A Person is Smart

From the movie Men in Black Agent K: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

Possibly the most true statement ever put in the mouth of a fictional character.  Close is the following which Heinlein put in the mouth of Rufo (the “wise old man” character from the latter part of Glory Road):

Democracy can’t work. Mathematicians, peasants, and animals, that’s all there is — so democracy, a theory based on the assumption that mathematicians and peasants are equal, can never work. Wisdom is not additive; its maximum is that of the wisest man in a given group.
But a democratic form of government is okay, as long as it doesn’t work. Any social organization does well enough if it isn’t rigid. The framework doesn’t matter as long as there is enough looseness to permit that one man in a multitude to display his genius. Most so-called social scientists seem to think that organization is everything. It is almost nothing — except when it is a straitjacket. It is the incidence of heroes that counts, not the pattern of zeros.
Your country has a system free enough to let its heroes work at their trade. It should last a long time — unless its looseness is destroyed from inside.

People in large groups simply cannot be relied on to make wise or even knowledgeable decisions.  This becomes even more so the larger, and more complex a society.  The simple truth is most people don’t have the information to make informed, let alone wise, decisions on the vast majority of things involved in the operation of society.

Some will say that this calls for decisions to be turned over to an intellectual elite, people knowledgeable and (presumably) wise to make those decisions for us (back to Plato’s Philospher Kings).  However, far from solving the problem this merely exacerbates it.  For one thing, no manageable sized group of elites can itself possess all the knowledge and understanding, let alone wisdom, required for a society of any size and complexity.  But worse is the simple question of how to decide who belongs in that class.  How do the folk in larger society, as a group lacking the understanding necessary to make the myriad decisions involved in keeping that society functioning, to choose those “Philosospher Kings” (or “Good Socialists” or whatever) to manage things?  They can’t.

When folk point to the failure of top-down central planning of economies and societies, we are always told “that wasn’t real…” and “the wrong people were doing it.”

They.  Will.  Always.  Be.  The.  Wrong.  People.

There is simply no way the larger mass of people can select the “right people.”  But even worse, there is no feedback mechanism to winnow out “wrong people” when it comes to the benefit of society as a whole and replace them with new people (who will almost certainly be wrong, since there are far more “wrong people” than “right people” however you look at it, but who just might, possibly, be “right”).

The only way to deal with the increasing complexity of society is to go completely the other way, to not try to “manage” it in all but very limited areas.  Each person can then exercise their knowledge, understanding, and, yes, wisdom in the area of their immediate concern.  Those who do well will tend to succeed.  Those who don’t won’t.  It won’t be a perfect system–nothing ever is–and, yes, some folk will fail through no fault of their own and others will succeed through scurrilous means.  But the overall trend will be, as it were, for the cream to rise to the top.

People talk about the venality of the “robber barons” but when it comes right down to it, what they did was make life better for the masses.  Rockefeller found ways to make kerosene cheap compared to competing products (whale oil, as well as other kerosene producers–and indeed it’s entirely possible that, by reducing the demand for whale oil, he prevented the extinction of a number of whale species allowing them to survive long enough for conservation groups to take an interest).  Carnegie did the same with steel.  Ford with automobiles.  And so on.

It is the individual “hero” (as Glory Road puts it) having the freedom to operate with minimum constraint that truly makes life better for the rest of us.

And so Rufo, following up on the previous comment, speaking to one such hero:

Wherever you go, you will make yourself felt, you won’t be one of the herd. I respect you, and I don’t respect many.

This is why individual liberty, both personal liberty and economic liberty, is so important. It allows those smart, the knowledgeable, the wise individuals the freedom to exercise their smarts, knowledge, and wisdom. Whereas if you make them simply part of a mass (The People!) then you end up with “dumb, panicky, dangerous animals”.

Every. Damn. Time.

2 thoughts on “A Person is Smart”

  1. Two thoughts.

    From Churchill: “Democracy is the worse form of government, except for all of the rest”.

    From the Federalist Papers: “If Men were Angels, we’d need no government. If Angels were to govern us, government would need no limits”


  2. “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

    This is known as “bad luck.”
    Robert A. Heinlein

    Many kinds of poverty, many kinds of wealth.


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