Ignorant Politicians Are Bad But Arrogant Politicians Are Worse

from the humility dept

Adam Thierer points out a Washington Post op-ed arguing that politicians should be embarrassed about their tech ignorance. Now, obviously it would always be better to have politicians who were more knowledgeable about the technology industry, and Sen. Steven's inability to tell the difference between an "Internet" and an "e-mail" was kind of embarrassing. Certainly, politicians who head committees where tech-related subjects are a major focus have a responsibility to have at least a minimal competence with technical concepts. And there are a few tech-savvy members of Congress, with Rush Holt and Rick Boucher as outstanding examples. We could certainly use more members of Congress with their in-depth understanding of tech issues.
However, I don't think it's reasonable to expect every politician to be an expert on tech issues, and actually think we should give some credit to politicians who are willing to admit that they don't know very much about technology. Our elected officials are asked to vote on a truly mind-boggling array of topics, from foreign policy to health care and from agriculture subsidies to copyright law. It's not physically possible for a Congressman, much less a president, to become an expert on every subject about which he's expected to cast a vote. And so it's perfectly reasonable for elected officials to pledge, as Sen. McCain did, that they would seek out deputies who would be experts on the subjects they don't personally know very much about. The alternative is not to find philosopher-kings who are experts about every subject they are responsible for regulating. The alternative is politicians who delude themselves into thinking they're experts and rush headlong into passing ill-conceived bills. That leads to a lot of poorly thought out legislative proposals. A politician who knows his own limitations will at least think twice before proposing legislation on a subject he doesn't understand. And that can only be a good thing.

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Comments on “Ignorant Politicians Are Bad But Arrogant Politicians Are Worse”

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Shohat says:

Well said

Politicians should not understand the difference between Email and Internet – these are both new technological concepts which have become mainstream only during the last decade.

Most people spend their entire lives inside houses, without having the slightest idea in architecture, read labels every day without having a clue in flexography, and drive cars without the slightest clue what is the Gas mixing ratio.

So the politicians are not to blame – the people are, for electing politicians that do not surround themselves with capable and unbiased advisors.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Well said

just because you dont know the gas mixing ration shouldnt mean you dont know the difference between the brake pedal and the gas peda, the wheel and the glove compartment, etc.

They’re not being asked to build gentoo and learn css and javascript. It’d be nice if they could differentiate between two things the general public (politicians included) use on a daily basis.

Them not knowing this info is not called “reasonable”, it’s called “senility”.

Rich Kulawiec says:

I'm not buying this

I expect elected officials to have at least passing familiarity
with medicine, physics, literature, law, technology, biology,
mathematics, chemistry, history, sociology,statistics, culture,
diplomacy, economics, and several dozen other subjects that
I could add to the laundry list.
These are baseline qualifications that anyone who aspires
to a position of leadership/power should meet before proceeding
further. Those who can’t or won’t are clearly undeserving, as they
have failed to even minimally educate themselves.

Given the incredible access to knowledge that most of us enjoy,
this isn’t particularly difficult. Simple steps such as “read at
least one quality newspaper every day” and “find tutorial
sites on the Internet” and “stop reading vapid tripe like
Mitch Albom and read Richard Dawkins instead” are almost
always easy and cheap (or even free).

Many of the problems we face (for various values of “we”) have
their root causes in the incredible ignorance displayed by
government officials — in all governments, at all levels.
And we are in large part responsible for that, because we often
vote for those who agree with us — even if they are appallingly
stupid and ignorant. We need to learn to value intelligence
and knowledge (and where we can find it, that precious
commodity wisdom) above slogans and self-interest and
partisan politics.

LBD says:

Re: I'm not buying this

I WANT to have the geeky, poorly spoken, possibly slightly racist/sexist/opinionated but in an obvious way. People who are competent in just about everything, while still not being experts in everything… competent enough to follow along when an expert talks, not though not nesessarly competent enough to innovate… and willing to strive for more knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Basically general geeks/nerds/high functioning autistics

I EXPECT politicians to be charismatic bastards with no clue what they are doing, but who know how to give people a warm feeling. I expect them to be schmoozes who hide their contempt behind false smiles. I expect them to be misanthropic sociopaths out for their own good and power and nothing more. Just pawns that are easy to manipulate by those who know how, but who think they’re kings, or at least rooks and knights.

This is, of course, because only misanthropic sociopaths with delusions of grandeur seek that level of power, AND are capable of dealing dirty enough to get it, without getting caught.

Welcome to reality.

4-80-sicks says:

Re: Re: Re:

dorpass: I did not make an analogy?
My point was that it compares the tech ignorance of any given politician to ignorance of mortgage types held by a banking chairman, or ignorance of dirty bombs held by a homeland security specialist. The analogies in the original article are the ones that are stupid.

So I’m not sure what the article is asking, to be honest. Am I making sense now?

4-80-sicks says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No. Everyone doesn’t know that grass is green, to follow your analogy–out of the general population, many people do not understand the difference between “an internet” and an email, and so forth. Politicians who do not should not be trying to legislate concerning those things, but neither should they be held to a different standard.

chris (profile) says:

an honest politician is a national calamity

politicians are most harmless when they are serving their own interests rather than trying to enact more laws to try (and fail) to make things better for us.

i would much rather have a bunch of greedy dishonest politicians fighting each other for the opportunity to abuse the american people than for a handful crusaders joining together to change things for their cause.

OldHawk777 says:

Politicians should all be very embarrassed ....

Politicians should be embarrassed about their intransigent and intractable ignorance, arrogance, and insipidness on most (maybe all) topics not political/parochial (from their limited/packaged life experience).

Obviously it would always be better to have politicians who are more knowledgeable about technology, industry, economy, science, culture, philosophy, art … with ability to discover/read and understand the difference between a dogmatic position, delusional mythology, or implicit experience (not in the book) and then reason (bias free logic) the best options probable for citizens/humanity.

A general (not genius) intelligence, sanity, competence with collaboration and consensus skills is adequate for excellent decision making across many highly complex concepts/subjects. Best/Excellent decisions, depend on the person and methods they use to make decisions, far more than leadership or charisma. Charismatic leadership is good for bad or good decisions, and persuasion of an inerudite or obtuse nescient public.

However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable, to expect every politician to be well informed on important issues, and actually thinking prior to emotional reaction. We should give some credit to politicians who are willing to admit that they are dysfunctional due to their staff’s unforgivable incompetence at keeping their politician’s understanding of significant subjects second to none in the general public.

Democracy, The USA Constitution, Science, Engineering, Law, Technology, Medicine, Learning/edu, Economics, Child Care … Food … Housing … International Cultures, War, Crime … our free~press/media, clergy, and politicians have a sacred and patriotic responsibility to be well informed and keep US Citizens truthfully informed.

The POTUS and VP to federal and state legislatures, and their staff, have failed US horribly, behaved horrendously, and injured humanity. Democracy is besieged and in jeopardy of being lost for decades/centuries.

Corporatism and Corporate-Welfare (Corporatist Government) is economic plutocracy/communism with all control/wealth vested in the nepotism supporters of the corporate state. Capitalism/Meritocracy is in a critical condition and may not recover from protectionist tactics of the New Economic Fascism for global domination and exploitation.

Politicians (most not all) are clueless of limitations, and legislating limitations on US Citizens … like opt-out privacy, tax-cut4wealthy paid by increasing taxes on middle class and poor (med-deduction went from 2% to 7% …), DMCA …. I suspect, congress and the POTUS (over the last 20-30 years) discussed and distracted US with more fear, sports, pedophilia, religion, patriotic … faux-truths and flagrant fraud than ever in USA history. The USA political propaganda institution has magnificently surpassed all the old Goebbels machine.

Propaganda is always essentially simple and repetitive. In the long run, influencing public opinion is achieved only by false definition of problems in simple terms, and then forever repeating the faux-lies despite contrary and factual overwhelming evidence expressed by others with real knowledge and experience. Was it Bush, Chaney, Clinton (Bill/Hilarious), Limbaugh, Rude Julie, and/or Joe Goebbels that said something like this to US.

Adam Thierer says:

Tim.. The way I look it, we don’t expect lawmakers to be automotive engineers before crafting laws or regulations about car safety, but we at least expect them to have driven a car before doing so! Similarly, we need not demand that our political leaders have degrees in computer science before they legislate on high-tech policy, but we should expect them to have at least made a good faith effort to turn on a computer and get on the Internet! And making jokes about a complete lack of familiarity with these things just before legislating on them is truly insulting to those of us who care passionately about high-technology policy.

atomatom says:

If doctors have to go to school for years and years and then intern for years after that before being able to practice on their own, I don’t see why politicians can’t be expected to be well educated in areas that concern their jobs. This education is required for doctors to preserve and save lives, why should we ask any less of people who allocate billions of dollars and decide whether or not to go to war?

LBD says:

Re: Re:

Because most politicians do go for years and years… to law school.

They’re all lawyers, and there’s not really anything wrong with that EXCEPT that it means that they write laws in jargon. Jargon serves as code to keep those who don’t speak the jargon ignorant. This is bad.

Also it means that they right laws that benefit lawyers.

So in the end they are always in favor of tying the Gordian knot tighter, because it gives lawyers more to do.

LBD says:

Forgot to mention

Keep in mind, too, that until they start dying the baby-boomer will rule politics.

I don’t dislike my father, he knows where ‘it’s at’ but some of his friends are all too much like the people they voted for. My generation will be jaded though by the time the old farts die.

It’s the one after ours that will get power again.

PG says:

Ignorant politicians

Well the EU politicians are both ignorant and arrogant , and add incompetence and greed and you can see the result all over the EU , and also in many of the international NGOs , IMF , World Bank , ECB etc etc .

We have the proof , as politicians are repeating the errors made decades ago
and they won’t admit it . Add to that the incompetence and greed in the financial and business sectors , and we have what we have today , a big unsustainable mess .

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