Are You More Afraid of Incompetence or Corruption?

The recent headlines about Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who was given a lenient sentence after being convicted a raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster -- as well as his victim's incredible statement and the outrage at the judge's sentence -- have got me thinking about a sad dilemma we have to confront in contemporary American society. We basically have two options when it comes to governance. We can either rely on supposed experts, or on the uneducated mob of our peers. 

On the one hand, experts are individuals who have spent their lives amassing knowledge of how the various social systems work -- e.g. the criminal justice system, the political machine, etc -- and they can move efficiently and effectively within the system they know. On the other hand, it's just not a great idea to concentrate so much power in a single individual like that. Her greatest asset -- knowing how to work the system -- is also a great threat. If she's corrupt or biased in some way, those flaws will be magnified by the influence she wields.

But what's our other option?

Entrusting justice or governance to a group of our peers? Or to outsiders who for whom the flaws of the system are as salient and worrying as they are to us? Sure, it can be comforting to hear someone else come out and criticize such a system on the basis of "common sense," but at the end of the day these people are prone to incompetence. Juries, for instance, are notoriously prone to certain kinds of fallacious reasoning, common misconceptions and negative stereotypes shape their decisions, and it doesn't follow from the fact that somebody recognizes the flaws of a system that he or she can replace it with anything better...

It's a somewhat tragic dilemma, then. Trust the experts and risk corruption, or trust our peers and risk incompetence. At the end of the day, it seems like we'll end up opting for whichever consequence -- i.e. corruption or incompetence -- we fear less.

And that's a pretty demoralizing situation.