"An informed electorate is an essential prerequisite for democracy" was oft mentioned by (and quoted from) Thomas Jefferson and others in the early days of the US democratic system (1770's onwards). “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government”, he said. Among other things, this consideration led to the establishment of public libraries in the US for the electorate "to learn the lessons of history".
Two millennia earlier in Athens, around 400 BC, Plato despaired with democracy precisely because "ordinary people were too easily swayed by the emotional and deceptive rhetoric of ambitious politicians". Recognisable? Looking for a better system, in his work "Republic" he came up with a separation of "lovers of money", "lovers of honour" and "lovers of wisdom" so separating business, the military, and those capable of making the right choices. This last group consisted of scientists, scholars, high level experts and other sophisticates, the concept underlying his "philosopher-kings". Just to be sure, he also stated -much to the consternation of his contemporaries- that no member of the government should be allowed to own or accumulate property while in office. He did not want wisdom and government biased by self-interest either.
The best modern efforts to keep tyranny at bay include education (e.g. independent universities), free public access to information (e.g. libraries) and an independent press, and of course the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted to assist in its own way. Yet that is a far cry from what we now have in the UK:
- An explicitly political press -to persuade and outrage rather than to inform- was firmly in place in the UK over a century ago under Lord Northcliffe, a scale of control now surpassed by Rupert Murdoch. The rest of the press is also predominantly controlled by what Plato called "lovers of money", publishing what people will read and watch for distraction or political outrage, rather than what they need to know.
- Our education teaches, but teaches little critical thought and does not teach or even support dissent. It teaches admiration of the status quo, while failing to offer any tools to question this.
- Free access to information is (still) here, but what is most readily available is commercially or politically biased, and the effort required to find real facts and analysis is too great for most. Our universities are no longer independent and therefore cannot come to the rescue.
- The Brexit referendum voters did not have access to the necessary information, so the decision should be ignored. Whether "in" or "out" is best is irrelevant; we're discussing validity, not outcome. The debate has not yet taken place.
- The propaganda we are subject to is not about the war we are in the midst of. Yes, we are living in war-time, but not with the EU but with the world's greatest corporate powers. Our environment -our home and livelihood- is under sustained attack and it is losing: climate change will wreak havoc, cause hundreds of millions of deaths globally, displacement, hunger, thirst and poverty. Our oceans are dying rapidly, from over-exploitation and climate change. Our drinking water is being stolen and polluted. Our food is being poisoned and patented. Wars are being fought, refugees made, in our name yet for others' gain. Quick decisions are needed, and these will change the status quo. That requires concerted effort from governments and individuals, guided by science, and independent of the "lovers of money". The only alternative to this concerted effort appears to be revolution, and that would be deadly too.
Sources: http://www.politheo.com/thomasjefferson.html; https://scholarsandrogues.com/2010/06/13/jefferson-self-governance-and-the-field-of-knowledge/ ; http://faculty.frostburg.edu/phil/forum/PlatoRep.htm; John Simpson, "Unreliable Sources", p177