Friday, 19 June 2015

Garbage Television Or Universal Franchise? A Response To J.M. Cole

"Political shows in Taiwan have descended to the level of freak show, which is detrimental to democracy, as it prevents the population from being informed enough that it can make enlightened decisions at the polls."
J.M.Cole complains about political shows in Taiwan. I don't watch them (indeed I don't watch any television other than football or rugby occassionally if I happen to be in a pub), but I have heard Taiwanese friends complain about them too. Always, as in Cole's case too, the complaint dissolves into the implied claim that other people are stupid, easily influenced by garbage on television, and will thus vote "incorrectly".

I would rather such people have the courage to just state this claim explicitly. The remarkable thing about the claim is that it is not a claim you would typically hear levelled at a specific person (much less in that person's physical presence), but always at unspecified others, e.g. "the masses" or "the voters", or "the people". Moreover, the fact that I have heard variations of it from so many people makes it appear to be widely believed; yet it is always "other people" who are stupid and easily swayed by what they watch on television - never the people making the claim themselves. It is as if they are influenced by the claim that political shows are so nefariously influential at least as much, if not more, than the actual influence such television shows have.

The notion that people will not make "enlightened" decisions about how to vote is also a fraught claim because, absent information about voter motives, there is no way to define this other than along partisan lines: a vote for the DPP candidate is "enlightened" and a vote for the KMT candidate is "unenlightened". But that is obviously just political hubris, and does not take into account the different premises and different values that different people hold.

I am willing to accept the claim (even without first hand knowledge of it myself) that political shows in Taiwan are utter trash and gratuitously libellous. I also accept that there ought to be mechanisms for protecting people from false accusations in which they would need to prove a negative (laws against slander are not necessarily the only way of accomplishing this). But I will not accept the claim, believed on the basis of panic rather than evidence, that most other people are stupid and easily influenced. Most other people are of average intelligence, as the IQ bell curve indicates and I certainly believe that people of average intelligence are quite capable of sifting garbage from substance and of making reasoned decisions about the election on their own powers, especially with the great availability of information from the web. The real problem for ardent democrats is that the electoral system under universal franchise does not incentivize voters to invest much time in giving detailed thought to their vote.

Cole might be better off considering various arguments for restriction of the electoral franchise in order to better incentivize voters to give greater consideration to how they will vote since their vote will actually be worth a lot more than it is at present. But he will not do that due to a misplaced egalitarianism.

For what it's worth, I sympathize with the side that wants to defend Taiwan from political annexation by the government in China, but that sympathy is circumscribed by my disgust at their insistence upon democracy as the only legitimate "restriction" (it is in fact, an enabling condition) on unlimited political power.

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