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Richard Dawkins's Avatar Jump to comment 26 by Richard Dawkins

Morons of the kind that Elisabeth Cornwell so chillingly exposes here should not come anywhere near spitting distance of supreme power. It is alarming that the democratic system has no real safeguards against them getting there.

When any large organisation other than a government is seeking a new CEO, they go to elaborate lengths to screen candidates. The hopefuls are exhaustively interviewed, their backgrounds, relevant experience and past career achievements are rigorously checked, references are taken up and soundings taken. When a man is to be entrusted with military or state secrets or "For your eyes only" documents, he is vetted and "background-checked" with scrupulous care. But to become president, with your finger on the nuclear button and in possession of all state secrets, all you need do is get millions of people to vote for you. And if significant numbers of illiterate idiots think the person to vote for is someone just like themselves, every election is a time for worry. In the case of the USA, the worry extends to the whole world – all those of us who can't vote for the individual who is to be, in many ways, our leader as well as the leader of US citizens themselves.

I don't really know what to suggest, because Winston Churchill was probably right when he quoted the saying that "democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time". But I wonder whether part of the problem lies in the way we have been conditioned to think of "elitism" as a dirty word. The ultimate in anti-elitism is to vote for "somebody just like me" rather than for one of those extremely rare individuals who are actually well qualified to be president. It's been said before but can't be said too often, that when you are in a plane you want the pilot to be a very well qualified pilot. When you are about to have a delicate and dangerous operation, you want the surgeon to be among the elite of surgeons. Isn't it even more important when we vote for a president that we should be unrepentantly elitist in the way we go about it?

At present our consciousness has been raised against the word "elitism" so far that it may be irretrievable, just like – as some have argued – the word "atheism". Just as some people are trying to rally around more palatable alternatives to the word "atheism", might we think of alternatives to "elitism" that carry the same meaning but not the stigma. Consciousness-raising yet again.


Tue, 28 Feb 2012 11:21:35 UTC | #922742