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Do we need Superman to save us, or are ordinary people enough?

Published in Blog on February 28, 2022 by Edward Douglas Thompson

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. --Acts 4:13

One of the criticisms against holding a Convention of States for the purpose of proposing amendments which are vital to saving the freedoms in United States, has to do with the character of the people sent to the convention.

It is a presumption that the people who would be sent as commissioners to the convention would be either unintelligent, or would otherwise have character flaws preventing them from exercising good judgment.

The expected outcome from the convention is then held out to be something which would be far worse than the current tyranny which Americans have been increasingly subject to in recent years.

An Example

An example of recent tyranny would be COVID restrictions which prevent freedom of movement in general, or which cause small businesses to be shut down, harming the futures of hundreds of thousands of American families.

The convention, it is presumed, would make us all even worse-off than that.

Yes, hundreds of thousands of American futures have recently been destroyed, and at least tens of thousands of American lives have been needlessly lost -- but imagine what such a dastardly convention could do to all of us!

[end sarcasm]

The presumption in this line of reasoning is that the founding fathers were superhuman people.

According to this line of thinking, we should not try to emulate them and attempt to hold a convention for proposing amendments to draw down the tyranny that we live under -- because we are more likely to screw it up, making matters even worse.

A corollary of this line of reasoning is that only very special people, people having especially-high levels of intellectual or moral virtue, are able to do great things.

Normal people are just simply unable to rise to the occasion.

The Bible quote at top shows how surprised the priests of Jerusalem were that Peter and John were just ordinary men doing great things in the name of Jesus.

In their priestly minds, it was only very special people who were thought to ever be capable of accomplishing a great task, such as healing others.

But there is something arrogant about assuming that others, because of merely being normal, are therefore incapable of great good. It fails to acknowledge, or even recognize, that regular people very often do rise to the occasion.

Technocracy (Rule by the Experts)

One arrogant figure from history was Sir Francis Galton, who believed that the only way that a society could prosper would be if very smart people were always at the helm, to guide or direct the commoners.

The oldest surviving record of this view is in Plato's Republic, where it was conjectured that only if ruled by the very wisest of all could a society ever thrive.

That view, called technocracy, requires experts at the helm. Anything else, under that view, would be disastrous. Galton performed various tests supposedly showing how dumb an average person was.

But Galton was in for a surprise. At a local fair, people paid a small fee to put forward a guess about the weight of an ox on display, with a prize going out to those with the best guesses.

All kinds of people made guesses, including those with no special experience. Galton took 787 guesses from people and expected for the average guess to be far from the mark (because the people were not "experts").

The average of the guesses?: 1197 pounds
The true weight of the ox?: 1198 pounds

When averaged, the people got within one-tenth of 1% of the actual weight of the ox!

The Wisdom of Crowds

This amazing story was outlined in a book called The Wisdom of Crowds, written by New Yorker business columnist, James Surowiecki.

Other examples include a 1968 search for a lost submarine, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean over an area larger than the state of Wyoming. The submarine was eventually found only 220 yards from the average of the guesses.

One last example was the stock market uncovering which of 4 government contractors was at fault for the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, with that government contractor's stock shares being dumped.

The time it took "the crowd" to solve the mystery? Less than 1 hour.

It would take 3 more months before the government experts could discover who was at fault. But stock traders knew within just 1 hour.

Keep in mind that stock traders are not rocket scientists, i.e., they are not "experts" like those working for government -- who also took 3 months before they could discover the truth.

Also important is that it was government officials who originally signed off on the launch, even though the weather was cold and at least one engineer (cited below) warned them not to launch and personally refused to sign the launch papers.

Seven people needlessly died that day when the Challenger exploded.

The "experts" had gotten it wrong.

Follow-up analysis found no evidence of insider trades (CEO dumping his own stock, etc.), and the only explanation remaining is that several people, coming together, can rise to the occasion.

A Familiar Champion of Anti-Technocracy

The last piece of evidence which supports us holding a Convention of States -- even if only ordinary people would be sent as commissioners -- comes from a letter from George Washington to his nephew, Bushrod.

It is an amazing letter and I include a link to it below so that you can read the entire letter online.

Here is the relevant part which starts off with the admission that the Constitution is not a perfect document, and that if and when evils begin to flow from any imperfections, the remedy is the American people:

The warmest friends to and the best supporters of the Constitution, do not contend that it is free from imperfections; but these were not to be avoided, and they are convinced if evils are likely to flow from them, that the remedy must come thereafter; because, in the present moment it is not to be obtained.

And as there is a Constitutional door open for it, I think the people (for it is with them to judge) can, as they will have the aid of experience on their side, decide with as much propriety on the alterations and amendments wch shall be found necessary, as ourselves; for I do not conceive that we are more inspired—have more wisdem—or possess more virtue than those who will come after us.

The power under the Constitution will always be with the people. 

Notice how George Washington says that the people can decide just as well on the proper amendments as the founding fathers, themselves, can -- and how he expects that future people will not have less inspiration, wisdom, or virtue than that exemplified or personified by the original founding fathers.

In other words, George Washington did not put himself and his peers up on any kind of a pedestal, and he interpreted the nearly-perfect creation which came out of the 1787 convention as just the product of ordinary people, rising to the occasion.

Benjamin Franklin also commented at the time on how the men at the convention would be expected to have many wrong opinions and personal prejudices, and how that led him to be so surprised at witnessing this "system approaching so near to perfection as it does."

The Common Theme

A common theme from above is:

Do not sell the human spirit short, because common people very often rise to the occasion when vital solutions are needed.

We can, and should, move forward on a Convention of States. It is vitally needed, and we can rise to the occasion. Sometimes it takes a grand ordeal in order for the good to come out of people. Without having to go through the ordeal, that good sits dormant in the person -- unused potential good.

Well, we have an ordeal now, one big enough to call forward all the good that resides in regular people. This is exactly how George Washington predicted it'd have to be. Let's prove him right.

Let's hold a Convention of States for the purpose of proposing vital, nation-saving amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It is "our time" to step up now.

And let's now end with a quote from Peter Drucker. Pay special attention to the very last sentence:

No organization can depend on genius; the supply is always scarce and unreliable. It is the test of an organization to make ordinary human beings perform better than they seem capable of, to bring out whatever strength there is in its members, and to use each one’s strength to help all the others perform. The purpose of an organization is to enable common people to do uncommon things.

 

Reference

[The Wisdom of Crowds book, by James Surowiecki] From: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/68143.The_Wisdom_of_Crowds

[Letter from George Washington to Bushrod Washington, 9 November 1787] From: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-05-02-0388

[Engineer Who Opposed Challenger Launch Offers Personal Look at Tragedy] From: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/rn_Colloquium1012.html

[Ben Frankling commenting on how astonished he was that regular people with many errors of opinion and personal prejudices could produce something almost perfect] From: https://www.bfit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Benjamin-Franklin-Constitution-Speech.pdf

 

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