Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Monday, January 31, 2005

Free and Fair

Parliamentarianism, that is to say public permission to choose between five political opinions, flatters those many who like to appear independent and individual and like to fight for their opinions. In the last resort, however, it is a matter of indifference whether the herd is commanded an opinion or allowed five opinions. - He who deviates from the five public opinions and steps aside always has the whole herd against him.
- Friedrich Nietzsche
(The Gay Science, 1882)
Even when representative democracy works the way it's supposed to, it's still a crap system. And frankly, it's a long time since it's worked the way it's supposed to in any election that really mattered.

A system which takes as it's starting-point the assumption that a majority opinion has, in some sense, greater validity than a minority opinion is flawed right from the start. The "rightness" of a particular policy is not dependent upon (or even related to) the proportion of people who can be convinced to register support for it. There is no inherent reason that a course of action is correct merely because 99% of people believe it to be so.

Of course, democracy doesn't claim to "get it right" in the sense that "two" is the right answer to "what is one plus one?" The claim made by democracy is that it gets it right from a moral standpoint... that the will of the majority is the just and fair way to proceed. There is no fairer way of doing it, so it's: "the right thing to do", rather than: "the right answer".

Except it's not. Nothing of the sort. If 51% of people can be convinced to nuke the other 49%, there's not any sane sense in which that can be described as "right". The uncomfortable truth is that on many - perhaps most - of the important issues facing the world today, the majority opinion is wrong. And that's not only my personal judgment talking... you can "prove it on an etch-a-sketch" as a great man once said.

Take religion, for instance. According to this source (whose strict accuracy is besides the point; it's clear that the world's religions follow a population distribution of a kind similar to this) Christianity is the largest single religion (with about a third of the 6.2 billion currently living human beings professing faith). This means - on the extremely important issues of God, the soul, and the afterlife - 4.2 billion of us have got it wrong. That's two thirds. The majority. Just plain wrong.

And if those of the Islamic faith are right... that means 78% of us aren't. Almost 5 billion people!

If the world's religions were to submit themselves to the UK parliamentary system, we'd have Christian New Labour facing Tory Islam across the house. Meanwhile the Buddhists and Hindus would form an uneasy alliance and occupy Charles Kennedy's domain. And that's it. Jews? Shut up. You ain't represented. Nor you Sikhs. Get used to it. As for the rest of you... Rastafarians, Unitarians, Neo-Pagans, Shintoists...? Forget it. None of you even warrant an individual reply.

Scientologists? Ha ha hah ha a-hah hah ha.. .. .. .. listen scientologists, we let you put Kilroy-Silk in Brussels for comedy reasons, don't imagine it was anything more than that.

Veritarse more like.

See... the majority opinion can't be right on this very important point because there is no majority opinion. And even if there was...? Even if Christianity accounted for 51%...? Would that mean it'd be right to declare Jesus Christ as Lord and demand all others submit to His Laws? Of course not. Though no doubt there's plenty in Alabama would think otherwise.

You can, with justification, point out that the existence of the Christian God is not the kind of thing that gets decided democratically. Democracy is simply a process by which group decisions are made. Even the most fervent democrats don't claim that reality itself is decided by voting (well, excluding deluded Straussians... but they tend to be democratic in name only).

And that's completely true of course. But the point I'm making is that majority opinion cannot be relied upon as our sole source of sociopolitical guidance. Judging by the evidence of global economic development, the vast majority of people on the planet - if given the choice - will opt for a high-impact, high-consumption lifestyle. How much of the desire which informs that choice is implanted by marketing is of course a source of concern. And - as the Nietzsche quote suggests - the choices facing people, even in the democracies of the world, are often strictly controlled.

But even so; if offered the choice between a political party which promised to clamp down hard on unnecessary energy usage (for example) and one which promised a free SUV for all...?

I dunno. Maybe I'm just cynical.

All of this begs the question though... "Well Mr. Smarty-Pants, how would you do it?" And naturally the answer is: "Very very differently".


Blogger L said...

I would call you a realist myself. Of course the "reality-based" community is demonized where I live...

2/2/05 00:52  

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