In today's world, whether in Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, or Western society, the prevalence of populism is universal, and a large number of anti-intellectual voices are constantly heard, which makes many people feel sad. The narrow nationalism and extreme leftism in Chinese mainland, as well as the Donald Trump phenomenon in the United States, have strong populist undertones, despite their different backgrounds.
Populism is a concept that originated in the 19th century, and it can be literally translated as "populism" or "popularism", which was not a derogatory term at first, but after complex historical changes and political concepts, it has gradually been associated with anti-intellectualism and anti-eliteism, and generally refers to the irrational aspects that exist widely in people's public life.
In modern society, people's public literacy and rational level of political participation directly affect the quality of politics. In order to curb populism and improve the public literacy of citizens, many countries and regions have made long-term efforts, such as a higher level of education, the progress of the media, and the facilitation of information dissemination, so that the popularization of knowledge, culture and information has reached a breadth unprecedented in human history. This is an era of unprecedented equilibrium of knowledge, culture and information in human history, as well as an era of unprecedented inflation of knowledge, culture and information. The public opinion field is uneven, mud and sand are all down, who is justified is often overshadowed by whom's voice, and the phenomenon of bad money driving out good money is not uncommon.
On December 2018, 12, pro-Brexit protesters held a demonstration in central London to demand that the authorities conclude Brexit negotiations as soon as possible. （Getty）
In many countries and regions, political life and the arena of public opinion are still often shrouded in the shadow of populism, and a significant number of citizens are Italian-American, and the famous American political thinker Giovanni Sartori wrote that "citizens have no opinion on many things, but only inexplicable feelings that arise from changes in mood and feelings". Sartori once wrote, not without disappointment, "Reading and literacy may be a necessary condition for true citizenship, but a man can be well educated and know little about politics." By the same token, a decent standard of living is a sine quanon, but political participation does not grow significantly with the spread and growth of wealth – both quantitatively and qualitatively... Thus, despite a century of efforts, it seems that we have not achieved a considerable victory in changing the ratio of the indifferent citizen to the active citizen for the better. It would be a mistake to assert that our treatment has changed the behavior of ordinary voters.
Today, as in the past, the citizen of a democracy in most cases does not know what the crux is, what the plan is proposed and what the possible outcome is, and he does not even know what the candidate for public office (political party or not) is in his position."
Why is this happening?
The formation of people's cognitive level is not only inseparable from the external environment, such as the shaping of family, school, media, community, and government, but also highly restricted by individual factors, such as talent, diligence, willingness, and mind. A good external environment can create favorable conditions for the improvement of people's cognitive level, but it cannot prevent a person from sliding into populism. An open, fair and high-quality external environment is crucial, but personal factors are also crucial.
One of the fundamental reasons for the worldwide prevalence of populism is precisely the personal factor, the core of which lies in self-interested rationality or economic rationality. The "rational person" hypothesis is not only applicable to economics, but can also be used in a wider range of fields. As long as a person does not lose his intelligence, he can weigh the pros and cons under the impetus of self-interested rationality. Because different people are familiar with different fields and critical thinking abilities, it is inevitable that different people will sometimes have different judgments and tendencies on the same thing, but most of the time they are in line with their own self-interested rational logic based on their own familiar fields and critical thinking ability.
Marie Le Pen, president of the National Front, France's far-right presidential candidate, participates in a campaign rally in the southern French port city of Marseille on April 2017, 4. （Getty）
The application of self-interested or economic rationality to political life and public opinion shows that being a professional with insight into public issues is not consistent with the self-interested or economic rationality of many people. In a modern society with a high degree of division of labor, if we accept the basic fact that no one is omniscient, then it is not difficult to understand that anyone who wants to become a professional in one or more public spheres cannot do without a long enough period of study and thinking. This can be regarded as an investment, which takes a long time and costs a lot of money. Under the premise of the same level of intelligence and diligence, the more knowledge and information a person has and the higher the quality, the more likely he is to make a relevant professional judgment in the corresponding field. On the other hand, if a person's knowledge and information are limited and superficial, and they are limited to hearsay, then it is likely that it will be difficult for him to make in-depth judgments about the corresponding field. This is the difference between a true professional and a taxi driver who likes to talk about the world's major events in the eyes of many.
The costs and benefits of becoming professionals with insight into public issues vary dramatically. Generally speaking, a person can be called a professional in public issues only because his profession, his vital interests, and his interests are closely related to public issues, and he is willing and able to bear the cost of becoming a professional. It is for this reason that, in reality, professionals who can become professionals in the field of political life and public opinion are often in the minority, either in the corresponding work, or who have a strong interest in self-investment and sufficient resources to support themselves in the field. In addition, most of the other people, because their work, vital interests, and interests are relatively limited in their relevance to political life and the field of public opinion, and they are unwilling or unable to bear the cost of learning and thinking to become professionals, so unless a public issue is purely within the realm of common sense and reason or political activities have reached an extraordinary period that concerns the vital interests of all, they often lack a strong incentive to become professionals in public issues governed by self-interested reason.
Many people are not engaged in work related to political life and public opinion, they either lack a strong interest in becoming professionals, or are only satisfied with being a keyboard warrior or boasting in social situations, and the benefits they get from changing political life and public opinion will be diluted by the whole public, and the free-riding psychology is inevitable, and the cost of becoming a professional may not be what they can and are willing to bear. The populist tendencies in the field of public opinion are the natural result of a considerable number of people driven by self-interested rationality. Of course, people should try to reduce or moderate populism, but sometimes it is not necessary to be overly concerned about the self-interested rationality of many people who slide into populism. A society can encourage people to transcend personal gains and losses, improve civic literacy, and discover people with both ability and moral integrity who are interested in public service, but it cannot change the status quo of many people who slide into populism because of self-interest and rationality.
Today's world has entered the era of mobile networks, and anyone with a device connected to the network can speak freely to a considerable extent. This means that the number of people involved in political life and public opinion is on an unprecedented scale. However, under the domination of self-interest and rationality, the differentiation of different people due to class, occupation, and interest has caused a considerable number of people to unconsciously slide into populism. This is a sad but unavoidable reality. The spread of knowledge and education, the development of media and information technologies, and an open and pluralistic political environment are certainly very conducive to the progress of a society, but in the foreseeable future, populism will continue to be a lingering shadow on a global scale due to the differentiation of different people according to their classes, occupations, and interests.
Since the emergence of populism is in line with the self-interested rationality of a considerable number of people, in addition to actively creating a good external environment, an effective way to get rid of populism is to take advantage of the situation on the basis of facing up to the fact that many people's populism is in line with their self-interested rationality, and through the construction of a reasonable and ingenious political system, populism can be restrained, and the rationality of different people can be used in the appropriate public field.
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