Too Dumb for Democracy?
Published: March 5, 2019 by Goose Lane Editions
Non-Fiction / Business, Politics & Social Sciences
Paperback: 9781773100418 $22.95
The world is in a period of political uncertainty. COVID-19 has isolated us and changed our way of life, climate change threatens to devastate our planet, extremist organizations promote hate, and wars cause death and destruction around the world. In his book Too Dumb for Democracy? Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones, political theorist David Moscrop writes about how bad political decisions led to these problems. Making good political decisions during these trying times is vital to preserving the planet and ensuring humans will survive in the coming years.
Too Dumb for Democracy? is Moscrop’s first book, but he has written for prominent publications such as Maclean’s magazine and The Washington Post. He went to the University of British Columbia for his PhD in political science and now works as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa. A quote from Antonio Damasio’s Looking for Spinoza: Joy Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain sparked Moscrop’s idea for this book. The quote, which points out why understanding emotion is key to good policy, set Moscrop on a course to neuroscience, and eventually, to political psychology. It helped him understand whether humans really are too dumb for democracy.
This book comes at a key time in history. Moscrop sets the stakes by pointing out how bad political decisions have created serious problems. He opens with the story of President Donald Trump’s election and how he found it unbelievable. One might criticize Moscrop and accuse him of political bias, but he addresses this concern early on. He writes: “I do not presuppose that any opinion, policy, law, or electoral outcome is a good one simply because I agree with it, and I do not expect any outcome I disagree with to be a bad one.” He argues good political decisions are made from good processes, which requires voters and politicians to be rational and avoid the thoroughly-described pitfalls mentioned throughout the book.
Moscrop organizes Too Dumb for Democracy? to ease readers in and slowly build their understanding of the situation. In the first part, he provides a strong foundation on the subject matter, which is necessary for readers to comprehend the rest of the book. He explains why people act the way they do, gives us a rundown on the history of democracy, and explains what a good political decision is. He then dives into why humans tend to make bad political decisions, and makes a strong call to action at the end.
Despite an effective structure, Moscrop’s writing is often cumbersome. He writes sentences full of clutter and political jargon that seem to clamber on until they reach their confusing end. For example, consider this sentence about how political environments and human institutions affect decision-making: “Indeed, they also often make attempts at the political engagement necessary for working towards good political decisions more difficult thanks to the speed, volume, complexity, and incentives to manipulate others to get what you want that they encourage and enable.” He switches from head-scratchers like these to simple, conversational sentences that are necessary to keep the reader engaged. He even openly admits to writing jargon by stating “But what is a good political decision? Here is what I think makes one, if you will pardon some jargon that I will explain in a moment.”
However, Moscrop counteracts his sometimes-convoluted writing by breaking it into easy-to-swallow chunks. He often sorts his ideas into lists. In the third chapter, he brings up, “Five more reasons why you should care about good political decisions.” He also uses real-world political and personal examples and analogies to give the reader a better sense of what he is trying to convey. In chapter six, he goes over the Watergate scandal to explore how politicians go to great lengths to stay in power. He writes about how he was the victim of a theft in chapter one to explain how humans are both rational and emotional. He even uses an elaborate dinner party analogy to explain some complex concepts in chapter seven. These examples help the reader understand the technical aspects of the book.
This is a book voters and political figures should read or at least understand. Moscrop claims many of the world’s modern problems are a result of bad political decisions, so people need to know how to make good ones. With this book, Moscrop gives a thorough, 228-page answer to a single question: Are humans too dumb for democracy? As such, Too Dumb for Democracy? is one of the most important books of 2019. The world is in a state of crisis, and Moscrop’s answer shows how humans have the power to make real and everlasting change.