Is it Rational to be Politically Ignorant?
For many, it probably is
There are those who love to expose and mock the astonishing political ignorance of Americans. According to a 2006 survey, only 42% of Americans could name the three branches of government. But here is an interesting question worth exploring:
Is it not entirely rational to ignore events over which one has no control and withdraw into one's private life where one does exercise control and can do some good?
I can vote, but my thoughtful vote counts for next-to-nothing in most elections, especially when it is cancelled out by the vote of some thoughtless and uninformed person. I can blog, but on a good day I will reach only a couple thousand readers worldwide and none of them are policy makers. (I did have some influence once on a Delta airline pilot who made a run for a seat in the House of Representatives.) I can attend meetings, make monetary contributions, write letters to senators and representatives, but is this a good use of precious time and resources? It may be that Ilya Somin has it right:
. . . political ignorance is actually rational for most of the public, including most smart people. If your only reason to follow politics is to be a better voter, that turns out not be much of a reason at all. That is because there is very little chance that your vote will actually make a difference to the outcome of an election (about 1 in 60 million in a presidential race, for example). For most of us, it is rational to devote very little time to learning about politics, and instead focus on other activities that are more interesting or more likely to be useful.
Is it rational for me to stay informed? Yes, because of my intellectual eros, my strong desire to understand the world and what goes on in it. The philosopher is out to understand the world; if he is smart he will have no illusions about changing it, pace Marx's 11th Thesis on Feuerbach.
Another reason for people like me to stay informed is to be able to anticipate what is coming down the pike and prepare so as to protect myself and my stoa, my citadel, and the tools of my trade. For example, my awareness of Biden’s fiscal irresponsibility is necessary if I am to make wise decisions as to how much of my money I should invest in precious metals and other hard assets. Being able to anticipate draconian measures re: 'gun control' will allow me to buy what I need while it is still to be had. 'Lead' can prove to be useful for the protection of gold, not to mention the defense of such sentient beings as oneself and one's family.
In brief, a reason to stay apprised of current events is not so that I can influence or change them, but to be in a position so that they don't influence or change me.
A third reason to keep an eye on the passing scene, and one mentioned by Somin, is that one might follow politics the way some follow sports. Getting hot and bothered over the minutiae of baseball and the performance of your favorite team won't affect the outcome of any games, but it is a source of great pleasure to the sports enthusiast. I myself don't give a damn about spectator sports. Politics are my sports. So that is a third reason for me to stay on top of what's happening. It's intellectually stimulating and a source of conversational matter and blog fodder.
All this having been said and properly appreciated, one must nevertheless keep things in perspective by bearing in mind Henry David Thoreau's beautiful admonition:
Read not The Times; read the eternities!
For this world is a vanishing quantity whose pomps, inanities, Obaminations and what-not will soon pass into the bosom of non-being.
And you with it.