Tag Archives: Liberal democracy

More on diversity

Jordan has been talking about diversity, DPF has been talking about direct democracy, and in both places, people have been discussing, in varying degrees of civility, how to live with minorities, and minority groups. Oh, and Dr Tibby and I have been rehearsing our views on diversity in an earlier post. It has been a great day.

Jordan makes a great point, and it’s a point that few people over at DPF’s place have missed. Sooner or later, everyone is part of a minority. Sure, today and in respect of one particular issue, you might be part of the white Anglo Saxon majority, but tomorrow, you might just be part of the balding men minority, or the fathers with daughters but not sons minority, or the working women with elderly parents minority, or the lesbian marathon runners group, or the lone parents group, or the liable parents (c/f custodial parents) group, or the Chinese immigrants group, or the Maori group, or the Pakeha but not European New Zealanders group. Whatever. We can slice and dice in myriad ways.

That’s why majority rule is dangerous. Sure, as part of the majority, you may want x, y, or z, but it could be a different story tomorrow, when as part of a minority, you need a, b, or c.

Having said that, no government can function for long if it ignores what people are telling it. But that’s precisely why we don’t have majority rule. Instead, we have democracy. And it’s democracy of a particular kind – Western liberal democracy, in the Westminster line. It’s a fabulous system of constulation and reviews, checks and balances, revision upon revisions, processes for people to agree with decisions, processes for people to dispute decisions, processes for people to review and change decisions. We deputise some of our number (public servants, lobby groups, parliamentarians, the media, the blogosphere) to research, formulate, implement, review and criticise decisions.

We don’t always get it right. But for the most part, we don’t rush into hasty decisions. And we can always change them.

This whole process helps us to accomodate diversity. Like it or not, our societies are incorrigibly diverse. It’s no use lamenting for some lost wonderland where we were all the same and everyone just got along (and it’s highly unlikely that such a place ever existed anyway). We are diverse, and that’s all there is to it. So instead of trying to make everyone fit in with what the majority wants, we actually need to find ways to live with and work with that diversity. The Westminster western liberal democratic mode of government helps that, simply because it doesn’t allow majorities to cudgel minorities into submission.

I’m not saying that our mode of government is perfect. But it’s a lot better than anything else that’s (seriously) on offer.

Getting too comfortable

Al Gore thinks the internet can save us. I think he may be right, but only if we are at least somewhat proactive about searching out contrary views.

There’s an interesting article in New Scientist about Gore’s latest book, The Assault on Reason (Chris Mooney, “Critical times need critical minds”, New Scientist 195: 2613, 21 July 2007, pp. 46 – 47). It’s here but you need to be a subscriber to access it.

Chris Mooney, the writer of the article, describes how Gore argues that we need a “well-informed citizenry”. We can and should do far better in becoming informed, so that we can genuinely debate complex issues. According to Mooney, Gore’s hope is that the internet can save us. But…

The internet is much like television in that it overwhelms audiences with choices and leads to an inevitable kind of self-selection. Many web surfers opt out of serious information entirely, or choose groups of like-minded individuals who rarely encounter contrary perspectives. This concern – voiced in Cass Sunstein’s book Republic.com – is never grappled with by Gore. The blogosphere, for all its virtues, too often mirrors Sunstein’s image of large groups of people engaging in mutual intellectual back-scratching, rather than challenging their own convictons. “Reason”, if it means anything, must include sustained engagement with opposing viewpoints.

Good point. And one which was made, prophetically, way back in 1990 by David Brin, in his novel Earth. …

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