Lots of People

Another interesting point at normblog. Well I can’t help it if he says something that catches my attention twice in three days. That’s just how things fall out sometimes. And really, this is something I’ve been mulling over for a couple of weeks or more, ever since re-reading Philip Gourevitch’s book on Rwanda. Longer than that really, maybe since last spring – maybe around the time Fareed Zakaria’s book on democracy was published. It wasn’t the book itself (which I haven’t read in any case) that sparked the pondering, it was the air of surprise in some of the reviews, that someone could make some shrewd and pertinent comments about democracy which recognized that democracy has some tensions or dangers. I was surprised that reviewers were so surprised – as if this were an idea that no one had ever thought of before, or at least as if it were an idea that everyone stopped thinking of once the universal franchise was in place, at least everyone to the left of General Franco. But surely it’s obvious if you think about it for about one quarter of a second that there is no magic law of the universe that prevents a majority from wanting to do things that are bad, oppressive, unfair, cruel to other people.

And that’s where Rwanda comes in. The population of Hutus was about 90%, of Tutsis about 10%. Not all Hutus wanted to slaughter all Tutsis, but a great many of them did. If there had been a referendum and they had voted on it and the kill-Tutsis side won, that would have been democracy.

Now to what Norm said:

If the liberation of the Iraqi people by military intervention was overall wrong, that needs to be argued independently of the circumstance that there were many in Egypt or Jordan or Syria who were likely to be enraged by it.

Just so. Those are two independent things. 1. X is wrong, or right. 2. X will enrage a lot of people.

Everything is going to enrage someone, and a lot of things enrage a lot of people, and some things enrage most people. But whether the things that enrage them are good or bad is a separate question. In fact one could argue that this is one of the drawbacks of democracy: that out of habit or sloppy thinking or good intentions, we mix up voting and public opinion and merit, as if they’re all more or less the same thing. Then we start to think that it’s arrogant and elitist to have an opinion that the majority of people don’t share. Then we start to think it’s arrogant and elitist ever to say anyone is wrong about anything – and then our brains turn to soup.

9 Responses to “Lots of People”