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Follow the Herd or Be the Shepherd?

November 8, 2010

In today’s lecture, Professor LaVaque-Manty discussed a quote from the Burke reading concerning the “swinish multitude”, which reminded me of another quote I’d heard a few years ago. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what that quote was or where it came from, but I do know what the book it came from was about: is it better for government to be controlled by the common man, or by the political elites? It’s a question I’ve struggled with for a few years now, and I don’t seem to be any closer to an answer now than I was when I started, so I thought it would be nice to get your opinions.

On the one hand, the majority of citizens aren’t multimillionaires who drive shiny, new, expensive cars to Washington D.C. for work everyday, so a government that consists of representatives of the John Q. Public could be ideal. The concerns of the politicians would be the same as the concerns of the people, which may make citizens more confident in their government. I’ve heard a lot of arguments, especially over the last two and a half presidential terms, about the government being full of “old, rich, white guys,” which is increasingly becoming the opposite of the actual composition of the US. The question asked by those who advocate this sort of theory is a simple one:

Why don’t we have people in office who can actually relate to us?

The problem I seem to encounter with this theory is that many, many voters are completely uninformed about the issues on the ballot. During the most recent election, for example, there were two millages on the ballot back home that would fund the floundering school district in the city. One was a non-homestead millage, and the other millage would replace a current 6 mills tax with a 4 mills tax, effectively lowering taxes on homeowners. They both failed, in my belief largely because people were scared of the word “millage” [read: tax} and didn’t bother to read the actual language of the proposal. Additionally, very confused voters believed some strange things, like that the mayor should use his salary to pay for the schools – they didn’t understand that school districts and city governments are two wholly different entities. Mass amounts of uninformed voters, I think, can be just about as dangerous as corrupt politicians.

Of course, on the other hand, career politicians know how the system works and (theoretically and ideally) know how to get things done. Whereas ordinary citizens may be focused on the short run and finding temporary solutions to issues they’re finding problematic when they arise, politicians (in a perfect world, at least) will also be able to focus on the long run. These powerful elites, whether justly or not, also control a large percentage of the wealth in the country, so their decisions, whether we like it or not, will impact us anyway.

Should we trust that they know what they’re doing and leave the inner-workings to them?

What do you think? Should we be sheeps, blindly following the herd and letting the shepherds control our world, or should we let everyone have a say and hope we don’t have a bunch of morons as fellow citizens?

A video for your thoughts:

And just for laughs, today’s episode of Uncle Jay:

3 Comments
  1. emilywiho permalink
    November 8, 2010 11:25 PM

    It’s a sad reality that not everyone in the country truly knows and understands the elections and their candidates. Our choices are instead usually due to our family upbringing, peer influence and the appeals of the public campaigns. This is not to say that there aren’t many educated voters – for there are. But there are always those who aren’t, and these people are the possible dangers and hindrances to choosing the right candidate.

    For this, I must quote Malcolm X, who said: “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today”

  2. Zac Hiller permalink
    November 9, 2010 12:05 PM

    This is a very interesting post. I myself am not educated enough on the candidates and their issues when it comes to voting so I find myself not voting. Also, to answer your question “why don’t we have people in office who can actually relate to us?” it is because we hold people in office to a higher standard. They are not suppose to be “normal” people and instead people that we expect to do what is in all of are best interest. These people cannot relate with us because there decision do not always make us happy.

  3. November 9, 2010 3:04 PM

    This blog brings up an interesting point I believe. Elections in this country is something that is so important because the people one elects directly makes decisions that effect their everyday lives. Despite this people still do not know enough about each candidate and the issues and are more prone to vote for whomever there family and friends vote for. Moreover, people are probably most swayed by what the media tells them, this is a huge problem because the media depending on which source one follows is extremely biased towards a particular candidate. It should not be that a person votes for the person that they see on a particular television station the most. People have to be more educated and I believe the way to do this is early in the educational system stress how important elections are and how one must learn the issues before voting and thus children will grow with this mentality. Also, I think that media coverage on election should be severely limited. I believe this will lead to people being more educated and open-minded before they go and vote.

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