Culture, Education, Ideologies, Intelligence, Politics, Society, Village Idiots

Why Do We Allow Village Idiots in Positions of Trust and Power?

The other day, Mahendra asked a simple but surprisingly tough question in response to one of my posts.  After reading about the games the Texas State Board of Education has been playing with children’s science education in that state, he asked:

Why is it that the idiots seem to have so much power in making policy decisions, irrespective of country, type of government, language, culture, etc., etc.?

Of course, that’s not quite the same thing as asking why do people make idiotic mistakes.  So far as I can figure out, every person on earth will make idiotic mistakes from time to time.  Yet, there seems to be a remarkable difference between the occasional idiocy shown by most of us, and the sort of systematic idiocy shown by “village idiots” like Don McLeroy of the Texas State Board of Education.

I suspect one thing the internet has made clear to the many of us who read blogs from several lands is that no country or culture seems to be immune from the village idiot.  Moreover, it is evident the village idiot is all too often in a position to make foolish policies — policies that are often very costly to the rest of us.   But why is that found everywhere, irrespective of country, culture, system of government, type of economy, ideology, institutions, or social structure?  Why are there so many village idiots in charge, no matter where you go?

I can understand several reasons why there are village idiots.  And I can understand several reasons why village idiots sometimes come to power.  But what I don’t understand is why there seems to be no system of government, culture, etc. that has significantly reduced the likelihood of a village idiot finding him or herself in a position of power.  For if any society is much better than any other at keeping its village idiots out of power, I don’t know of it.

I’m probably overlooking some obvious explanation for the above, but at the moment at least, the question has me stumped.

5 thoughts on “Why Do We Allow Village Idiots in Positions of Trust and Power?”

  1. Paul, thank you – I am honored. You have expounded beautifully on my question, elaborating exactly what I meant. This is something I’ve thought about for a long time in vain.

    My usual allies for finding some reason or rationale behind apparent ’causelessness’ in human behavior and societies – Evolution and Economics – fail to answer this question. Neither are idiots in positions of power more suited to survive in evolutionary terms, nor are they the means to achieve economic prosperity. So, how come they still rule?


  2. The Peter Principle. In corporations, as well, I suspect, in governments, people rise to the highest level of their incompetence. They keep getting promoted until they land in a job they cannot accomplish.


  3. @ Mahendra: Evolution and economics do indeed seem inadequate here.

    @ Brian: Good point! Apathy and ignorance must contribute much to the rise of village idiots. But why does it seem our species has never found a way to nevertheless prevent their rise?

    @ Leguru: I wonder, though, why they are not quickly weeded out of the jobs they cannot handle?


  4. I cannot answer your question without speculation, but that won’t stop me from trying.

    The Village Idiots usually cloak themselves in religious or “conservative” principles. When the hoi polloi are a bit frightened of the future, or a lot frightened, these Village Idiots provide simple answers, specifically designed to reach down into the psyche of populations filled with uneasiness.

    Another attempt. Religion is nothing but a power game. Some “idiots” learn to work it in a “genius” fashion.


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