The Wisdom of Crowds

THE CONTRARIAN — Contrarians like the book “The Wisdom of Crowds”, by James Suroweiki. It starts with the premise that there is a thread of common opinion or belief in any large group of people. It offers case histories to demonstrate that this common opinion always leads to better outcomes for the group than the direction in which any elite tries to lead them.

This of course is the basis of the political philosophy classically called “Populism”

Classical Populism seeks to determine the common wishes of the people, and govern so these common wishes are met. Of course the trick is to determine what that common opinion is – people have all kinds of side issues, they tend to repeat what they have been told, and to tell interviewers what they think the interviewers want to hear, so it takes some digging.

Preston Manning is Canada’s primary Populist, and back about 1989 it was his particular genius to set down a program which nicely encapsulated Canadian common opinion, what he would call “the common sense of the common people”. I would summarize it as ‘we are sick and tired of an educated elite using government’s power to try to change us from what we are to what they think we should be’. When the Readers Digest published a well-written summary of Preston’s program (April 1991, if my memory is any good), millions of Canadians breathed a sigh and said, “finally, someone who is expressing exactly what I think”, and thousands sat down and wrote a check to join Preston’s Reform Party. It quickly became the largest political movement in terms of members in Canadian history, outnumbering all three traditional parties combined, and most of the members had never joined any political party before, truly a ground-swell in Canadian politics.

In hindsight, I think that another thread of that common sense of the common people is the realization that the huge disconnect between what the people think, and what our leadership thinks, leaves Canada vulnerable to takeover by a Hitler or Castro demagogue. Perhaps Reform was too much of a one-man show, and Preston too effective a public speaker for his own good. This coupled with the massive and unrelenting propaganda campaign by our Educated Elite telling us that only an evil and rotten person would support the Reform resulted in many members quietly, even sheepishly slinking away, repudiating their membership and pretending it never happened.

Of course a new and wildly popular movement attracted large numbers of opportunists and ideologues and wingnuts and weirdo’s. Preston and his disciples went to Ottawa, and were infected with the brain-rot that seems to get everybody who goes there. Between the ideologues and the brain-rot, the notion of ‘unite the right’ took hold. This is just plain silly – there was no ‘right’ to unite – populist Reformers had more in common with rank and file NDP (which grew out of a populist movement, the CCF), than with the Progressive Conservative party, which had for decades been refashioning itself into a slightly more class-conscious (some would say snooty) version of the Liberal party. Canada needed two Liberal parties like I need a third ear growing in the middle of my forehead (actually, maybe that’s not a bad idea – I might listen more and talk less). But that is what we ended up with, as Populist Reform was destroyed and subsumed in the new Conservative party.

So we common people get to choose between three parties, Tweedle-dee, Tweedle-dum, and Tweedle-dopey, all under control of an elite stuck on the ideas of 1960’s California university students, and we are more cynical than ever. And therefore even more vulnerable to a Hitler-type takeover.
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I wrote all this several years ago, (never published anywhere), and ran across it while cleaning up my files. I believe the ‘common sense of the common people now is “we are even more sick and tired of an educated elite using government’s power to try to change us from what we are to what they think we should be.” Over the 20 years since Reform was destroyed, we have seen our rights to privacy, property, free speech, eroded, our opportunities strangled with miles of red tape and regulation, our services and benefits rationed.

The ‘educated elite’ has become an entrenched Establishment with the support of both big government and big corporations bent on destroying entrepreneurship and small business and social structure, we will all be sheep and the Establishment will be the shepherds. They have redefined ‘populism’ as any who disagree with any part of their one world, sheep and shepherd agenda, and equate it with ignorance, stupidity, even tribalism. So you have to know what kind of populism we are talking about – classical Populism good, newly defined populism bad.

It seems a pretty good bet that there will be a clash between the real people and that agenda-driven Establishment, and the outcome is not likely to be pleasant.

Just a cynical opinion from a contrarian.

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