The era of the warrior king was awe-inspiring. The leader that rode his troops into battle, survived arrow puncture wounds and chopped off a dozen enemy heads really earned the right to sit on that throne.
But over time, it became clear that the two skill-sets – sagacious governing and vigorous neck-hacking – were rarely found in the same individual.
We saw specialisation and gains from trade.
Kings paid knights to do their warring for them while Knights benefited from having a bookish type on the throne – someone inclined to spend hours contemplating the merits of the laws, rather than lifting heavy rocks.
So we come to modern politicians. There’s a lot of complaints that these people are “too dumb”.
But is that fair? Since when did we expect the parliament to do the heavy thinking to come up with new policies?
That’s why we have the public service, the think tanks, the vast commentariat. There is no shortage of good ideas in Australian politics. Take today’s call for the end of negative gearing, for example. That idea doesn’t need to be invented, just implemented.
What we need in parliament is people who can make parliament work.
We need coalition-builders. We need people other people are happy to follow. We need people who can bolt together a coalition of interested parties to make something happen. We need leaders.
But will that inspire and delight the community at large?
Recent evidence says no.
I’m not saying the level should be brought down that low, mind you. The politicians still need to be able to tell a good idea from a bad one.
The Dunning Kruger effect, wherein a person may be too stupid to tell they are stupid, is an ever-present risk among candidates for parliament. Many of them self-select, thinking they are the first person who ever wanted to take “common sense to Canberra”.
The structure of the political system also influences who you should vote for. If one person will rule, you want a sensible centrist. But where there’s lots of negotiation, you’re better off sending a hardline crazy person. (This may explain the Senate.)
There’s a roughly translated quote from Plato:
“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”
That may have been true once. But these days we are barely governed at all. Years pass without any real reform, while reams of sensible but bold recommendations printed on glossy A4 blow emptily round the inner-city streets of Canberra.
So don’t be afraid to vote for a Jock. Someone who seems smiley and friendly and very popular, if a little bit dim. Someone whose electoral success is not explained by a dazzling academic CV. They might be the the exact politician we need.