Education Ex Machina

As regular readers know, I’m a frequent critic of political systems. One of my recurrent observations is that the average voter is often ignorant in the extreme, not merely of trivial facts (“who is your local congressman?”) but of important political facts and ideas fall into two broad categories:

  1. Policy Ignorance–ignorance of what a given law or policy does or would do if enacted. Lack of understanding of how policies and laws operate (e.g. Obamacare, immigration reform, austerity, stimulus, default, etc.)
  2. Theory Ignorance–a lack of awareness of how one’s political beliefs fit together, being unaware of contradictions or deliberately ignoring them, critically analyzing one’s own views insufficiently to be epistemically justified in holding them, failing to consider alternatives or resolve the challenges alternative theories pose, etc.

I typically claim that because citizens are ignorant in these ways, they have a tendency to vote counter-productively. They use the vote to pursue mistaken objectives or pursue good objectives in misguided ways. I argue from there that our political system expects more from the average voter than the average voter can give, and is consequently mismatched to the nature of real people–it is too demanding. Among the most frequent responses to this argument is that it’s not the political system that is the problem, but the education system. If we educated people better so that they were not ignorant in these ways, they would vote better and the system would work as designed. Today, I aim to answer this argument.

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