Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Flynn Effect

The Flynn Effect is the term used to describe the rise in average IQs in the population. There is much debate as to the cause of this: it may be improved education, better nutrition, the modern stimulus of a diverse media or heterosis (genetic mixing). Unfortunately, recent studies have shown a levelling out of average IQ results, especially in developed countries, and even a small decline.
It has been suggested that an intelligent electorate with a good level of education is a prerequisite for Interactive Democracy. I'm all for an education system that concentrates on teaching diverse ways of how to think, rather than what to think, and I'd like to see wide use of the techniques promoted by De Bono and Tony Buzan. However, the difference between the most intelligent people in the country and the average intelligence is likely to remain pretty much the same, even with better education, in which case why not continue to pursue a political meritocracy such as representative democracy? If you accept that representative democracy has its faults and that it could be improved by more electorate power (as I argue on this blog), then waiting for a better educated, more intelligent population means we may be waiting forever.
Instead I'd prefer to see a slow and experimental progression towards ID. The first step could be an ePetition system that forces Parliamentary debate on popular issues, like a more powerful version of the one already employed in the Scottish Parliament.
It's also worth noting that the Swiss direct democracy system has evolved over the last 150 years, starting with a population that wasn't educated to today's standards and didn't benefit from any of the drivers of the Flynn effect. Neither did they have a diverse media or the web to inform their choices, facilitate research or stimulate debate.
Jim Flynn is the Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Anonymous said...

The model of I.D. that has evolved in the Swiss context seems to me a world away from your I.D. proposal (if I have missinterpreted your position I apologize). The Swiss system, however laudable, is a top down generated system. I am sure there are from time to time issues that become impossible for the governing class to ignor and so they act, but the flow of legislation is, as in the U.K.,down hill, from Parliamentarian to Proletarian, they set the agenda.
I personnally like the Swiss model because it avoids some of the flaws of a system led by the masses. The masses comprise individuals who have a wide range of interests and political goals and absolutly no responsibility whatsoever for the effective implementation or funding of a particular pieace of legislation. This would be a very toxic mix indeed. Like it or not those who are engaged in politics have a responsibility to at least attempt to formulate policies that can mesh not only with existing legislation but also spending restraints and the desires of the people. There are, if we are honest, absolute political limits on what can and should be done regardless of the will of a miriad disparate (and often even desperate) I.D. voters. The political class with all its faults stear the country on a far steadier course. This is why all the parties are so very close in broad policy terms. Having said all this I accept completly that the law of unintended consequences is, even with all the checks and balances, an ever present and seemingly unconquerable foe.
Concerning your point on intellegence I do not think it either particularly sensible or desirable to worry about raising the I.Q. of the general population, especially when you concider that having an extremely high I.Q. has at present no correlation with the acceptance of either true or highly likely propositions. A very good childhood friend of mine is a member of mensa and is clearly very intellegent and yet he strongly asserts that life on this planet arose as a result of alien intervention. I would have thought that it is right to develop a population who are not only intellegent but who are also able to evaluate evidence and respect the the fact that the most likely of two contradictories, however unsatisfying is the correct answer.
In closing I would like to ask you to develop the notion of 'political meritocracy,' as I am curious to understand what you mean by it, and in what way you think we are currently lacking.

About Interactive Democracy said...

I've just added a post about how referendums are triggered in Switzerland. However, once a petition triggers a referendum it becomes a top down process, which I think is essential for writing good law.
Though the proletariat may make demands, they are also responsible for paying for them through taxes. However, implemenation of policy may be very much more difficult than demanding it and I agree that this is a good reason to ensure that the Government and Parliament stay central to the process. Political leadership will likely calculate the costs and highlight implementation problems as part of the debate. Likewise, the scientific community should contribute their evidence and I'd like to see meta studies publicly funded to help avoid bias.
I'll try and write something about political meritocracies - thanks for your prompt.