When Majority Shouldn’t Rule

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’
~ Isaac Asimov

“But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”
~ Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

I don’t like democracy. As  permaculturist and activist Star Hawk puts it out in her “Empowerment Manual”, the five-fold path of productive meetings/facilitation/leadership are: the right people, the right container, the right facilitation the right agenda AND …the right process…

Many times, “democracy” comes in the way of real social or environmental justice and that is what just happened at the “Yes” referendum (or transportation referendum) in Metro Vancouver: an appalling 61.68% said “No” to a complex transportation planning project that would benefit ALL of us. It is not a surprise to find out that the majority of those voting “No” drive cars and many of them are also old people.

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The Right Process (as Star Hawk calls it) needs to match the challenge or issue: one of the reasons you can’t trust “democracy” or “The People” to vote on a long-term urban planning project such as transportation is because people have no clue of what’s good for them. Let’s face it: most of us are not “educated”, most of us have been brainwashed and made “too busy” to think properly on anything that goes beyond our own personal “needs” and “wants”. If that wasn’t true, we wouldn’t have the big issues we have with Climate Change, resources depletion, consumerism addiction and the like. There are times when common sense and long term planning have to rule, and there are times when majority shouldn’t be “consulted” about something they have no clue at all…

Most of those who are Directly Affected (i.e. all of us who are students, low income, use public transportation, bike and walk or carpool most of the time) voted “Yes” to an increase of 0.5% regional sales tax to support the building of a robust and truly democratic transportation system…we know what is it to have to wait for long hours for a bus, getting into crowded buses and trains or avoiding travelling after certain times because there is no safe transportation to certain places after certain hours)

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Star Hawk cites a story in her booklet:

Some time ago, I gave a workshop for a Transition Town group in Southern England. One of the participants complained that his group came up with hundreds of creative ideas but never seemed to move beyond visioning to taking action.

“What process do you use for making decisions?” I asked. He looked at me blankly.

 “We use Open Space,” he said.

“That might explain your problem,” I suggested. “Open Space is a visioning process — great for generating ideas and participation. But it’s not a process for making decisions or setting priorities.””

I know from my experience in Emergency Social Services, First Aid and Disaster Management that there are times when you have to behave as a “dictator”: you can’t ask nicely whether people want to evacuate from a fire or want to back up from an injured person who can’t breathe.

Similarly, in my experience as first a K-12 teacher and now as adult teacher and career/settlement counsellor, I know that when people have no clue of something, you need to EDUCATE them and make them AWARE through deep/caring but also sometimes challenging questioning. You don’t INDOCTRINATE them and you don’t ADVICE them, but if they are already indoctrinated (as most of us are, as indoctrination is what passes these days as “education”) or if they have been made so dependent that can’t make a decision on their own, then you may have to use a bit of tough love.

Yesterday I spent the day off at home, waiting for the ride that would take me to OUR Ecovillage to teach Standard First Aid (it does have disadvantages not to have a car and not to drive, but imagine if we had a public and affordable system where when you are volunteering to teach something useful to people, you can access to an affordable mini bus that may also pick up others going the same way…but now I’m dreaming!). We finally agreed on postponing the course because it would have been too costly for them to drive from Shawnigan Lake to my home in Cloverdale and back, and then again to bring me next Monday…so I stayed and decided to “enjoy” the heat wave we are having since early last week (similar to the one hitting the rest of the West American Coast, and Europe that also hit Alaska and Siberia, creating huge and long lasting wildfires that are still burning)

Looking through my townhouse window, I saw a “landscaper” using a manual saw to cut the remaining (alive) branch of a poor dying birch tree on my neighbour’s patio…this wonderful tree was cut last year because its branches were not allowing my neighbour to see through her window…the process was done in such a way that the tree only flowered on the remaining living branches on the other side of the tree. It was a very sad thing to see as I’ve loved this tree and its heart-shaped leaves moving with the wind and providing me with a screen…for the last 10 years!

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But yesterday it was given the last shot: cutting the remaining branches because of course, all the weight has gone to that side and one of the biggest branches broke…

I mourned my tree friend and this morning collected all the branches and leaves from my neighbour’s patio: I will use them as support for my own garden and maybe as a small hugelkulture project.

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Why do I bring this up? Because I see the same forces playing here: ignorance and indoctrination, short-term thinking and “democracy”: if “developers” had thought about what a tree of those dimensions needs in the first place, they wouldn’t place it there and it would have never had to endure such a miserable death: they may have planted a Japanese Maple instead or other small tree; if people were not so indoctrinated with this selfish sense of entitlement and “me first/I deserve it/I’m special/I own it’, the tree would have survived; if people would learn more about our interconnectedness with nature at school instead of “how to behave”, those birds that now seem lost would still have a home in that tree…

Quoting Star Haw again: “When a carpenter builds a house, she uses a saw to cut wood and a hammer to pound nails. If she tried to cut her boards with a hammer and fasten them with a saw, she wouldn’t get far. Different tools do different jobs. Yet often in groups, we only have one tool, one process we expect to do all the different jobs a group needs. Our work will be far more effective if we learn that there are many types of meeting processes which are suited for different purposes.”

When it comes to climate change, destruction of our natural world we depend on, short-sightedness of thousands “making decisions” on something that doesn’t affect them now but will affect many others, including their children, natural ecosystems and quality of life, you can’t trust democracy: the majority can’t rule…unless, they are truly educated on what’s worth and meaningful: our undeniable interconnectedness and dependence on each other and nature.

One of the biggest lies we have been told (and keep telling through countless propaganda) is that we are free, that we are in control of our lives and that we make “choices”.

We are not “free” nor in control: Nature is. Also, your freedom ends where my freedom (and that of the homeless birds, of the dying tree, of the struggling commuters, of the billions of human and non-human beings out there) ends…”your” freedom to drive the car “you deserve” cuts my freedom to ride a descent train or bus…”your” freedom to avoid paying 0.5% more on sales kills the freedom of all the ecosystems that have been and will be impacted by your stupid “decision” of saying “No” to the future of transportation. Your “freedom” of living a “busy” life and enjoying air conditioner in huge houses is hurting the freedom of the millions being displaced by climate change/food-and-water shortages and resource wars…

The next time you think you have “choices”, think again: there are billions our there (come here in Canada) who don’t have any choice at all.

Democracy is not a good way to work on social or environmental justice. Real and critical education is. But that will take time and we don’t have much. Sometimes the majority can’t rule.

Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in ancient Greek republics: Freedom for slave owners.”
~ Vladimir Ilich Lenin

The terrible tyranny of the majority.”
~Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

4 thoughts on “When Majority Shouldn’t Rule

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