2009/07/24

A permanent challenge for societies

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I had some conversations about extremists and idiots in this or that society and time.
An unpleasant Neonazi page (in English language) among my recent Google image search results reminded me of this problem.

Here's my take on the problem of extremists:

Every society has its share of hardcore idiots.

Some are dangerous, others aren't. They occupy themselves with things like far-right ideology, far-left ideology, jihad, holocaust denial, conspiracy theories, warmongering, scaremongering, investment banking, serious bullying or they simply end up in jail for being idiotic enough to commit a serious crime and get caught.
I estimate the share of these hardcore idiots at about 5% of the adult population, and admit that males make up most of this share. The basis for this share is personal experience, not the least by observation of conscripts. The share may be too high or too low, but my guess is quite close to scientific estimates about the prevalence of antisocial personality disorder.

There's nothing that we seem to be able to do against this problem; they're just among us, and it seems to be natural. It's human, sadly.

Maybe a state or society will sometime find a cure for this problem, but in that case I'd most likely be scared more by the cure than the problem.


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It's been historically proved that a greater share of the society can cause extreme trouble, of course. Let's call that part-time idiocy.
Many people - in fact way TOO MANY people - can turn really ugly under the wrong circumstances.
The Stanford prison experiment was a scary evidence for this.

All nations are the same or very similar about hardcore idiocy, but they are different about part-time idiocy. Every society has the permanent challenge of establishing and maintaining an order that prevents the conditions that turn people ugly.

Democracy is such an order; it prevents the abuse of power as it is prevalent in authoritarian regimes.

Another permanent challenge is to keep the hardcore idiots from attaining power, of course. It helps to limit the power handed to individuals in the first place. A poor choice is bound to happen sooner or later, so we need to at least limit the damage done.

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I'm sure that many people would disagree (especially with terminology and share), but this is how I see people and societies; the huge differences are usually a result of conditions, and we're in an eternal struggle to get these conditions right.

The conditions that a society creates are much more relevant than its history, reputation, successes and failures. Culture and legal situation are the cornerstones for human behaviour and the behaviour of groups (like states and political parties).

Every manipulation of these conditions needs to be careful and wise (that's a point for conservatism IF things were already satisfying AND if no external shocks are relevant).

This "hardcore idiots - part-time idiots - all else" framework looks much more useful to me than to simply attribute groups of people or nations with distinctive characteristics.

Sven Ortmann
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1 comment:

  1. The danger that idiots pose to societies is made worse by the right of free speech when what is said is both dangerous and false because they can infect ignorant and feeble minded listeners who don't know how to think critically. Sadly, that faculty is too often absent.

    Is that the case because governments prefer sheep to citizens who can think critically?

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