“I am,” he said. “I’m against binge drinking and I want to clean up our town centres which I think have been blighted by binge drinking for far too long. And I also as Health Secretary recognise that alcohol addiction is actually the primary cause of liver disease where we actually have the worst survival rates in Western Europe…so I’m very sympathetic to it. But I want to see what the results of the consultation.”
The above is regarding a proposal to impose minimum prices on alcohol in Britain. Ontario has had a similar policy for decades. Not sure if it's cut down on the binge drinking. Then again the British have a bizarre fascination with getting drunk. To those of us raised by continental Europeans, to whom alcohol is used to improve an experience rather than dull it, the Anglo-Saxons inability to handle their drink is a source of strange amusement. It's more of a cultural thing. The only noticeable binge drinking in Portugal is among the English tourists who infest the Algarve.
Every country has its quirks. The Portuguese have spent much of the last forty years electing economically illiterate socialists into power. Town centres full of drunken idiots seems comparatively sensible. Yet this raises an intriguing questions: What to do when surrounded by stupid and vulgar people?
This is a constant issue for me as I take the TTC on a daily basis. The Toronto subway system can be described as the world's largest moving homeless shelter. Even the passengers that seem employed, or even employable, emit a faint odour of idiocy. For those lucky few who have never smelled the odour of idiocy, it smells like staleness, the particular type of staleness depending on the individual.
This is not, I must stress, a political issue. I have no idea what these people's politics might be or if they have the cranial capacity to vote. It's entirely possible that many of them think that Stephen Harper is a sort of hereditary monarch or tribal chieftain. I've actually meet a few university graduates who have no idea that Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister or what a prime minister actually does. I've met rather a lot of people who think that Stephen Harper is responsible for fixing the potholes on their street. These are people born and raised in Canada.
This is not a Right or Left thing. There are stupid people in every political party, in every race, creed and class. There are stupid people in very high places in this country. Again that's not a cheap shot. I've meet senior executives at large corporations, ministers of the crown and prominent public figures who are utterly incompetent, they do however look and sound competent. Sounding and looking competent is often more important than being competent. Why? Because a large section of the populace is too witless or inattentive to notice or understand competence. Instead they go by what they can grasp, the mere appearance of competence.
Bringing politics into this for a moment. The success of Dalton McGuinty is proof that much of the electorate is quite stupid. This isn't an ideological thing. The Dalt had no ideology, no plan and no direction. He just bribed some people with other people's money. That's it. The Premier of Ontario for nearly a decade was utterly brazen in what was not so much a strategy as a reflex. Bob Rae had a plan, a very bad plan but a plan. Mike Harris also had a plan, which was mostly a good plan. I suspect Kathleen Wynne has a plan too. It's likely a plan almost as bad as Bob Rae's. But at least the lady has put some thought into it. There are glimmers of intelligence absent from her predecessor.
Perhaps the Dalt was a Machiavellian genius who only pretended to be a wooden idiot. I doubt it. He was nothingness reflecting off the nothingness of an increasingly dull electorate. A century and a half ago Robert Lowe, in administering the nascent British state school system, declared that "we must educate our masters." He was following the standard classical liberal line that a mass democracy required an educated electorate. In proposing this bold new vision they imagined that the common man would receive a more modest version of their own classical education.
Not quite what happened. We have mass schooling certainly, I doubt we have mass education.
I've been asked from time to time whether, based on my research over the years, if the mass of the population has gotten less intelligent. If the Flynn Effect is to be believed the answer is no. That said I've never placed too much stock in IQ tests. They seem to test only certain aspects of intelligence, the ability to quickly process certain types of patterns. While no doubt useful for sorting out applicants in certain careers, it tells us little about the test taker's grasp of the problems of life. It confirms the ability to perform a useful and perhaps quite profitable trick, though says nothing about the individual's capacity to engage and understand issues and problems. It is a limited and somewhat shallow measure of human abilities.
Frankly, I've known too many people with high IQs who are shockingly stupid. I recall one law professor my mother worked for who could not, despite his high education and prominent position, screw in a light bulb. That's neither an exaggeration or a joke. My mother had to bite her tongue while this eminence gazed deeply into the socket, pondering it the way Issac Asimov had once pondered the stars. This was more than mere physical ineptness or other worldliness, this was a certain type of problem he was incapable of grasping.
How do you deal with such people? Do you nanny them with regulations and minimum prices like the modern British government? Can you safely leave them alone? Am I being a crank by even writing this piece? Honestly at this point I'm open to any possibilities.