Among the intelligentsia there is often found the attitude that the general public, “the masses,” are ignorant and incapable of understanding the intricacies of many, if not most, issues. This seems to be the attitude that chazal take towards the average Jew. They assume that he is ignorant, narrow-minded, and not overly bright. To counterbalance the ignorance of the masses they instituted hundreds of laws to protect the biblical commandments.*
My knee-jerk reaction this condescending view of “the masses” is one of disgust and denial. Individually, most people are reasonably intelligent, and while some may willfully ignore whatever they don’t like, surely something they considered important (like mitzvos) they would be capable of understanding and learning enough about to avoid serious transgressions.
Yet I find that public forums on the internet seem to support the attitude that the masses are ignorant, narrow minded, and not overly bright. Any thread read and commented on by large numbers of people (such as news articles, YouTube, etc.) is inevitably is full of ignorant, baseless opinions and often degenerates into racism and conspiracy theories.
The question is, are the commenters on these threads representative of the general public? Or do these types of forums self-select the left side of the bell curve?
If the former is true, I may be forced to admit that chazal had a point.
*I don’t really understand how this is helpful. There is a perception that violating a midirabanan is less stringent than violating a midioraisa. Yet we have a mitzvah dioraisah to listen to the rabonim, which means that violating a mitzvah dirabanan is really a violation of a dioraisah. Now we have the rabonim who come along and prohibit hundreds (thousands? millions?) of things that are muttar midioraisah. If we violate one of the rabbinic prohibitions, we're oiver the mitzvah dioraisah of listening to the rabonim. All the rabonim have done is to give us many, many more opportunities to transgress. How is this helpful?