fifth vote is for earning at least £5000 in the year before the election.
The sixth vote is for officials in any of the recognized Christian churches.
The seventh vote is given only at the discretion of the monarch.

At the time £5000 was a substantial income, of course.

48

Moz of Yarramulla 07.07.17 at 1:27 am

But restricting the vote itself? Very different. And imagining a reliable mechanism for doing that? That seems to be weirdly off on the nature of expertise itself, let alone the point of universal franchise

Can you name a country that has a universal franchise? I’m genuinely interested to the point where I’d almost consider moving there just on that fact alone.

49

steven t johnson 07.07.17 at 2:18 am

Joseph Brenner@40 Starship Troopers is most of all about the utopian army, where everybody fights and the generals go into the field first. There’s science fiction, and then there’s stuff like that.

As for the franchise limited to veterans…ancient Rome and ancient Athens and even ancient Sparta had franchises limited to soldiers (when Spartans were forced to resort to arming Helots, they acquired a kind of citizenship, neodamodeis.) Contra Heinlein, they were not notably stable because of the moral training in responsibility conferred by military service. Heinlein was a smart man. I’m sure he knew this, but he was writing a juvenile. Lying to kids is a time-honored conservative tradition.

But even in its own terms, Starship Troopers is fishy. On the one hand, everybody fights, on the other non-combatant service jobs are apparently farmed out to private contractors. There will always be more people in war production and logistics and so on than in combat in modern warfare. Donald Rumsfeld would approve, but how does a military justify putting a physician into the front lines with a gun? Quite aside from that ambiguity, there’s the story in the novel about a disabled person who insisted on enlisting. Some explainer of the system says they’ll make the dude count the hairs on a caterpillar until he gets the idea and gives up. Of course if he’s determined to put up with the abuse, then he’s proven he really, really wants it, so presumably then the army can condescend.

50

JRLRC 07.07.17 at 2:57 am

I recommend this book: “Democracy and Disenfranchisement. The Morality of Electoral Exclusions” (Oxford University Press), by Claudio López-Guerra, a brilliant mexican political theorist (CIDE). It is a serious analytic work. Claudio is not another Brennan…

51

Omega Centauri 07.07.17 at 3:33 am

Contemplating voting under Heinlein’s system. Are you feeling smart today? Wouldn’t want to risk trying to vote when your brain is having a bad day…….

52

J-D 07.07.17 at 3:43 am

Joseph Brenner

That is what I was trying to remember! Thanks.

53

J-D 07.07.17 at 6:24 am

I read Starship Troopers recently. Acknowledging that the way I read it may not be the way other people read it, here’s how I read it.

The essential qualification for full citizenship with franchise was preparedness to put your life at risk for social benefit; if you were prepared to risk your life for the benefit of other people, this was supposed to demonstrate that you could be trusted to make decisions for society — that is, about other people’s lives.

Military service was the paradigmatic example for this kind of preparedness, but not the only kind. There were brief descriptions, not fully fleshed-out, of some of the other kinds of service that could also qualify people for full citizenship with franchise, but an essential element of all of them was that you risked death. By the same line of reasoning, because the system could not assume that people who undertook military service would face actual combat (yes, there’s a war going on through most of the book, but the system isn’t designed around that particular war), the risk of death was clearly a designed-in feature of the military training the protagonist undertook.

The essential qualification was not intelligence or education or training; it was not skill in combat, or experience of it, or aptitude for it; it was the disposition to self-sacrifice.

In order, therefore, to find the most qualified/trustworthy people, they systematically killed off a percentage of them, because the logic of the system meant the risk had to be real.

54

Dick Veldkamp 07.07.17 at 7:35 am

On a related note: it has been shown (in the Netherlands at least) that people rarely know what which views on specific issues are held by the party they vote for. Instead they make their choice based on some feeling of connectedness, or on some stereotypic notions that: ‘conservatives are tough on crime’.

During elections, it is now customary here to have something called a “Voting indicator” (“Kieswijzer”). It is an online help in which the voter gives his/her opinion on 30 issues. Choices are compared to what the views of the political parties are, so one can see which party one should rationally vote for. Often this gives unexpected results, which means that people tend to vote against what they really want.

I sometimes wonder if we should not have a system in which the party choice is determined for you based on your choices in such a poll. One would hope that could prevent people from voting against their own interest, an extreme example of this being republican voters in the US, choosing candidates who will likely introduce laws that will make them (the voters) worse off (health care, social security, environmental protection).

The challenge would be to design the system in such a way that it cannto be rigged.

55

Chris "merian" W. 07.07.17 at 7:36 am

sancho #9: “Rather than formal education, an epistocracy could weigh votes by demonstrated knowledge.””

We already find it impossible to evaluate “demonstrated knowledge” among school children who undergo instruction according to a standardised curriculum, delivered by teachers whose training and certification have been aligned. The idea that this is in any way feasible to judge this in a fair and equitable way for adults is ridiculous. The speculation is of the same caliber as “If my aunt was a man she’d be my uncle”.

If this whole mess with Trump etc. has one small aspect that I call a good thing, and that is the fact that a bunch of people went back to vote again. They didn’t vote they way I want, indeed, they voted to undermine democracy, but arguably it undermines democracy in the long run as well if they don’t vote. Of course, if the whole sorry mess ends up triggering another war or delays our dealing with climate change and other global problems, the price would have been extremely high.

56

Faustusnotes 07.07.17 at 7:43 am

so Heinlein thinks only people who weee willing to die for their country are qualified to judge the best policy on global warming? Fucking idiot.

57

Matt 07.07.17 at 8:22 am

Claudio López-Guerra, a brilliant mexican political theorist (CIDE). It is a serious analytic work. Claudio is not another Brennan…

I haven’t read the particular work mentioned, and rather dislike the use of the term “brilliant” almost every time it’s used, but the work by López-Guerra that I have read (mostly pieces on immigration) are very good, and he’s a careful and thoughtful scholar (I’ll leave it to others to make the comparison with Brennan) so I’m eager to look at this book, and expect that others will also profit from it.

58

Z 07.07.17 at 8:56 am

I am reminded that actually, rich people are not informed or expert about the lives of the poor.

Frowner’s dictum @24, and its more general variant that people are not informed or expert about the lives of other people, seems to me to encapsulate the considerable wisdom of democracy and to be the more or less definitive refutation of epistocracy.

We need a name for the Law that when lamenting the English skills of others in forum posts, a howling solecism, typo or other error will happen.

Wait a minute! bancal: from medieval Latin bancalis, which has feet like a bench, that is to say not straight. By extension, anything that is not straight. I was not mocking their English, I was mocking their etymology, and mine was perfect, as far as I can see. OK, I should have put it in italics, and OK it was exceedingly pedantic, but if you are not allowed to be pedantic when mocking would-be epistocrats, when can you be? (And OK, I confess, I checked “bancal” in my English dictionary to see if it existed before choosing this word, my dictionary confirmed it did with the appropriate meaning, and it is only when I read your remark that I realized that what my dictionary had confirmed was that it was a French word with the appropriate meaning, thanks for the catch :-)).

59

reason 07.07.17 at 9:10 am

I keep bringing this back to the basic question – what is the justification for democracy in the first place. Is it to make the best decisions? Or is it to ensure that the authorities are legitimate (i.e. they derive their power from an acceptable source).

I think the US has a broken democracy, not because it makes bad decisions or good decisions, but because it doesn’t respond to the wishes of the electorate.

Sure it is good to have an aware and educated electorate that treats voting as a responsibility more than a right (after all everyone’s single vote makes little difference to themselves so it really more sensible to vote to for what is right than what reflects their own narrow interests). But I think having a government responding to the interests of the broad population is the most likely way to end up with an aware, educated and responsible electorate.

60

reason 07.07.17 at 9:12 am

One reform though that I think should be considered is to weight votes on constitutional amendments by the expected number of years people will live with the results. =)

(I’m sort of kidding).

61

Z 07.07.17 at 9:20 am

Metatone @14

I’d propose that the reawakening zombie of epistocracy does relate to a real concern:
How do our democracies grapple with complex problems?

I think the reawakening zombie of epistocracy relates to the diverging social trajectories fueled by extreme inequalities and social rigidity (look at the typical policies that epistocrats say the uninformed populace is depriving us of, and try to find one which would lessen inequalities), but your question remains an important one.

“Complex” in your quotation has several possible meanings but I’m assuming you are intending what seems to me the most relevant from the point of view of social organization: that which involves a multitude of factors of different nature, so that for instance what makes climate disruption a paradigmatic complex problem is that it intertwines geophysics, ecology, economics, engineering, patterns of mass consumption, geopolitical considerations, individual choices, historical trends… In view of Frowner’s observation above, I’d wager that the best way to tackle a problem that involves many conflicting perspectives is one which is designed to allow the emergence of multiple perspectives and the constructive confrontation of collective intelligence, and so that more democracy-that is to say a more meaningfully egalitarian distribution of political power-is the way to go. Perhaps even the only way to go (this is indeed why I have personally arrived at the conclusion that in our contemporary world, the political management of environmental destruction and climate disruption is for all intent and purpose indiscernable from the construction of a less inegalitarian social model: only such a society will muster the collective intelligence and collective strength required to face the myriad problems, and the collective fortitude to embrace the necessary choices).

62

soullite 07.07.17 at 11:01 am

The justification for democracy is simply: it yields the result least likely to lead to us all killing each other.

I thought that you people were supposed to be intelligent?

63

soru 07.07.17 at 12:14 pm

so Heinlein thinks only people who weee willing to die for their country are qualified to judge the best policy on global warming? Fucking idiot.

The closest thing that has ever existed to Heinlein’s limited franchise democracy is the modern Chinese Communist Party. The 10% of the population who are willing to show loyalty and commitment to the Party, and accept the risk of getting shot in a purge, get to participate in deciding things. Those who don’t, don’t.

As a system, it has some obvious flaws. But the resulting policy on global warming does seem to meet the low bar of ‘better than Trump’.

64

casmilus 07.07.17 at 12:53 pm

I think one of the major problems in Britain right now is not in the voters, who are about as well-informed as they ever were. The bottleneck is in the media-political “elite”, clogged up with persons whose main skill is reciting what they take to be the “lessons” of the 70s, 80s, 90s. And when they find the world doesn’t behave as expected (as in the General Election) they are incapable of evolving new ideas; they are clearly just waiting for “normality” to resume. We need a way to diminish the influence of this particular kind of “expertise”.

65

J-D 07.07.17 at 1:53 pm

Faustusnotes

Well, I don’t know to what extent that was actually Heinlein’s view. To me the book read more like an exploration of a specific individual and collective mindset; it doesn’t have to follow that it was a mindset with the author’s endorsement, although it did seem as if the narrative voice was tilted towards a positive evaluation. One oddity was that the system didn’t give you the vote while you were on active service, only when you retired; the only hint at a reason given in the book was that if soldiers could vote, they’d never vote to put themselves in harm’s way, which seems to me to contradict the rest of the reasoning, even though the protagonist never perceives the contradiction.

66

James 07.07.17 at 2:15 pm

so Heinlein thinks only people who weee willing to die for their country are qualified to judge the best policy on global warming? Fucking idiot.

Heinlein’s argument in star ship troops is the only people with the moral authority to order the sacrifice of others is those who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice themselves.

“You. What is the moral difference, if any, between the soldier and the civilian?”
“The difference, I said carefully, “lies in the field of civic virtue. A soldier accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic of which he is a member, defending it, if need be, with his life. The civilian does not.” p26

Translating this to global warming; When determining who is harmed (economically, loss of lifestyle, loss of culture, etc) dealing with global warming, only those proven willing to pay the price themselves have the moral authority to determine who pays.

67

JohnT 07.07.17 at 3:11 pm

To soru’s point, the cost and benefits of extreme epistocracies are probably similar to those of the rule of ‘meritocratic’ bureaucrats sometimes seen in East Asia. Singapore is the example people quote to me most often, but the PRC has some elements of it also (it’s quite clearly not a straightforward Marxist-Maoist government any more), as did Japan formerly. I’d love to hear from some people who know those societies better, but on a pragmatic basis these systems do seem to offer relatively stable governance and feature a willingness to at least examine long-term problems in a long term way. Of course, the success of these systems is dependent on the fact that the population seems to broadly accept them – in Western countries I think this would not be possible.

68

JRLRC 07.07.17 at 3:17 pm

Hi Matt.
Claudio´s book is very interesting (and kind of odd…) and, as always, makes you think. I disagree with one of his main conclusions-proposals, but he is not in a personal fight against democracy (like Brennan), he´s Thinking about democracy. Thinking, he can give you pages on “enfranchisement lottery” and on the expansion of the franchise.
I don´t say this because we have collaborated: I think he´s brilliant because he´s bold but careful, very thoughtful and honest. He´s a thinker, not an ideologue selling convenient rationalizations.
Best regards.

69

Jerry Vinokurov 07.07.17 at 6:51 pm

Brennan is the guy who unironically tweeted that people who don’t like Uber shouldn’t be allowed to vote. He’s just a propagandist for the robber-capitalist class; in any case, I refute him thus.

70

Chris G 07.07.17 at 7:57 pm

Good post. Steve Randy Waldman had a post along similar lines, i.e., Who gets to decide?, a while back, “Your theory of politics is wrong” –
http://www.interfluidity.com/v2/6400.html

71

steven t johnson 07.07.17 at 9:26 pm

James@67 writes “Heinlein’s argument in star ship troops is the only people with the moral authority to order the sacrifice of others is those who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice themselves.”

He further quotes Starship Troopers: ‘You. What is the moral difference, if any, between the soldier and the civilian?”
“The difference, I said carefully, “lies in the field of civic virtue. A soldier accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic of which he is a member, defending it, if need be, with his life. The civilian does not.’ p26

Accepting personal responsibility for “the body politic” is not to be confused with the real world outside science fiction. Accusing the average grunt of personally taking responsibility for killing Muslims all over the world so “we” can be safe is to claim they are rabidly murderous. Charging them with the determination to take back the American liberty stolen away, then hidden in Muslim homes all across the world, is to claim they are uniformly stupid. One of the most notable differences between soldiers and “civilians” is that soldiers are supposed to take orders, not personally decide stuff. And so far as sacrificing one’s life goes, fire fighters seem willing to do that. Supposedly policemen are too. For that matter it is not clear that men who engage in dangerous occupations that provide the necessities of life aren’t taking responsibility too.

None of this translates to global warning in my opinion. I do think the pervasive militarism in this society keeps people from laughing out loud at the lunacy of stuff like this. Heinlein is very much like the libertarians he resembles: The shameless, seamless blend of falsehoods and fallacies armors him against sanity.

72

peterv 07.07.17 at 10:44 pm

On the question of who decides who decides: One of the many weird aspects of the British constitution is the nomination of non-party-affiliated members of the House of Lords. Each major party nominates members for appointment to the Lords. To ensure that people are appointed who are not affiliated with any party, the Parliament advertises for candidates who are then selected by a quango, a government agency tasked with recommending non-party members for appointment.

Who appoints the committee running the quango? The Government.

73

Joseph Brenner 07.08.17 at 12:26 am

steven t johnson@49

As for the franchise limited to veterans…ancient Rome and ancient Athens and even ancient Sparta had franchises limited to soldiers (when Spartans were forced to resort to arming Helots, they acquired a kind of citizenship, neodamodeis.) Contra Heinlein, they were not notably stable because of the moral training in responsibility conferred by military service. Heinlein was a smart man. I’m sure he knew this, …

He may have known it and forgotten, or may disagree with your
take on the stability of Rome– 500 years as a republic and 1500
years or so of empire isn’t doing so bad.

Lying to kids is a time-honored conservative tradition.

Not quite as popular as attacking everyone else’s motives.

For what it’s worth, a lot of use were inclined to wonder how serious Heinlein was about “Troopers”, but later commentary by him indicates he was indeed out to “glorify the infantry”– in those days he expected imminent war with the Soviets (his later take was he hadn’t anticipated the “three-way standoff” with China– myself I think he was having trouble grasping that the threat of both Russia and China had been exaggerated, though he was on his way there).

But even in its own terms, Starship Troopers is fishy.

No kidding. Soldiers are supposed to be self-selected for public spirit, but what we actually see on stage is the main character drifts into the military almost randomly, signing up without thinking about it very much because he knows someone else who did. In the first few pages of the book he compares himself to a racehorse or a bullet fired from a gun– there seems to be some self-awareness that there’s something amiss there.

The way I would put it is that Heinlein’s imagination ran in realistic directions, and he wasn’t quite capable of just faking things the way someone like Ayn Rand did. On the surface it’s a book intended to depict war as inevitable and glorious but it’s thoroughly unconvincing.

On the one hand, everybody fights,

No, there are confirmed civilians who don’t miss their vote. As I remember it, they regard the people who sign-up as suckers.

… on the other non-combatant service jobs are apparently farmed out to private contractors. There will always be more people in war production and logistics and so on than in combat in modern warfare.

A point, but it’s not an aspect Heinlein talks about, as far as I remember. Weapons production might be handled by the civilian economy, or maybe it’s managed by veterans?

Anyway, as other people have tried to explain, what Heinlein was trying to set-up was a system that would select for civic virtue– as I mentioned before, one of his later ideas was a government restricted to mothers, on the theory that on average they’d care more about the future of the society.

There is actually another angle on this that Heinlein brings up– one of the breakdown modes for democracy is military coup. Heinlein claims the “Troopers” system is more stable because the foxes are in charge of the henhouse by design.

74

Faustusnotes 07.08.17 at 12:47 am

Soru, that’s not how the Chinese communist party works.

I can’t believe we’re seriously discussing heinlein, but since this rubbish has come up, my point was: just because you are willing to sacrifice yourself for your country doesn’t mean you are able to judge good policy. More imprints than than a spirit of self sacrifice is basic judgment. In response to heinleins “thinking” I could present a bevy of republican supporting soldiers who were liars, fools, cowards or quislings: Oliver north (liar); bush sr (war criminal and fool); Colin Powell (never stood up against the Iraq war when his own career was on the line, ie coward); Michael Flynn (sold his county to the Russians).

Need I go on? Being willing to sacrifice yourself for your country has no bearing on whether you’re capable of doing anything good for your country, or indeed whether you will not subsequently become a traitor. Of course this should be obviously, transparently stupid, and here’s the clue: it was proposed by a clueless b grade science fiction writer, and defended by libertarian twerps.

75

NJM 07.08.17 at 9:06 am

I reviewed Lopez-Guerra’s book for the JAP. It is very good (I don’t, ultimately, think his proposal works, but that is neither here nor there, regarding the quality of the book).

Moz – are you based in Aotearoa? Have you been a student of mine? Your opinions on youth voting sound like ones I try to sell my students on.

76

Howard Frant 07.08.17 at 4:00 pm

@44

“Most blatantly the US has their racial gerrymandering and black-to-prison pipelines that work with their “no vote for felons” laws to disenfranchise rather a lot of people.”

Um, no. At present the only kind of gerrymandering that will be struck down by the Supreme Court is racial gerrymandering.

There are only a few states where ex-felons can’t vote.

77

J-D 07.08.17 at 10:57 pm

Howard Frant

There are only a few states where ex-felons can’t vote.

For detailed information (below) I am relying on the website of The Sentencing Project.

In two States, felony conviction does not restrict the right to vote; in fourteen States and the District of Columbia, felons lose the right to vote only while imprisoned; in four, while in prison or on parole; in eighteen, while in prison, on parole, or on probation; and in twelve, the right to vote can be lost not only while in prison, on parole, or on probation, but also in some categories of cases (varying from State to State) for periods extending beyond the expiry of sentence. The estimate for 2016 of the total number of people disenfranchised as a result of felony convictions is 6.1 million, equivalent to one in forty adults, up from 1.2 million in 1976, and including 3.1 million who have completed their sentences (in the twelve States where that possibility exists).

78

basil 07.09.17 at 12:08 am

Good job! Someone’s citing a racialised thinker on CT! Let’s try it more often.

79

Collin Street 07.09.17 at 12:33 am

I keep bringing this back to the basic question – what is the justification for democracy in the first place. Is it to make the best decisions? Or is it to ensure that the authorities are legitimate (i.e. they derive their power from an acceptable source).

If you take it — axiomatically or as a lemma — that most people are more-or-less capable of making reasonable conclusions given the evidence presented, and if the evidence presented in public discourse is pretty reasonable, you get the result that “popular decisions” and “good decisions” pretty much collapse together, and the dichotomy you’re trying to draw isn’t relevant.

80

Joseph Brenner 07.09.17 at 6:25 am

Faustusnotes@74:

“I can’t believe we’re seriously discussing heinlein”

It’s not clear to me that you are.

“I could present a bevy of republican supporting soldiers who
were liars, fools, cowards or quislings … Need I go on?”

Not on my account. Cherry-picking examples doesn’t actually work
very well to condemn an entire class of people. For what it’s
worth, people in the US military aren’t supposed to be any more
Republican than the general population, though I see there’s a
gallup poll about verteran’s skewing Republican… I don’t know
what to make of that.

But in any case, your examples are drawn from the present day
world with an electorate that’s arguably easily conned by a
uniform, so unsurprisingly you get a bunch of con-artists in
uniform.

Which is not to say I’m arguing in favor of Heinlein’s ideas as
presented in “Troopers”, but what I would argue is that he was
indeed capable of thought, and the trend of his thinking was in
the direction of incentive structures to nudge people in the
right direction without some sort of central authority dictating
correct behavior.

81

casmilus 07.09.17 at 8:24 am

Amongst the fallout of the recent UK election is that the pro-Brexit right have suddenly had to consider the possibility that all they will achieve is making things easier for a nationalising Corbyn government that will take over shortly. This is causing some think-tankers such as Andrew Lilico to have wobbly moments on the need for “checks and balances” to keep socialism off the agenda, and also to reconsider whether maybe an unelected EU bureaucracy is a good thing. See here for a quick intro:
https://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/the-end-of-the-state-shrinking-dream/

82

Faustusnotes 07.09.17 at 9:04 am

Wow Joseph you seem to have somehow finnagled my comment on why service is not a special qualification to make complex policy decisions (or even to be a moral thinker) into a criticism of all people who have served. I haven’t done that, merely pointed out that making good policy decisions has nothing to do with whether you would sacrifice your life for your country. And my examples do serve their point, since you are channeling heinlein to make a broad principle and I’m pointing out clear breaks in that principle. You could argue that all republicans are cowards, liars, fools and traitors – and I would agree with you – but then the willingness of ex soldiers to serve as republican cabinet members and politicians makes the point that service is no qualification for political service, let alone for electoral rights.

But this is what happens when you find yourself basing important fundamentals of civics on the work of a b grade sci fi libertard.

83

bruce wilder 07.09.17 at 3:14 pm

reason @ 59 “what is the justification for democracy[?]”
Collin Street @ 79

“If” of course.

I’ve already made the point, but I will reiterate that the processes of republican democracy matter. Politics needs what I earlier called the processes of deliberation and a republican (constitutional) order that presses both officials and the people over and over to deliberately rationalize policy choices as general rules gradually and eventually tends to produce better government. An actual decision in a particular instance may be the usual human result of impulse and immediate self-interest, but the social process will demand an explanation that is rational. Even if the explanation for the particular impulsive and selfish decision is merely rationalized hypocrisy in a particular instance, it joins the flow that presses precedent toward principle and design.

A republic demands a system of rules and law derived logically from principle to form a system that is rationalized and understandable. It presses against a human nature that doesn’t want to make the effort to genuinely know things, does not want the painful doubt actual knowing entails. Authoritarian government tends to be arbitrary and arbitrary tends toward stupid.

Democracy complements the republican idea, by broadening the constituency, demanding that rationales for the exercise of authority be explained to a broad and variously interested public.

It can be hard to remember what democracy is for, when we are drowning in the cacophony of pointless and ill-reasoned scorn masquerading as disputation and as secrecy and the nearly naked self-interest of plutocrats swallows the rest, and even the supremely reasonable (see Henry, Gellner, Mair and Europe) argue for paralysis on the grounds of “it’s all too complicated”.

As Collin said, “If”.

84

Joseph Brenner 07.09.17 at 9:56 pm

Faustusnotes@82:

“Wow Joseph you seem to have somehow finnagled my comment on why service is not a special qualification to make complex policy decisions (or even to be a moral thinker) into a criticism of all people who have served.”

Just to spell it out, the question at hand is not whether bad people have ever been in the military, but whether *on average* you can expect people who were willing to volunteer to have a higher sense of civic duty.

I wouldn’t know whether that’s the case, but I can see why a Heinlein might’ve thought it was a reasonable theory to run with.

“And my examples do serve their point”

My point is your examples prove exactly nothing, unless you can use them to villify an entire class of people, because we need to know how the entire class behaves on average.

To state it another way: a proposed system need not be absolutely perfect to be worth considering, it just needs to be somewhat better than the present system.

“… b grade sci fi libertard.”

Do you expect this kind of crap to work as some sort of tribal signifier? Are you imagining the judges will all hold up “10”s if you just sneer hard enough?

85

Helen 07.10.17 at 12:38 am

Z –

Wait a minute! bancal: from medieval Latin bancalis, which has feet like a bench, that is to say not straight. By extension, anything that is not straight. I was not mocking their English, I was mocking their etymology, and mine was perfect, as far as I can see. OK, I should have put it in italics, and OK it was exceedingly pedantic, but if you are not allowed to be pedantic when mocking would-be epistocrats, when can you be? (And OK, I confess, I checked “bancal” in my English dictionary to see if it existed before choosing this word, my dictionary confirmed it did with the appropriate meaning, and it is only when I read your remark that I realized that what my dictionary had confirmed was that it was a French word with the appropriate meaning, thanks for the catch :-)).

That was my mistake, then. I thought it was a typo for “banal”.
I thought I should fess up, although I’m amused my so brilliant “catch” was nothing of the sort :D

86

bruce wilder 07.10.17 at 1:57 am

A noteworthy instance of emerging epistocracy might be seen in the role assumed by the “intelligence community” in U.S. politics and government. Access to supposed secret information is claimed to be dispositive, but cuts off all debate and discussion.

87

Pavel A 07.10.17 at 5:31 am

soullite @62:
That’s not the argument here. Sometime a democratic polity fails quite miserably to redistribute power or meet the needs of its citizens (or fails even more throughly when it elects demagogues that undermine the basic existence of the democracy itself). Examining how to make democracy a better system for collective decision-making is a fair question (although epistocracy isn’t it, as far as I can tell).

James @66:
Global warming is an international problem that will require international cooperation and sacrifice. Those who are willing and trained to defend exclusively national interests will be the least well-equipped to deal with this kind of decidedly extranational undertaking.

Joseph Brenner @84
It’s important to remember that the actual recruitment process in the US has little to do with “civic service”. The US military basically send their recruiters into high schools, who then regale the kids with tales of how awesome and amazing it is to kill brown people (they may word their propaganda a bit differently). The rest of those who sign up after graduating typically do it for the GI bill, not a sense of civic duty. Heinlein’s experience of serving as a navy engineer during WWII along with his equally-bright friends, L. Sprague de Camp and Isaac Asimov, probably coloured his views of service, but given his distaste for Vietnam he really should have known better.

88

steven t johnson 07.10.17 at 11:18 am

There are questions by some about what Heinlein actually believed, given that a particular fictional character is not necessarily the author. But an Annapolis graduate who founded the Patrick Henry League can be safely assumed to believe military service is patriotism. So when he writes a utopian tract where truthful, wise characters assure the hero of this, we can safely assign that belief to the author, I think.

But many, many more traitors came from the military academies like West Point than ever came from, say, a much larger group of people like the Communist Party. The universal practice of overlooking the actual historical record of the US military tradition is a striking symptom of the power of militarist ideology in this country.

89

J-D 07.10.17 at 12:13 pm

90

Faustusnotes 07.10.17 at 1:12 pm

I’ll say it again since you missed it Joseph . Global warming policy, vaccination strategies, debt ceilings – these have nothing to do with whether the person making e decision understands civic service and everyone g to do with whether they understand the policy. Having spent a few years of your life machine gunning fishing boats (bush senior) or blowing up peasant food supplies (Kerry ) or smuggling guns to death squads (olly north) does not in any way qualify you to understand public health or environmental issues. Which is why McCain, for example, whose record of service is unquestioned by anyone except Cheeto Jesus, supports a health care bill that would take insurance from 20 million people. I leave it to you to explain how his record of civic service makes him uniquely qualified to decide that impoverishing 20 million people is cool, but it is very clear that he doesn’t understand what he’s talking about whenever he says anything about health care.

Military service has certainly not qualified any republican politician to judge whether the world is warming, gay conversion therapy works, or vaccines cause autism; and it also hasn’t inculcated a si fle one of thre, with a shred of human decency. So how, exactly, is it any qualification for office at all? And how is it that societies with actual functioning polities seem to almost never elect ex soldiers to high office?

91

SusanC 07.10.17 at 2:01 pm

Starship Troopers could be a good example of Derrida-inspired deconstructive reading.

Whatever Heinlein’s intentions as the author might have been, the text takes on a life of its own and can take the reader to a different conclusion

In any case, is this idea so bad that the best exponent of it that comes to mind is a SF work that is arguably dystopian, and arguably satirical?

Some friends of mine from EU countries with mandatory military service argue in favor of it, on the grounds that the electorate is less likely to vote for foreign wars if theres a realistic prospect that they, personaly, might end up having to fight them. Which is maybe a weaker form of the Heinlein argument, and also requires that being drafted potentially happens after being eligible to vote, contra to my memory of Starship Troopers.

92

SusanC 07.10.17 at 2:07 pm

P.s. one could view the draft as partially implementing Rawls’ “original position”: viz, the electorate votes on whether to go to war or not before they see the result of the randomized ballot that determines which of them is going to end up fighting it.

93

Raven 07.10.17 at 4:59 pm

Back to the question, “Who gets to decide who is well-informed?” — This is being answered in practice, on both the federal and state levels, in Donald Trump’s USA and for instance Scott Walker’s Wisconsin (as continually documented on James Rowen’s Political Environment blog), where scientists… and one might say science itself… have been carefully ousted from policy roles, in favor of [industrial] corporate spokesbeings.

That not only in Wisconsin, but in peninsular Florida fa’Pete’s sake where the mean ocean levels are rising all around (NASA posts photos), the state governments could order their natural resources department employees not to mention climate change… says it all.

94

Joseph Brenner 07.10.17 at 11:13 pm

Pavel A@87:

It’s important to remember that the actual recruitment process in the US has little to do with “civic service”.

Well yeah, but then it’s at least a minor problem if you’re going to take “Troopers” seriously, you need to keep in mind that it’s a different system. The question isn’t whether our current version of military service is a good way to identify civic virtue, it’s whether there’s some possible version of it that might.

The US military basically send their recruiters into high schools, who then regale the kids with tales of how awesome and amazing it is …

My nephew signed up for the Marines because he wanted to fire rocket launchers and stuff like that. As he commented later, “that part worked out”.

But then, as I’ve pointed out before here: even if you just look at what Heinlein shows us in Starship Troopers it doesn’t look like it supports his points. In fact it looks a lot like a world whose official ideology is only loosely connected to what’s actually going on…

Heinlein’s experience of serving as a navy engineer during WWII … probably coloured his views of service

We all fight the last war.

… given his distaste for Vietnam he really should have known better.

I have a theory that despite advanced age and continual health problems– and a public willing to pay him a lot of money to write softcore porn — he was on his way to knowing better. But that’s something we’ll never know about.

95

Raven 07.11.17 at 12:47 am

Joseph Brenner @ 94: In Heinlein’s storyworld polity as in our real one, the military took orders from a civilian government, and did not make the ultimate decisions about war and peace. The 1997 Verhoeven film strongly suggested top-down militarism, which is a real change from the book, and made many Heinlein fans including me unhappy.

In the book, “citizens” were veterans, not active members, of national service, not necessarily the military. (It’s just that when they signed up, they didn’t get to choose which type of service they would do.) So not only did the military did not control the decisions of government; unlike our system, there the military could not even vote until they’d left active service.

96

CamarQQ 07.11.17 at 7:29 am

So, in the Australian context, the Australian Electoral Commission would formulate and administer a multiple-choice test to determine a voter’s understanding of Parliament, the Senate, the role of the Reserve Bank and other institutions, and key moments in Australian political history and current affairs.

bandarq
domino99

97

steven t johnson 07.11.17 at 12:49 pm

Heinlein apologists who fixate on a throwaway line about Federal Service ignore the question of what Federal Service could possibly be in this fictional universe. Most of the encounters with government personnel clearly indicates they are veterans, usually missing limbs. Every child is required to be exposed to a Federal Service employee, a veteran, teaching a course called History and Moral Philosophy, which is a combination of straightforward indoctrination…and detailed surveys of the opinions of the students. In the book, this has benign effects for the narrator, who is favored by his particular interrogator. But if the HMP surveillance can report favorably, it must also report unfavorably.

Most of the book is the story of basic training, which is clearly meant to break the recruit from civilian ways of thinking. And it is, just like the caterpillar hair counting exercise, deliberately designed to drive away people who think differently. And the reason for the serving members not voting on wars is so they can’t vote against a war.

The book, like Heinlein, is thoroughly dishonest and you cannot cite a sentence or two to defend it. The scene where the narrator exclaims in amazement about how the DI chews out a recruit *without using profanity* is Heinlein just laughing at his audience of kids.

And yes, Starship Troopers was written as a juvenile.

98

Raven 07.11.17 at 4:54 pm

steven t johnson @ 97: “And the reason for the serving members not voting on wars is so they can’t vote against a war.” — Nor for one (which I mention due to implications above that even the real-world military are responsible for aggressive national policies).

The always-stay-safely-at-home-civilians also can’t vote on wars, thereby sending other people (and, as much to the point, other people’s children) off to war [against their will]… which, as you may or may not recall, became very much a sore point in our real world.

Heinlein was opposed to the draft; this novel showed an all-volunteer Federal Service (including the military), and members could quit. No “involuntary servitude” of any kind… but until you hit retirement, you didn’t get your citizenship card.

BTW, above in #49 you say: “On the one hand, everybody fights, on the other non-combatant service jobs are apparently farmed out to private contractors.” — No, you’ve just misunderstood the distinction between combatant and non-combatant aspects of Federal Service. The latter also earn citizenship. When signing up, they took the same chance as anyone else that they might have been assigned to “military” duty, based on their capacities and the polity’s needs; but they were needed as technicians or whatever. It’s service, not exclusively fighting, that’s required.

99

steven t johnson 07.11.17 at 8:52 pm

I’m sorry, Raven, a turd is not a Clark bar. The non-combatant Federal Service is referenced as a fig leaf, but in the book it’s not a thing. There is nothing for them to do, not even providing the logistical tail of the fighting forces! In the story it is not even clear that there are any government jobs that aren’t filled by veterans, usually handicapped. All citizens are veterans of military service. And not even all military service. The story specifically says old-fashioned (in SF world) water navies don’t count. It’s why there’s brawling between sailors and soldiers.

You may read the story about making a disabled guy count caterpillar hairs as a commitment to allowing everybody to “earn” their citizenship. This is nothing but a determination to accept whatever the book says at face value. It’s an announcement that in practice the weaklings will be excluded. No soldier wants a fellow trooper who can’t pull their weight. Officially everybody is going to be able to get their citizenship but in practice they won’t.

And by the way, given the limited franchise (and it is limited) there is no reasonable sense in which one can say there is a “civilian” government.

100

Joseph Brenner 07.11.17 at 9:13 pm

steven t johnson@97:

The book, like Heinlein, is thoroughly dishonest and you cannot cite a sentence or two to defend it.

I think it’s a little more interesting than that: Starship Troopers is a book that’s out of control. Despite it’s complexity[1], it was written fast in a fit of anger at contemporary politics and attitudes and in many different ways it doesn’t really add up. The dispute about whether there’s any thing besides miltary service that counts as public service in this book is, as far as I can tell, the result of a screw-up on Heinlein’s part: he thought he’d made this clearer than he did.

And yeah, it was indeed submitted to Scribners as one of Heinlein’s juveniles, which is yet another thing that makes it seem out of control. Though it could be he didn’t expect them to take it and it was effectively a resignation letter. [2]

[1] Yeah: “complexity”. The weird-ass political philosophy, the variant electoral system, the speculative military hardware deployed against two different alien species… and we haven’t even touched on the race and gender angles. There’s a ridiculous amount of stuff going on with this book.

[2] I don’t remember how the Scribners deal was structured, but back when he was publishing in Astounding, he required Campbell to accept all his submissions or he would start submitting elsewhere: he really did think a lot about incentives.

101

alfredlordbleep 07.11.17 at 11:05 pm

http://crookedtimber.org/2017/07/06/against-epistocracy/#comment-713183
The estimate for 2016 of the total number of people disenfranchised as a result of felony convictions is 6.1 million, equivalent to one in forty adults, up from 1.2 million in 1976, and including 3.1 million who have completed their sentences (in the twelve States where that possibility exists).

I assume in the background here is the part Jeb Bush’s faction played in disenfranchising ex-felons in the Florida presidential count of 2000. . . Of course, it came to pass that for Bush-Cheney ‘s liberation of Iraq it was useful to make ex-felons newly eligible for military service.

Also as you recall the reserves which shielded people like G W Bush during the American war in Vietnam were deployed in Iraq (partly as a means to quell domestic war opposition).

Law and Order
P S Also on the 2000 election: illegal overseas mail-in ballots were counted for Bush as a salute to our patriotic servicemen and women.

102

Raven 07.12.17 at 4:21 am

steven t johnson @ 99: “The book, like Heinlein, is thoroughly dishonest….” — Given what followed, perhaps not the best charge for you to make.

@ 99: “All citizens are veterans of military service.” — The Starship Troopers Wiki cites chapter 2 when summarizing in its entry Citizen:

Citizens are people who joined the Federal Service and were honorably discharged and given franchise. Joining the Federal Service does not necessarily mean the military, and applicants may be assigned to any field where they sacrifice their time and effort for the Federation (Teaching, any of the civil services, experimental test subjects, etc), though military service is the most glorified. It all falls under Federal Service.

I will spare you extended quotes from chapter 2; I presume you can find it.

> “It’s why there’s brawling between sailors and soldiers.” — We see those soldiers being very grateful to the Navy [notably a female captain] for saving their lives in battle; “women make the best pilots”, remember?

You’re reading a novel narrated by a member of the Mobile Infantry, telling mostly of his experiences during and between battles. So that part may not be a wide-angle view of his society. But there are enough clues in flashbacks and other bits of the story that he’s not the “unreliable narrator” here.
____________

Joseph Brenner @ 100: “[Heinlein] thought he’d made this clearer than he did.” — Heinlein was clear. Verhoeven has a lot to answer for. But the most insistent and even widely accepted eisegesis does not actually put the “read-into” text into the original.

> “and we haven’t even touched on the race and gender angles. There’s a ridiculous amount of stuff going on with this book.”

As I just noted above, in the novel women are in demand as active-duty Navy pilots (and many are killed when two starships are destroyed). The narrator, Johnny Rico, though he attended high school in Argentina, is himself shown to be ethnically Filipino (he and his father speak Tagalog to each other) at the end of the novel. Tell me about “the race and gender angles” you speak of… because, again, it was Verhoeven who cast Rico as blond-haired blue-eyed Casper Van Dien.

103

Raven 07.12.17 at 4:36 am

… and I must correct myself: it’s only in the film that he even attended high school in Argentina. In the book, only his mother died while visiting relatives in Buenos Aires (which is why his father then joined the MI).

Oh, and the revealing passage I was thinking of:

     … I added something to myself and Bennie said, “What did you say?”
“Sorry, Bernardo. Just an old saying in my own language. I suppose you could translate it, more or less, as: ‘Home is where the heart is.’ “
“But what language was it?”
“Tagalog. My native language.”

104

J-D 07.12.17 at 5:22 am

About Starship Troopers.

1. It does not give the sort of full description of how the system works that would be expected in a text by a historian, political scientist, sociologist, or anthropologist; but this is not a flaw, because the book isn’t supposed to be that kind of text, it’s supposed to be a novel.

2. As a novel, which is what it is supposed to be, it does have serious flaws, some of them already mentioned. There is disjointedness and incoherence, and not deliberately designed for effect (as I suppose would be a possibility in a different novel). These are good reasons to fault it.

3. It is explicit in the text that the system requires that anybody who volunteers be given the opportunity to undertake Federal Service. There is explicit reference to some of the kinds of non-combat service available; I don’t recall all the details, but among the examples are explorer/pioneer roles in places like Antarctica. The friend who goes in with the protagonist to volunteer is hoping for, and obtains, a research position in the Federal Service, although again there are details I don’t recall (and there’s a reference later to his having been killed in a Bug attack). There is also a conversation where somebody is asked about this system requirement and how it would be applied in the case of somebody with multiple serious physical disabilities (say, a blind quadriplegic), and he insists that if anybody like that volunteered, they would have to find an appropriate billet: counting the hairs on a caterpillar by touch is intended (on my reading) to be a facetious example. The novel doesn’t give much detail about non-combat Federal Service, because it’s a novel about the experience of the Mobile Infantry, in which the protagonist serves; but non-combat Federal Service definitely exists. Indeed, during one battle in which the protagonist is involved he describes the activity of a non-combatant (using some kind of ESP, if I remember correctly). The protagonist comments on the value of non-combatant specialists of these and other types.

4. As I recall it, the sailors who are described as hostile to the Mobile Infantry are not naval personnel but merchant sailors; there’s no reason to expect that the merchant marine should be part of the Federal Service.

5. There are non-citizens, not part of the Federal Service, carrying out work for the Federal Service. The protagonist asks the doctor who gives him his medical examination at the point of recruitment about his own service; the doctor recoils at the suggestion that he’s in the Federal Service, which he regards as a mug’s game.

6. Although combatant status is not required of everybody in the Federal Service, there is a requirement that all Federal Service positions be mortally dangerous. There is reference to the measures deliberately taken to make the protagonist’s basic training more dangerous, and to recruits who are killed as a result. If recruits don’t like the risk, no obstacles are placed in the way of their departure. They don’t want people in the Mobile Infantry (or, by presumed implication, other parts of the Federal Service) who are unprepared to face real risk of death, and therefore they deliberately make sure they are all at real risk of death, and know it, by arranging to put them all in a situation where some of them are sure to be killed. That’s one of my main objections to the idea in the novel (whether it was genuinely Heinlein’s suggestion or not): it sounds well enough on the face of it, the idea that the management of society should be entrusted to people who are prepared to sacrifice their own lives for its benefit, but there’s no way to identify those people with certainty except by deliberately killing off a percentage. The price is too high.

105

casmilus 07.12.17 at 1:17 pm

Guys guys guys, why not talk about “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman instead? At least that has a sub-plot about how sexuality and gender identities are changing back home and confuse the veterans coming back.

106

J-D 07.12.17 at 7:38 pm

casmilus
One of the things I like about The Forever War is the explanation of how the war ended: when the two sides were eventually able to establish communications we asked them why they started the war and they responded ‘Us?’

Also good is the bit where Dr Diana Alsever, asked for her views, as a doctor, on the universal policy of compulsory homosexuality and artificial reproduction, says she’s not sure she approves of the supposed scientific justification on eugenic grounds, doubting the official wisdom on the subject, but she thoroughly approves as a woman, because having a man, you know, inside you, is disgusting; and Charlie Moore tells her, good-humouredly, not to kmock it until she’s tried it.

107

Joseph Brenner 07.12.17 at 10:44 pm

Raven@102:

Joseph Brenner @ 100: “[Heinlein] thought he’d made this clearer than he did.”

Heinlein was clear. Verhoeven has a lot to answer for.

The James Gifford analysis points out that Heinlein’s statements
circa 1980 don’t quite match what’s in the 1958 novel:
https://www.nitrosyncretic.com/pdfs/nature_of_fedsvc_1996.pdf

“and we haven’t even touched on the race and gender angles.”

As I just noted above, in the novel women are in demand as active-duty Navy pilots …

The narrator, Johnny Rico, … is himself shown to be ethnically Filipino …

Tell me about “the race and gender angles” you speak of…

Well, okay. I haven’t seen the Verhoeven flick, by the way, it has no influence on anything I’m saying.

Yes, Johnny Rico is clearly Filipino, but we learn that very late in the story, in passing. This is evidently a thoroughly “post-racial” society, and we pick up on this just by implication: the fact that he’s not white doesn’t seem to matter to anybody, it’s barely worth commenting on. (Samuel R. Delany found this the most striking thing about the book.)

In comparison, the aliens they’re at war with are treated with casual contempt, they’re labeled with what amounts to ethnic slurs: “Skinnies” and “Bugs” (ala “Japs” or “Gooks”). The nature of their civilizations is of no interest, whatever their motives are for fighting have been made irrelevant by the stated philosophy, which is I remember it: “All wars are the result of population pressure”, and so every species expands or dies. Given that philosophy, diplomatic negotiations of any sort are completely off the table: kill ’em now or later are the only choices.

The idea that we might someday form a larger federation of intelligent species, much in the way that the different races and nations of earth have unified, that would be just crazy talk.

(And to my eye, there’s something oddly disturbing about the “Skinnies”– the “Bugs” are depicted as just scary monsters, but the “Skinnies” that Rico is busy trying to slaughter at the outset of the book seem rather human, you get the feeling that there’s something very wrong happening.)

Gender angles: as you point out, the pilots are all female– and for Heinlein, “pilots” have always been intelligent, technically-trained professionals. However, there doesn’t appear to be any intentional gender-segregation going on: the society is at least depicted as entirely meritocratic– and yet, the best-qualified people for different roles just happen to follow gender lines. Here, Heinlein’s take would seem to be that women deserved to be taken more seriously than they often were in the late-50s, but his angle is very different from what you might call the standard-feminist expectation of equal capabilities.

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Joseph Brenner 07.12.17 at 11:01 pm

casmilus@105:

Guys guys guys, why not talk about “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman instead?

Okay. What was the electoral system like in “The Forever War”?
I don’t remember, myself.

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Raven 07.12.17 at 11:03 pm

J-D @ 104: “There is disjointedness and incoherence, and not deliberately designed for effect….” — I beg to differ: it might have been a clue that the battle scenes themselves are very specifically intended to convey ‘disjointedness and incoherence’, as the narrator/protagonist and comrades are repeatedly sent into situations with incomplete information and then surprised (ambushed) from new directions they had not suspected.

Metaphorically, so is the reader, by the narrative jumping back-and-forth, and e.g. by the “Tagalog” passage at book’s end upending whatever ethnic assumption he or she may have had in mind’s eye until then. The information is all there, eventually… but to believe that the fog-of-war effect was not deliberate is, I suspect, to not have realized what kind of novel one was reading.

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