Democracy

Bleg: Help Me Come Up with Some Labels

I’m now writing book #7, Against Politics, for Princeton University Press.

In it, as part of a critique of the “educative argument for democracy” (the thesis that democracy ennobles us or makes us wiser), I want to present the findings of empirical political psychology and empirical political science on voter knowledge and behavior. As a simplification, I want to describe citizens in democracies as falling into three major types, though they can move from one type to another:

Type 1 (nearly half the population): Apathetic and ignorant citizens. Don’t have strong fixed opinions. Often have no opinions. Opinions can change easily. Opinions aren’t grounded in any social scientific knowledge. E.g., the typical non-voter and the typical swing voter. (EDIT: By the way, I think it’s totally fine to be a type 1 person, so long as you don’t vote. I don’t think type 3 people are better than type  1 people. See here.)

Type 2 (nearly half the population): Biased, irrational ideologues. Have strong and largely fixed world-views. Can present arguments for their views, but can’t pass an ideological Turing test. Suffer from massive confirmation and intergroup bias. Political fans. Extremely confident in their views. See other people as nasty and evil. E.g., most activists, most politicians, Hans Hermann-Hoppe-type libertarians, most people who donate money to the Democrats or Republicans, most non-swing voters, the writers at Salon.

Type 3 (small minority): People who think scientifically and rationally about politics. Opinions grounded in social scientific and philosophical knowledge. Self-aware and only as confident as the evidence allows. Can pass an ideological Turing test. Dispassionate, in part on purpose, as a way to combat bias. E.g., David Schmidtz.

I want to refer to type 3 citizens as “Vulcans”. But I need labels for the other two types. They needn’t be Star Trek-based labels–they need to be things that have popular connotations, and so allow readers to easily package together and remember certain traits. If I use your label, I’ll thank you and give you credit in the preface.

Thanks!

  • Daniel Drumea

    Type 1: Sheeple http://xkcd.com/610/
    Type 2: Meself
    I don’t know what the ideological Turing test is though.

  • Samuel L Wilson

    Klingons seem apt for #2, Maybe Ferengi for #1. Keep the Star Trek theme. I like it.

  • JBaldwin

    I appreciate your wanting to call that last category “Vulcans” but as a popular reference it’ll only appeal to Vulcans as you described them and Trekies. To connect with the younger (and rising) generation of libertarians, independents and the other two categories, as well as we Vulcans, re-think using Vulcans.

  • JBaldwin

    1. Wii people (Wii = Willfully Ignorant Individuals): They are distracted by games, disinterested in politics/political philosophy.

  • Fernando Teson

    There’s one category missing, J: Type 4 (half the population, I’d guess): self-interested ideologues. They are biased but not irrational. Their ideological dishonesty serves a variety of personal goals, such as power, wealth, fame, or simply acceptance in groups that hold the key to their careers.

    • Fernando Teson

      Follow up: I think you know that Guido and I explain this at length in our 2006 book.

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    1. Dumbasses
    2. Jackasses
    3. Pompous Asses

    • Demos Alcisthenes

      Brilliant! This is the right answer surely?

  • JBaldwin

    2. Denizens of Narnia: Child-like (ish?) true-believers, each seeing themselves as the lion saving the country and their opponents as the witch destroying it.

  • Dan Carroll

    1. Rationally ignorant and blissful. 2. Irrationally ignorant cheerleaders with friends. 3. Irrationally educated loners

    • Dan Carroll

      Shortened: 1. Blissful, 2. Cheerleaders, 3. Loners

  • Sean II

    Well, if you’re going to do one sci-fi race, you should stick with the theme:

    Type 1: Pod People (highly suggestible, grown en masse)
    Type 2: Daleks (filled with hate, yet strangely obedient)
    Type 3: Vulcans (arched eyebrows, spirit of reason incarnate)

    • Sean II

      Or maybe:

      Type 1: Ewoks (seemingly harmless, actually dangerous)
      Type 2: Daleks (filled with hate, yet strangely obedient)
      Type 3: Vulcans (arched eyebrows, spirit of reason incarnate)

      • Jason Brennan

        I like Ewoks! I might us that!

        Daleks is probably too esoteric, though. I know what Daleks are, despite having not watch the show, but I suspect most people don’t.

        • Sean II

          I think you underestimate two factors:

          1) The strong overlap between your probable readership and the type of nerdish people who (like me) grew up in the dark ages of four channel TV, when Dr. Who and Benny Hill ruled the after-bedtime air.

          2) The popularity of the re-booted series, especially since 2010 or so. The 50th anniversary show last month broke records for BBC America: 3.6 million viewers here, 11 million in the UK.

          I plead thus only because Daleks would be such a perfect tag for your Type 2s – they’re shrill, vicious, not in the least bit nimble, they repeat the same words of phrases over and over again, and you can just never get rid of them.

          • Jason Brennan

            Okay, good points. For now, Daleks is leading the race for group II. Hobbits are winning for group I.

          • Drew Stonebraker

            FWIW, I am likely very characteristic of Jason’s probable readership, and have never heard of “Daleks”.

          • Jason Brennan

            Alex Tabarrok suggested cheeseheads, like the sports fans, and I’m now leaning for that over Daleks.

          • mark b

            Jason,
            In which group would you place most academics? How about your typical New Republic columnist or WSJ essay writer? And, to make it really interesting, your typical Reason Magazine contributor?
            Good luck with the name search (my woeful unoriginality would not help you much so I decided just to ask a question).
            Mark

          • good_in_theory

            I wouldn’t be surprised if most, or at least a plurality, of academics are type 1.

          • Sean II

            I suspect you are right. Several academics I have known espouse liberal views but do it so lazily, it’s hard to believe they’re not just trying to keep more fervent colleagues and students off their back.

          • Jason Brennan

            Nozick told a few people that the reason he let people misinterpret his “I find some of my earlier libertarianism mistaken” as “I’m not a libertarian anymore” was that it got people off his back.

          • Sean II

            Don’t go gettin’ tempted now, ya’ hear?

          • mark b

            Jason,
            In which group would you place most academics? How about your typical New Republic columnist or WSJ essay writer? And, to make it really interesting, your typical Reason Magazine contributor?
            Good luck with the name search (my woeful unoriginality would not help you much so I decided just to ask a question).
            Mark

          • Sean II

            Take this opportunity to correct that deficit. The Dalek race is both a triumph of villainous characterization and a laughable failure of special effects imagination.

            Besides, it’s a terrible principle to say “put nothing in this book people won’t get from prior knowledge.”

            Much of the fun of reading books comes precisely from those little in-jokes you don’t get, and thus have to go look up on the side.

  • Sean II

    Separate point: your description of Type 2 contains an error. Many members of this group can indeed pass a Turing Test, especially the conservatives and the libertarians, as often noted…

  • JBaldwin

    The other problem with ‘Vulcans” is that it has an almost exclusively masculine appeal. Their are plenty of women in category 3 who I doubt would identify as Vulcan. If I can assume that BHL falls into category 3 and would like more women to also fall into category 3, find a label women can identify with as much as men, imo.

    • murali284

      Why wouldn’t they? Its not like there aren’t female Vulcans in the series

  • Dan

    Type 1: Muggles, or maybe proles (a la 1984; too obscure?)
    Type 2: Wolves

    Also, question. Part of your characterization of ‘vulcans’ is that they’re “dispassionate, in part on purpose, as a way to combat bias” and while I agree that combating bias is important, I wonder how useful dispassion is in political matters. Being normative, political worldviews have both factual and emotional components: the ‘how’ and the ‘what’, to put it shortly (see something like Jonathan Haidt’s research). So to what extent is being a dispassionate Vulcan really possible or useful when it comes to politics? Are there better ways to combat bias that don’t maintain the same drive-for-change as “wolves” without the pack mentality?

  • sam

    1. Sleepwalkers
    2. Zealots

    And since I don’t like ‘Vulcans’ (it’s almost too hip)

    3. Sophrosynians

    (Hell, so I made up the word. So what? It fits. See, Charmides)

  • j r

    Completely not an answer to your question, but it seems that you are equating “democracy” to “elections.” Elections tend not to make us smarter, because there’s no real feedback mechanism by which we can evaluate and learn from our choices. Democracy, however, as in the system wherein people are empowered to make all sorts of personal political, economic and social decisions is certainly better for human development than a system where all those decisions are made for you.

    • Jason Brennan

      @JR: that’s one of the things I’ll be disputing. My claim will be that democracy as you’re describing it doesn’t empower people and in fact corrupts them more than it ennobles them.

      • j r

        Interesting. I look forward to reading more.

      • Damien S.

        Do you back up your claim with Swiss and Athenian evidence?

        • good_in_theory

          I would expect something along the lines of Aristophanes’ Clouds from Jason.

          ETA: Ugh, not Clouds. Birds. With Socrates, the Apology works well enough as a potential indictment of democracy. But also the comedy, which I am currently blanking on the name of, where the women take over the vote and change the laws. Can’t remember the name now. Might not be Aristophanes either.

          ETA again: Got it: The Ecclesiazusae, or Parliament of Women. By Aristophanes.

    • Aeon Skoble

      “Democracy, however, as in the system wherein people are empowered to make all sorts of personal political, economic and social decisions is certainly better for human development than a system where all those decisions are made for you” Democracy _is_ a system where all those decisions are made for you.

      • good_in_theory

        Representative democracy is such a system. That hardly exhausts the range of democratic theory.

      • Damien S.

        Athenian, and to a lesser degree Swiss democracy, had the citizens making far more decisions than in a modern republic/representative democracy. At one end you have a single vote every 4 or 5 years, at the other you have weekly votes, as well as frequent membership in ‘juries’ and magistracies. The reward for being informed in the latter case is a lot higher.

  • JBaldwin

    Upon further reflection, perhaps Vulcans is apt…if none of the categories is supposed to sound appealing. Carry on.

    • Theresa Klein

      Vulcans is especially apt when you consider the fact that Vulcans are fictional.

  • Libertymike

    Does anybody doubt that Jason thinks he belongs to group three?
    Does anybody doubt that all three groups, as described by Jason, are so full of straw that they would be considered fire hazards?
    Those who are formally trained in philosophy need to get off their egomaniacal high horses.

    • murali284

      Well, that is difficult to do so when we have prime examples of those untrained in philosophy, who suck at it, but somehow overestimate their own competence at making and evaluating arguments.

      • Libertymike

        Humility is almost always your best bet.
        The fact is that formal training in philosophy does not thereby transform one to the apogee of intellectual curiosity, development or prowess. In the words of Cowlin Cowherd, “it just doesn’t.”

        • Libertymike

          For instance, I have observed that those who claim to be formally trained in philosophy here tend to be very quick to employ the ad hominem, Jason and good_in_theory, included.

        • Jason Brennan

          @Mike: That’s true. I was this awesome before I started grad school.

          Also, I’m not making “ad hominem” arguments when I call Hoppe a cartoon. I’m just stating, frankly, that he’s a cartoon.

          • Libertymike

            Now we’re talking – we are all awesome in our own way.
            What I object to is the limitation of the frames through which one views argumentation. The BHLers, perhaps naturally, tend to limit their evaluation of argumentation to their formal training in philosophy.
            But let not your intellect be troubled because those in my profession are guilty of the same thing and I’m sure that you would not be surprised to learn that many a colleague of mine has been frustrated by my willingness to look at a proposition from non-legal vistas.

          • Libertymike

            So, by stating that he’s a cartoon libertarian, are you practicing that which you speak? Is that somehow advancing the dialogue? Is it winning minds?

        • good_in_theory

          You wouldn’t know humility if it was packed into a grand piano and dropped from the fourth story onto your cartoon libertarian head.

          • Libertymike

            Yet, it would appear, as a matter of fact, that you are far more quick to go ad hominem than me and bloviate about the superiority, in your view, of those formally trained in philosophy.
            Its not like its a close call or anything.

          • good_in_theory

            I don’t recall bloviating about the superiority of philosophical training. But let’s bloviate quasi-philosophically for a second. Uses of “ad hominem” are not examples of the ad hominem fallacy, unless the “ad hominem” is used to ground inference about the argument at hand. Just using “ad hominem” – or, rather, being insulting – is a matter of civility, not philosophical rigor. It’s possible to be both philosophically rigorous and uncivil.

          • Libertymike

            Tom Woods makes a claim.
            Jason responds that Tom Woods is a cartoon libertarian.
            Therefore, Jason’s claim fails.
            Yeah, there are those who subscribe to your view, but, its a dodge, its deflecting. The better view is that if any part of one’s argument consists of an ad hominem, the force of one’s argument is vitiated.
            The character or circumstances or actions of an individual generally do not have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the argument or claim being made.

          • Libertymike

            According to Merriam Webster dictionary, ad hominem is defined as follows:
            1. appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect;
            2. marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.

          • Libertymike

            According to Webster’s New World Legal Dictionary, ad hominem is defined as follows:
            1. appealing to personal prejudices instead of reason; attacking one’s character rather than his arguments.
            The dictionary also states that “the phrase now chiefly describes an argument based on the failings of an adversary rather than on merits of the case. Ad hominem attacks on one’s opponent are a tried and true strategy for people who have a case that is weak.”
            Remember, if you pride yourself on being curious and comprehensive, you can not offer some lame nonsense that one cannot rely upon the historical, legal and popular definitions and uses of a term in debate.

          • good_in_theory

            Funny thing, using ad hominem isn’t fallacious, but dismissing someone because they use ad hominem *is*.

          • murali284

            Jason would be engaging in ad hominem if he said that Hoppe’s views are wrong because he is a cartoon libertarian. Only, Jason doesn’t say that. Rather, Jason is claiming that Hoppe is a cartoon libertarian because he has laughably stupid arguments. The ad hominem fallacy is an argumentative fallacy in which one aims to infer the wrongness of a belief from the alleged viciousness of the believer. But, there is no necessary link between viciousness of believer and wrongness of belief. Stupid or evil people can come up with good arguments too. But, one can attribute viciousness of a particular type to a believer if that viciousness is constituted by having those beliefs.

          • good_in_theory

            What do you even think my view is? The “view” I expressed is that insulting people is not the same as arguing that someone is wrong because you have insulted them. That’s more of a fact than a view.

            How does Jason’s claim fail if the only claim he’s made is that Tom is a cartoon?

          • Jason Brennan

            Tom Woods is in fact a cartoon libertarian. If I act like he’s not, I disrespect reputable scholars by sullying my nice words.

      • I am in strong agreement with this point. It’s like when creationists get upset at not being taken seriously as scientists, but creationists in general don’t give us any reason to take them seriously. Most of them don’t even understand how evolution works, let alone be able to critique it. But they are quite confident that it is false.

    • Jason Brennan

      Yes, I’m group III.

      But I also wrote a book arguing that there’s nothing particularly virtuous about being in group III or particularly bad about being in group I. Group III may permissible vote and group I can’t, but so long as group I doesn’t vote, they are morally on par with group III. Group II is bad, though.

      By any chance, have you read, say, the Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology?

      • Libertymike

        No.
        Do you recommend?

        • Jason Brennan

          Yes, but it’s long.

          • Libertymike

            Does it at least have some pictures?

          • Jason Brennan

            It has some tables!

      • You might want to consider a group IV, composed of people that are so overly skeptical of everything that they refrain from forming opinions on political matters or taking any positions whatsoever. They are different from group I, in that they are actually interested in these matters, and they understand the arguments and objections to various positions.

    • “Those who are formally trained in philosophy need to get off their egomaniacal high horses.”

      Urging people to find better reasons and justification for their positions may come across as annoying but it is still a good thing, in my opinion.

      I can see why someone who fears he might be in group II would get annoyed at these divisions, but all the more reason to get yourself out of group II.

  • Alex

    You must read Russell Dalton’s The Apartisan American. This is basically his argument of his text–voters can be divided into four categories: ritual partisan (type 2), cognitive partisan, apolitical independents (type 1), and apartisans (type 3). Perhaps a better nomenclature in line with your trichotomoy would be: apathetics, partisans, and “enlightened statement”a la Federal 10 or some variant thereof–perhaps just “enlightened.”

    • Jason Brennan

      Thanks for the recommendation. Just ordered it.

  • Josh McCabe

    Halfhearts and Zealots?

  • Drew Stonebraker

    Type two: how about a sports fanatic reference for something more accessible than “Daleks”? I feel like European soccer fans would be a perfect fit, but that title would be combersome. What about “hooligans”? Or just “sports fanatics”.

    • Jason Brennan

      Yes, very good. Thanks!

  • godfrey

    Type 1: Comfortably Numb

  • pelletfarmer

    Wow. I thought the “Duty” thread was a hoot and so left a comment there. But damn, this one nearly tops it. Here are your labels, no credit requested…

    Label 0: People who should be considered on the basis of a single attribute

    Label 1: People who shouldn’t be

  • Theresa Klein

    Type 4: People who think they are Type 3, but are actually Type 2.

    • Libertymike

      Pithy and powerful and certainly true of many here.

      • Jason Brennan

        Yeah, I’ve also had my doubts about Bas.

    • Jason Brennan

      Type 2s are your type 3s.

  • SimpleMachine88

    1. Innocent
    2. Guilty
    3. Insane

  • Zombies: mostly don’t care and unthinking but can be roused by dramatic activity and are dangerous moving en masse.

    Werewolves: largely considered unthinking killing machines when they are turned at the full moon.

    Vampires: calculating, far more powerful than their food supply but revealing themselves can cause their food supply to overrun them; cold.

  • Type 1’s vote their class or ‘caste’ (in India)= and plunge over the cliff like lemmings. Type 2’s vote their noisome creed- like lepers clanging their bells. Type 3’s vote according to objective criteria re. the candidate- except they don’t actually vote- like lap dancers hovering over erections they never actually rub against.
    So there you have it- lemmings, lepers and lap-dancers.

  • Steve H

    Hi Jason,

    How about this?

    Type 1: Ignorati

    Type 2: Fanboys

    Type 3: Vulcans

    • Steve H

      I think these work best because they make it easy to remember which label belongs to each type. The reader won’t have to refer back to the definitions every time they get mentioned (assuming these types are referred to several times in your book).

      Also, if you don’t like the gender bias of “Fanboys”, you could use “Cheerleaders” or “Fanatics” instead.

  • Steve Winkler

    Thoughtless
    Thoughtlocked
    Thoughtful