The individuals of the submerged mass may not be very wise. But there is one thing they are wiser about than anybody else can be, and that is where the shoe pinches, the troubles they suffer from.

John Dewey[1]

[It wasn’t easy, you know. I mean, it wasn’t easy to find that quote. I knew it existed because many, many years ago one of my excellent teachers told me about it, and the reference stuck, waiting to be used. But let’s back up. John Dewey was a philosopher, who was active in the 19th and 20th Centuries. He died in 1952.[2] He was very influential in his day, and a lot of his early work is in the public domain; Project Gutenberg, for example, lists 17 early titles you can download for free.[3] Our quote doesn’t come from any of those; but instead from a partial excerpt of another piece available on the internet.[4]

Unfortunately, the remaining online material seems to be firmly under the control of something called the Dewey Center, hosted by Southern Illinois University.[5] This includes the book where our quote was born, The Public and Its Problems [PAIP], published in 1927.[6] That’s where Dewey first put forth his view of cobblers and other experts, and why they should listen to the public, and that’s the reference we really wanted.

So if you want a copy of John Dewey’s later works – including PAIP  –  you have to order it from a cooperative library, if there is one in your area; and then you have to wait. Good luck on that. If you’re on a schedule, even one as loose as ours, there’s really no time to deal with surly librarians and the mysteries of inter-library loans. Also libraries are insular places, accustomed to a known set of users, usually the very young, the old or the unemployed; and librarians tend to get upset when strangers arrive to look at their books.

Now you may think I’m being unkind, and certainly I don’t have anybody specific in mind when I say this; but really, if you have the time to experiment, try going to a library you don’t ordinarily visit and see for yourself. Are the staff immediately “on guard” when you, the stranger, show up? Do they inspect and patrol the area where you sit? What about the users? Are they agitated? Do they glance furtively in your direction, spend a lot of time walking by wherever you are, and otherwise just mill around? Do you feel like someone who has wandered into the territory of a hostile tribe? If so, you’re correct! And what do hostile tribes do to strangers?]

Moving on, lacking the book we wanted, we did something we normally don’t; we relied on secondary sources. Dewey’s book, the primary source, was more or less unavailable when we needed it, so we moved on to essays about the book. Fortunately there were some good ones out there, one by Melvin Rogers [7] and others by Shane Ralston[8] and Tony DeCesare.[9] [By the way, I don’t know any of these people; I’m judging them strictly on what they wrote, and how helpful it was.] They’ll have to do for this post, although perhaps I’ll add some of Dewey’s later work to our library in the not-too-distant future.

So why are we even talking about John Dewey? Well, because he best explains what’s going on this primary season, and identifies a malady that’s common to both Republicans and Democrats. Think about it for a moment. The Democrat Establishment seems bent on nominating Hillary Clinton to run for President later this year, but she’s having a lot of trouble making that happen. She’s being opposed by an obscure senator from Vermont, a Socialist rather than a Democrat, who runs with crowd-sourced funding and wins primaries. If she is nominated, her opponent in the general election no doubt will be Donald Trump, a billionaire who has been around for a long time, but is relatively new to the Republican Party. The Republican Establishment really doesn’t like him – he’s not Conservative enough for them – but, after a brutal primary season, he’s got the votes. So it looks like they’re going to kiss and make up.

So what’s common to both? Hillary Clinton, a child of her Establishment, represents it well; she’s promising to continue down the path of Barrack Obama, although most likely at a snail’s pace; but many Democrats simply aren’t buying that program at any speed. They want something new [or perhaps old, like socialism] and different, not the same old nostrums. Donald Trump, on the other hand, competed in a field of 15 [or 16, I forget which] other candidates, most of whom vehemently declared that they were far more Conservative than he. He won out, I would submit, because he didn’t promise to do the same old GOP kind of things. Like it or not, he proposed junking a lot of past strategies and programs, in order to “make America great again.”

Not to make too fine a point of it, there’s great dissatisfaction in the electorate. Hillary Clinton is fighting in the name of the status quo, and that’s not working very well. Donald Trump styles himself an outsider, argues for change, and has profited from it. And why is the electorate of both parties so disturbed, and why didn’t politicians realize it sooner? Well, this brings us back to John Dewey.

Back in the 1920’s public intellectuals had a great debate about just how useful voters really were in managing a democracy. One group, as exemplified by Walter Lippman, a great pundit of that time, argued that ordinary citizens aren’t really competent to govern. They act on stereotypes, because they’re too busy and ignorant to do otherwise, and really don’t understand where their best interests lie. It’s far better to leave actual government to leaders and experts, who “can render superior evaluations and decisions, since they have the time and training to collect ‘intelligence’ and craft appropriate policy instruments.”[10] Or, put another way, ”[t]he average citizen cannot come close to having the scope and depth of undistorted knowledge of the world necessary to manage political affairs.”[11] Of course, citizens do have the right to vote, but they should confine their other political activities to “occasional mobilizations” to support or oppose those who actually govern.[12]

John Dewey didn’t go that far. Expertise is a wonderful thing, to be sure; especially when the experts are correct. But how do you know when they are? In Washington, D.C. we have experts of every stripe and caliber, with lots of opinions on every issue, each competing for the attention of our leaders. They can’t all be right, so how does one pick and choose? Is it just a matter of ideology? If so, then we’re not talking about expertise; we’re talking about religion, and revealed truth that must be accepted regardless of facts.

Dewey didn’t recommend granting all authority to experts and leaders. He agreed that the public are not always the brightest bulbs in the national basket, but didn’t agree that they should be ignored. If our experts and leaders were cobblers, they would know how to make shoes; but that wouldn’t guarantee that the shoes will fit everyone [or anyone, for that matter] who buys them. If you want to make shoes that fit, you have to ask the customer if they do. The shoemaker and the customer have to be partners.[13] If the experts [today, the elites] don’t do that, they leave the public at the mercy of political power, “rather than in control of directing that power toward beneficial ends.”[14]

So what’s happening today? Well, in my opinion Hillary Clinton’s difficulties and Donald Trump’s successes both show the same thing: that large numbers of voters are very unhappy with their lives. Metaphorically speaking, the policy shoes devised by our elites pinch badly. There’s blood on the floor and possibly gangrene in the future.  What exactly are voters unhappy about? I haven’t done a poll, but I’ll guess that the root cause is money:  Most people don’t have enough of it. Instead they have bad jobs [if any] with no future, bills, unexpected expenses, bill collectors, incessant calls, immigration and global outsourcing.

The shocking thing is that our elites, and their media, don’t seem to understand this. I guess they don’t pick up on it because they, themselves are financially secure, and don’t have the problem. It must be great to be insulated that way from your and my reality.

Your friend,

G. Sallust

 

[1] This is from John Dewey, an American philosopher of the 19th and 20th Centuries. He died in 1952. If you want to know more about him, take a look at the Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dewey For those of you who are more academically inclined, there’s also a pretty good write-up on John Dewey in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at  Dewey’s Political Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dewey-political/

[2] See n. 1.

[3] For a list of all the Dewey books at Project Gutenberg, go http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/446 . One of the notable titles available there is Dewey, How We Think (Heath, 1910), available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/37423/37423-h/37423-h.htm For another list of free downloads go to the University of  Pennsylvania at http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Dewey%2c%20John%2c%201859%2d1952

[4] It’s excerpted from School and Society, John Dewey, Democracy and Educational Administration (April 3, 1937), at p. 457-67. The excerpted version, not the original, is available from the University of Nevada, Reno, i.e., at http://wolfweb.unr.edu/homepage/lafer/dewey%20dewey.htm

[5] See The Dewey Center, at http://deweycenter.siu.edu/

[6] See Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (Holt, 1927) Wikipedia has a brief description of the book, at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Public_and_its_Problems

[7] See Contemporary Pragmatism, Rogers, Introduction: Revisiting the Public and Its Problems (June, 2010), available at http://pages.uoregon.edu/koopman/courses_readings/dewey/rogers_ContPrag_PP_issue_intro.pdf  Hereafter this will be cited as Rogers at __.

[8] See Philosophy in Review, Ralston, John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems: An Essay in Political Inquiry (book review) (2014), available at http://www.academia.edu/7823906/John_Dewey_The_Public_and_Its_Problems_Edited_and_Introduced_by_Melvin_Rogers . Hereafter, the book review will be cited as Ralston at __.

[9] See Philosophical Studies in Education, DeCesare, The Lippman-Dewey “Debate” Revisited, The Problem of Knowledge and the Role of Experts in Modern Democratic Theory (2012), available at  http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1000304.pdf Hereafter this article will be cited as DeCesare at __.

[10] See Ralston at p. 12.

[11] See DeCesare at p. 109.

[12] Id. at 110.

[13] See Ralston at p. 12. “He [Dewey] agrees with Lippmann’s discussion of stereotypes and the poverty of the public’s knowledge in decision making [ . . . ] Yet, he takes issue with both the emphasis Lippmann places on educating “officials and directors” over and against the public and his corollary belief that experts do not need to be informed by or receive input from the public.’ In reviews of Lippmann’s two books and in The Public and Its Problems, Dewey proposed a more optimistic and collaborative solution. It is perhaps best captured in his shoe analogy: the shoe wearer qua citizen understands where the shoe is poorly fitted (‘pinches’), whereas the cobbler qua expert understands how to address the problem of poor fit (‘how the trouble is to be remedied’); so, the best solution is for them to partner in the enterprise of good governance.”

[14] See Rogers at p. 4.

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