Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Obligation to Obey the Majority

A member of the studio audience wrote in response to my objections to "under God" and " in God we trust" that....

Just as you see harm to children and adults if the words are kept, i see harm to children and adults if the words are dropped. Yet we live in a democracy. Are we not bound to live by the will of the majority, for good or for ill?"

I find that there are a lot of people who seem to think that living in a democracy means that it is somehow morally impermissible to say that the majority is wrong. Telling the majority, “You are acting unjustly,” or “You are making a mistake” is cast as “anti-democracy”.

Nowhere in my post did argue for violent opposition to the will of the majority. I argued for an active campaign to convince the majority that their position is both factually and morally objectionable.

Using “We live in a democracy” against these types of claims is saying, "the majority has a moral permission to ignore those arguments and practice business as usual."

Indeed, the commenter begins by noting that there is a difference of opinion, ignoring the fact that one of us has presented evidence for his opinion. The other seems to be writing from the perspective that all evidence is irrelevant and all opinion is equally well founded

Yet, if it is true that all opinion is equally well founded, then what justifies drawing any conclusion at all? Such a person says, in fact, "A is as likely as B; therefore A"

But shouldn't the inference be, "A is as likely as B; therefore, I withhold judgment?"

We live in a democracy. That means that, unless the majority gets so tyrannical that they vote the minority into slavery or death camps, we have an general obligation to peacefully obey the law. But this does not argue that the minority must not object to the law. It does not violate the principle of democracy for the minority to say to the majority, “Your rule is harmful or unjust, and you should change it.”

Nor does it argue that the majority has a moral permission to plug it's ears against such arguments and shout, "I refuse to listen to or respond directly to your objections. Our position of power gives us the right to dismiss, by that reason alone, any objections you may raise against our rules and decisions. We are the majority. We gave the power. Nothing else matters."

In fact, the answer, "Because we are the majority and we said so," not only violates the majority's obligation to provide good reason in defense of their decisions, it is condescending to the minority as well. Perhaps not intentionally condescending, but condescending nonetheless.

It is no different than a parent saying to a child, "Because I said so." The majority, even in exercising their power, still have an obligation to treat the minority with the respect due competent adults and not like children.

While some members of the majority my well adopt this attitude, among a population of generally fair and just individuals, it will be rare, this attitude will belong to a very small minority.

1 comment:

Mike Gantt said...

This member of the studio audience is happy to report that, aside from your misrepresentation of my assumptions, you and I are in complete agreement about how atheists and theists should interact in a democracy.