Monday, July 25, 2005


it's an old potato, but one worth chewing, now that the d-word trumps all rationality: that democracy has nothing whatsoever to do with moral arbitration. 'democracy' is no more inherently synonymous with 'good' than 'might' is synonymous with 'right' . when the majority in a given constituency decides, by democratic means, that a course of action which is morally compromised is nevertheless necessary, then that course of action becomes, de facto, the right course of action - even if, by all independent criteria, that course of action is wrong - as long as the elected authority endorses that view.

in a sense, this is no more nor less than a reflection of a root behaviour whereby 'we' - that amorphous entity that comprises a large enough grouping to be called a society rather than a family or a tribe - arrive at a collective agreement that such-and-such an abstract concept is one thing rather than another: that this thing, for example, is 'art', whereas this other thing is not, that this thing is 'true', whereas this is not, that this thing is 'good', whereas this is not. there are innumerable forms of marginal behaviour that, depending on the constituency or grouping of the instruments of persuasion, be they religion-, law-, or media-based, will become perceived as either tolerable or intolerable unorthodoxies until or unless the tides of those constituencies change. conversely, there are as many examples of once-commonly enjoyed behaviours which, because of such a tidal shift in the zeitgeist, are now completely marginalised: from public smoking and racial stereotyping to public executions and trashing the environment.

it's all too easy to perpetuate the idea of 'democracy' as being the least bad of the processes by which a government governs - and what two people can agree on what 'democracy' means? - when the governed are being as continuously misled as to the processes by which they are governed as we, the people, the supposed demos whose government supposedly belongs to us, are. even though the failures have been exposed time and time again in all nations which call themselves democracies - from the voting irregularities that install a government to the quasi-legal manipulations and mendacities that sustain it - there continues a tenacious belief that this is, indeed, the least worst form of government, and that there's really no practical alternative if what we want is that most of the people be content with the way things are run most of the time.

a majority is just a majority, and there are many situations where accepting the majority position simply because it is a majority is fundamentally wrong - the so-called 'tyranny of the majority' in a conflict between two diametrically opposed positions, when the supporters of one position outnumber the supporters of the other, when a free vote will automatically favour the more numerically represented. at a national scale this can lead, and has led to criminally repressive, and indeed, genocidal measures being instituted against ethnic or religious minorities under the technically legal guise of democratic transparency (a classic example being the manipulation of the electoral boundaries in the city of Derry, in Northern Ireland, to maintain Protestant control over a Catholic majority).

the likelihood of righting it now that it's so rooted in the global consciousness is zilch, but it's still beholden on those who care about such things to continue considering why democracy is wrong.

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