Most People

And so back to this nagging question of majority opinion and how coercive it can be. One issue is what one might call mission creep – the way we extend democracy and majoritarianism from the political, electoral realm to other areas where it is arguably less useful, where it is in fact arguably harmful, such as opinion, education, culture. This creep or extension may or may not be a good idea, but the question whether it is or not doesn’t get enough discussion, because people don’t really notice when the extension is happening. The border between politics and everything else gets ignored: everything is political, and majority opinion is right and should be heeded in all areas of life, not just in who gets elected president or councillor. The erasure or at least re-positioning of that border is in many ways a good thing, because it is for instance a political question who does all the housework and why. But in many other ways that border-shift is a very bad thing, and in fact B and W was founded in order to point out some of the ways politics obscures issues instead of clarifying them. So in that sense it’s all one phenomenon we’re talking about here: using one kind of thought when another kind is what’s needed.

So with using the majority as a cattle prod to keep people in line. ‘Most people don’t think what you think, therefore what you think must be wrong.’ Well, no, not necessarily. It’s not completely unknown in history for most people to think things that are in fact not true. It’s not crystal clear that majority opinion is even able to choose the best person to vote for in any given election, so why would it be unerring on any other subject? ‘Two million people bought that book, therefore it must be good.’ Well, no, not necessarily. Maybe the book had a lot of publicity. Maybe it depends how we define ‘good’. Maybe the particular two million people who bought that book wouldn’t know a good book from a plate of chopped liver. ‘Most people around here believe in God.’ Well, maybe, but then they’ve been listening to people like you say that most people believe in God all their lives, haven’t they, so maybe that constant repetition has influenced what they believe, and furthermore maybe they feel embarrassed or ashamed to say they don’t believe what most people believe, so that it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Could that have anything to do with it?

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