[A spaceship has just reached Earth…]
“A hatchway opened, crashed down through the Harrods Food Halls, demolished Harvey Nichols, and with a final grinding scream of tortured architecture, toppled the Sheraton Park Tower. After a long, heart-stopping moment of internal crashes and grumbles of rending machinery, there marched from it, down the ramp, an immense silver robot, a hundred feet tall.
It held up a hand.
“I come in peace,” it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, “take me to your Lizard.”
Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat with Arthur and watched the nonstop frenetic news reports on television, none of which had anything to say other than to record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this totally other number of people, and then say it again, because the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error messages.
“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”
“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”
Ford shrugged again.
“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.””
(here’s the book)
“democracy made it possible to have status games where people didn’t argue about religion and politics started to matter a lot when it came to tribal affiliation. As the power of the state grew, handling more and more stuff, dealing with all kinds of related – and unrelated – stuff, it became a lot easier to use political cues as tribal markers. Political discussions got both complex enough for people to use discussion performance as an ability and loyalty signal, and the matters the politicians dealt with became important enough to merit people’s attention, at least in theory.
So people started telling their children both which god to believe in and which politician to vote for. They told their children. And they spent a lot of time arguing with other people, the other people who’d found out that ‘politics is the new religion’.
Some people enjoy political debates. Perhaps they like the mental gymnastics that some other people might get by dealing with mathematics or playing chess. Perhaps they think their opinion is important, that other people care about it. Maybe they think that they can change other people’s minds and thereby support the group by converting others to group X, just as they’re told to do by their politicians (and priests).
A lot of political views have an important value as a signal about which kind of person you are and/or which kind of person you’d like to be. Part of why you dislike the ‘opponent’ is that you disagree with him, but that’s not really all there’s to it. It’s also that you don’t trust him. He didn’t bow to Huitzilopochtli. His political views might have no influence on anything relevant to your relationship; you might be perfectly able to meet with him, have a long talk with him about his life, his family, his work, his hobbies – and you might end up being his best friend. Only that’s usually not how it goes, because when you hear about that ‘troublesome’ view on ‘the environment’/’god’/’fiscal sustainability’ you tend to make the ‘troublesome’ views relevant, because – he didn’t bow to Huitzilopochtli. Some people overcome politics by finding another individual with the same views or views which are dissimilar but unimportant, because their parents taught them the magic of ‘you should be able to be friends with everybody’ – which works for both until they meet a guy who bows to Huitzilopochtli. He will not be friends with them until they bow to Huitzilopochtli, and just a bow usually isn’t enough. So they have a tribe too which they’re forced into, even if they’d like not to be tribes members at all.
It’s not that political views matter in the big picture. Your political views that is. They don’t, they really don’t. But they matter in the small picture. Once a societal norm is firmly established it tends to get a life of its own. So people talk about windmills and fat taxes and public pension schemes instead of whether they should pray to Ares or Dionysus. If you talk about it many hours each year, you watch news and so on much of which is also just political posturing and games, then to actually go to the election booth on election day and cast your vote isn’t really a big deal. Also, politicians like voters more than supporters who don’t vote, just like priests like believers who give money to the church more than believers who don’t, so there’s consensus in the tribe that voting is the correct behavior, and if you don’t vote, you don’t bow to Huitzilopochtli and then you’d better have a good explanation.”
I should probably link to this one too (in Danish). And maybe this and this as well (in English). Yeah, a bit snarky, I know: “The illusion of control is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events, for instance to feel that they control outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over.”
No, in case you were wondering this post didn’t take long to write, it was just adding text and links from bookmarks collected at random points in time. I’ve never spent less time dealing with an election. Not wasting my time with this stuff was a good idea.
I spent a bit of time at Statistikbanken (Statbank Denmark) yesterday, below are some numbers from it that might be of interest. When you click the link you get to the front page of the site – now, if you look to the right there’s a small Union Jack which says ‘English’ if you hover over it. Click this and you get to the English version of the site. I don’t think all of the stuff at the Danish version of the site has been translated at the English link – but a lot of stuff has, so if you’re a foreigner curious about Denmark and the Danes, go take a look..
i. This part contains data from ‘KRHFU1: Befolkningens højeste fuldførte uddannelse (15-69 år) efter område, herkomst, uddannelse alder og køn’.
In 2010, when looking at the age segment of Danes who were 30-34 years old, 20494 Danish males and 22812 Danish females had as the highest achieved education level completed a ‘long-cycle higher education’ (I think this is the term they use in the English version of the data; in Danish it’s just ‘lang videregående uddannelse’. It corresponds to an education level above BA-level but below PhD-level, i.e. Master’s Degree or equivalent). Notice that more females than males at that age has completed this level of education. This is also true after you correct for the fact that there are more males than females in that age segment of the population; in total, there were 177078 males and 176291 females in that age segment of the Danish population. In terms of percentages of the total population in the specific age segment, 11,6 % of the males and 12,9 % of the females at the age of 30-34 had completed a long-cycle higher education in 2010 – the gender difference is about 10 percent.
Now, a funny thing happens when you compare these numbers to the age segment of Danes at the age of 65-69 (people who’ve just retired). In that sample, 9655 males and 3818 females have a long-cycle higher education – out of 146029
males and 152812 females. In that sample, 6,6 % of the males and just 2,5 % of the females have a long-cycle higher education – males in that age group are more than 2,5 times as likely to have a high education than females.
How does it look when you include the age groups in between those two? Like this:
More females than males get a long education today and it’s been that way for at least 10-15 years.
ii. This part contains data from ‘Folketal pr. 1. januar efter tid, alder og køn’ and ‘KM6: Befolkningen 1 januar efter kommune, køn, alder og folkekirkemedlemsskab’
(red: females, blue: males. The x-axis is age, the y-axis is the percentage of each age group who are members of Folkekirken)
So I took out the number of male and female members of Folkekirken at the ages of 1-80 and divided by the total number of Danes in the specific age-group – this gives a measure of how big a percentage of each age group is a member of Folkekirken (Danish National Church). It seems that there are some age cycles here. I did a quick logical test in Excel to get an overview of how the membership rate changes from age group to age group. At the ages of 1-15 years, membership grows ‘every year’ (2-year olds are more likely to be members than 1-year olds, ect.). At the age group of people 18-27 years old, membership drops ‘every year’. Between 30-43 it pretty much grows every year again, then it stabilizes around the new level. For people above the age of 55, it pretty much grows every year again. I decided to not include people above the age of 80 because nothing much of interest happens there; as should be clear from the graph this age segment has by far the highest membership rates and more than 9 out of 10 are members. Remember when interpreting the relatively low membership of children to the left of the graph and the membership growth of the 1-15 years old that part of this is probably because of the relatively higher fertility of Muslim immigrants (as opposed to fewer atheist children).
iii. This part contains data from ‘FAM55N: Husstande pr. 1. januar efter kommune/region, husstandstype og husstandsstørrelse’. Every time some econ blog posts something about the household income development over time (like this one) I also see a commenter asking: ‘but what about household size?’ What I very rarely see is a commenter linking to actual data on household size. This puzzles me every time, because at least in Denmark that kind of data actually isn’t all that hard to get your hands on. Here’s a quick run from Statistikbanken:
I omitted some of the classes because otherwise it quickly gets very messy and they don’t add much to the big picture anyway, this is why the numbers don’t quite add up to the total population – but the table does include far most Danes (the 2011 numbers include 4,92 million people, the 1986 numbers 4,42 million people). The number of single person households with one male or one female living alone has increased somewhat. If you wanted to do it completely right, you’d add all the omitted classes as well before making the calculation, but in terms of the people in the sample (which covers ~ 90% of all Danes) the percentage of people living in single person households went up from 16,2 % to 20,3 %. In terms of the percentage of all households that are single person households, the number is of course much higher. In 1986, 35,6 % of all households (in the sample) were single person households, in 2011 it was 41,5 %. The number has gone up, but less than I’d thought.
I found it interesting that the number of households with a married couple and 3-4 inhabitants altogether (the most likely constellation is a married couple plus 1 or 2 children) has decreased significantly and movement from ‘married couples’ to ‘other couples’ does not explain all of it. Is the driver an increase in the divorce rate or lower fertility rate? I don’t know.