Limitations of Direct Democracy

The following discussion clip is from the Occupy Wall Street demand discussion list.

Here is the lead in post from flavian:

It’s not direct democracy if a majority dictates for a minority. And some times it’s not even a majority. It’s 51% out of those 40-50% voting-age that manipulated into participating at this game. That’s one quarter.

And another thing: why should I be oblidged to participate ? Why not make the participation voluntary and not mandatory ? Same like an association.


This reply applies to flavian’s point about Direct Democracy (DD) and about 16 comments below it that didn’t have reply buttons.

My first observation is that this discussion is a perfect example of my repeated claim that complex topics can’t be addressed one issue at a time. It takes a lot of background to sort this topic out. So, let’s look at it in light of a number of pieces of information:

The claim made by Jefferson in the quote, that the “will of the majority‚Ķ is the only sure GUARDIAN of the rights of man”, to begin with, is commonly misunderstood. How does the concept behind the Bill of Rights fit into this? The bill of rights lays out “rules” that limit the majority from interfering with specific practices of individuals. The right of free speech, for example, is protecting a handful of OWS protestors, even if 200 million people in the country think they should be put in jail. So, what was Jefferson telling us? He was saying, that in times of cooler heads, a majority came together, and enacted a law to LIMIT THEMSELVES from action, to protect a higher good – individual FREEDOM – but ONLY in some cases. To do that, they had to raise their ideas above looking at any individual protester, and see the higher value of the right to individual speech.

The starting comment confuses Direct Democracy, a process of counting individual citizen votes vs. Representative votes, with the method chosen to decide the outcome, as in voting majority, total majority, two-thirds vote, unanimous vote etc.

The starting comment also incorrectly assumes that participation in voting is an obligation. It isn’t.

Another comment brings in the concept of small groups. But it then falsely assumes that since obtaining 100% consensus is easier in small groups, that creating small groups will solve the problems that the overall protest is addressing. That is far from obvious. Small groups, while minimizing the number of chances for a single holdout, also make each individual stand out more clearly. For example, the whole issue of GANGS in society revolves around the ability of one strong leader to easily ENFORCE conformity in the gang. Or, consider the case of the smallest group, a husband and wife. How often does that lead to 100% consensus? The dominant factor isn’t group size. It’s other things.

Many activities need large organizations and broad acceptance to be successful. Traffic laws are a good example. People very broadly accept ( consensus ) to drive on the right and stop at lights colored red.

The issue of FREEDOM is raised again. I’ve previously discussed how the basic understanding of FREEDOM in our society is so drastically misunderstood. It’s a fairy-tail of myths. But let me add one point here. Recent psychological discoveries explain why some people are so driven by this concept, that it becomes an anxiety disorder or paranoia – not unlike claustrophobia. These discoveries will open new approaches for treatment.

The point raised which casts the “new world order” as a negative, I think, is similar to the stigma we now associate with other words like mob, communism, socialism etc. The issue here is the emotional response, the psychological problem, which blinds us from dealing with the elements of the concepts realistically.

About Nanook

I am the "REAL" Nanook. I wrote the book LIARS! It presents the philosophy behind most of the posts on this blog. Look for information about it at
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