Sun, May 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Intellectuals hide behind pretense of democracy

By Hsu Yung-ming 徐永明

Many intellectuals recently voiced their concern that Taiwan's democratic development is moving toward populism. To them, the election was full of political manipulation. Voters' rational judgment was impaired by such decisions as holding a referendum on the day of the presidential election and the shooting incident that occurred on the eve of the election.

They argued that older voters with a lower education level in the south supporting Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) were the ones most likely to be influenced. Therefore, they mistrusted the election results and even contended that the idea of pushing forward localization was nothing but obscurantism.

These discourses are interwoven with prejudices -- first, that intellectuals are more sensible than ordinary people and that they are responsible for educating the public; and second, that people can be easily manipulated, especially by the electoral process, which tends to obscure truths. So they believe that voters will make wrong decisions and that the entire process is a matter of populistic manipulation.

Such an assessment contradicts the democratic principle that every vote has the same value. The rationale behind anonymous voting is to respect each voter's decision regardless of financial conditions or intellectual capability.

The difference between intellectuals and ordinary people does not lie in the value of their votes, but in the discourse resources accessible to the former.

Ignoring the value of people making their own decisions, these intellectuals are being arrogant. The new democracy they uphold is in fact elitism, a practice that violates the equality of human rights. If decisions made by voters are judged by external criteria, such as their academic achievements, place of residence or their social or economic status, then what these intellectuals are pursuing is pseudo-democracy.

With pseudo-democracy comes pseudo-science. Typical of pseudo-science is a recent argument stating that the number of invalid votes cast in the presidential election proves vote-rigging. It embodies the arrogance and anti-intellectualism of the intellectuals.

The intellectuals' arrogance was made evident by their efforts to dress their underlying prejudices in a scientific disguise of numbers, statistics and technical terms. Totally ignoring the practical operation of electoral affairs, they simply use their "academic point of view" to accuse tens of thousands of electoral personnel of vote-rigging, which is practically no different from the Inquisition during the Middle Ages.

The intellectuals' anti-intellectualism is made evident by their attempts to cover their political prejudices behind an academic appearance, which is even used to justify their political preferences. Surprisingly, this is the norm in academic circles. Especially for Taiwanese scholars, who are faced with specialist division of labor and whose academic survival is based on churning out papers, there is a difference between the production of academic articles and the ideal of seeking the truth. Instead we find that their academic skills have become effective tools for producing "truths" -- even with faulty logic behind it, academic discovery is always valued higher.

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