Prepare to be amazed at the wisdom of the crowd
Many just discard their New Year’s resolutions, but I’m a breed apart. Since the beginning of the year I have dutifully attached reader polls to the articles on my Substack blog (yes, we are cross-platform-promoting). I figured it’s engaging, potentially interesting, and offers a bonus for the hardy souls who pay a few bob for my blog (since I eventually hide the results behind a paywall).
The average poll gets between 30 and 50 responses, with some pushing 60. While that is a tiny fraction of the multitudes who subscribe (the precise information is on a need-to-know basis I’m afraid), I calculate with some degree of confidence that it’s a representative sample nonetheless.
Often the results are predictable. Everyone hated Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and wanted to ban assault weapons in the United States. My readers are not lunatics after all, and indeed two-thirds professed to be centrist liberals, which is logical as it’s the worldview I promote. None said they were progressives (!) while 13% claimed to be MAGA (which is actually so odd that I suspect a sort of hoax).
But some results surprised. Sometimes because I found them utterly ridiculous — and at other times because they conformed to my own view, which does not happen every day. Here, then, are the official Top Ten Most Surprising Results of the Ask Questions Later Polls, so far in 2023 (which means up to the date of my own birth).
This result should not have been so surprising since it is obviously correct. In what universe is it reasonable to obsess about the performance and fortunes of mercenaries fictitiously attached to cities where often one no longer lives (as I have not, in Philadelphia, for decades by this point)? Only 13% were willing to claim it was. I was pleased that almost half ruled that reality TV, a pet peeve of mine on a level with mosquitos, was considered by 37% to be just as idiotic.
The real question is how many of the 50% who called it a total waste of time (as I would have) are also rabid sports fans (as I am).
This one is really about the global cult of Putin, that marches on in a twisted sort of way despite all that’s happened in recent years. He actually gets credit not only for producing more effective propaganda than the Nazis, but also than “religious leaders over the years,” which beggars, as it were, belief.
Perhaps it is the amplificatory power of social media. Propaganda inflation, if you will.
This poll constitutes a shocking repudiation of the conventional wisdom in the news business about the willingness of consumers to pay for discrete items of content. Or rather, it would be shocking had publishers not already revealed themselves as serial blunderers in the digital ecosystem.
Having witnessed the inadequacy of the advertising model for their purposes, the owners and managers of news platforms have moved to paywalls that amount to an insistence that to read the equivalent of today’s paper one must subscribe. That obviously ridiculous idea is also at the heart of certain blogs, like Ask Questions Later.
I rate it as only somewhat surprising that 84% want to regulate artificial intelligence. By all accounts, most people don’t care much for regulation writ large. It smacks of quotas and bureaucracy and Big Brother and meddling and even communism. But this survey was carried out in the weeks after the release of ChatGPT took the world by storm and focused people’s minds on the possibility of their own redundancy. Hysteria will always trump principles, as any child knows.
This is another strange case in which the fact that almost everyone was so reasonable seemed to reflect a bizarro version of the world. Sure, it seems just that the Republicans should be spanked for actually blocking a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. But since when does justice matter?
Moreover, as we have seen, over an eight of readers claimed to be MAGA, which appears to be a major contradiction (unless you consider methodological aspects, which is really just a waste of previous time).
The period from the 1960s to the 1990s produced the Beatles, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, U2, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, and even decent songs in France. The current period produced Taylor Swift and the Weeknd. And yet almost exactly half prefer the present or see no difference. There obviously is, quite literally, no accounting for taste. We’d best move on.
I define ours as the Era of Great Mulishness. Once people are set in their ways, preferences and positions, however imbecilic or self-defeating they may be, a neutron bomb cannot dislodge them. Studies have blamed this on social media echo-chambers, and that sort of thing. So it is quite odd that 81% believe that “most people are reasonably open” to persuasion. I have no illusions that I can disabuse them.
A good number of my articles have been ruminations on liberal democracy — the idea that we require not only majority rule and free election but also liberties and rights and equality under the law and minority protections and so on. This is relevant because in quite a few places this idea is under attack — as it will be in the US (despite the Constitution) should Trump retake the White House in 2024.
Here’s the thing, though: My travels around the world have shown me with clarity that almost nowhere is this notion actually all that popular. It is basically a conceit of the educated elites — among whom I certainly count my readers. So imagine my surprise when only 44% of them said that the bells and whistles of liberal democracy are “critical” — and one in five disdained them. At least they are not, as so often is alleged, out of touch with ordinary people.
We are nearing the top of the pile, and this was in fact a very close runner-up.
The United States is the only developed nation where life expectancy is falling. It has more guns than people and cannot even get its act together to ban assault weapons. It has no guaranteed baseline of health insurance. It is beset by a toxic culture war that every day gets more absurd. Transparent gerrymandering is rampant, and the Electoral College enshrines minority rule. One of its two main political parties has gone totally off the rails, with the other one actually not that far behind. Europeans are demonstrably happier, live longer, and are vastly more buffered from the vagaries of that existence.
But only a tiny minority seem to think there is a problem. Perhaps I have more readers in Europe than I had thought! But even they should know that, as George W. Bush once famously said, “We got a issue in Merca.” And that wasn’t the most incredible thing he said on that occasion. Watch the short video below, which segues nicely to Number One.
I hate to end on a sour note, dear reader, but the winner, by a mile, can only be this one.
After all, it is by now axiomatic that the qualities needed to govern well (decency, intelligence, expertise, management skills) have next to nothing to do with those needed to get elected (mendacity, manipulativeness, and a dose of misanthropy at times). Looking around at the motley crew of elected leaders on the world stage, I begin to suspect that my readers are afflicted by the soft bigotry of low expectations.
So absurd is the result of this top-rated poll that I am at a loss for words. So I must turn to the timeless wisdom of the character Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld:
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Indeed, so interesting are these polls that I can but conclude the obvious: Despite the name I gave the blog, Ask Questions Later, there are times when you must, well, ask questions first.