Recently by Alvin Lowi, Jr.: A Hoax of Momentous Proportions
Sifting the historical record for cases affirming that the majority was on the right side of an issue fails to turn up a single "decision" where this was the result. So where is it written that the majority should rule? In the absence of affirmative evidence, a clever wag once offered the following argument:
The majority is infallible. Because no matter how stupid the propositions decided or the ones elected, the majority was always the stupider for having done so.
Another commentator pointed out that most people obtain their sense of right and wrong by counting noses. Accordingly, the notion of an infallible source of authority becomes a statistical abstraction. Too bad statistical abstractions aren't real.
In logic, majority rule is a fallacy known as an argumentum ad populum (Latin for appeal to the people, however this is supposed to be done). It is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true merely because many or most people say they believe it; which alleges: “If many believe it so, it is so.” Never mind the question of how the many arrived at the truth of their belief, if any, or whether the beliefs of the many were even traceable to entities with functional brains let alone accurately and faithfully obtained and ascertained, i.e. recorded, transmitted, collected and compiled before being stereotyped to label a uniform group of like believers. After all, data so collected cannot be backtracked to its source for confirmation. Statistics has a way of disconnecting its conclusions from its origins. A nose count is not a thought experiment.
The authority-of-the-majority argument goes by many names including appeal to the masses, appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, argument by consensus, consensus fallacy, authority of the many, and bandwagon fallacy, and in Latin as argumentum ad numerum (“appeal to the number”), and consensus gentium (“agreement of the clans”). It is also the basis of a number of social phenomena, including communal reinforcement and the bandwagon effect, not to mention Democracy. Dare we say that political government is based on fallacious argumentation?
Notice that none of the above named sources of authority has a brain. All are brainless collectives or groups of humans that do, incidentally as individual beings, have such an organ. No brain, no reason and no discrimination. Thus the appeal to the majority turns out to be just another cop-out.
However, notice that whoever speaks for the collective is a human individual. He has a brain. Otherwise, the collective could not even fake a semblance of volition. It is the chutzpah of the spokesman that gives the collective the superficial appearance of having a functional brain. Clever those politicians: they create the illusion of authority created out of thin air by some poll that is passed along to them for "safekeeping." In actuality, the group is more like a ventriloquist's dummy because the erstwhile human members of the group seem to turn off their brains in the interim leaving the spokesman free to masquerade his brain as the surrogate brain for the group.
Rare is the spokesman with the balls to openly admit he has usurped his position of authority. Usually, he hides behind a poll that is widely supposed to speak for the majority if only in esoteric terms couched in the language of numbers. Rarer yet is the person who questions that a poll speaks for the majority as if the majority was someone with authority. Almost nobody doubts that a majority speaks through a poll, which is also supposed to reveal the infallible opinion of the majority. Perish the thought!
Now let's suppose for the sake of argument that a poll is evidence that the majority has spoken. Can such a pronouncement qualify for rectitude? Can you question such a proposition in the same manner as you must to determine whether that which you "know" is right or wrong, namely look at the evidence? Likewise, can you seriously question what one of your fellow humans asserts is right or wrong by taking a poll of non-questioners and non-observers? Clearly, the proposition can qualify for treatment by the scientific method to the extent its underlying assumptions can be exposed to view and observed, examined and tested by you and your peers. By contrast, the results of the poll must be taken on faith because they cannot be traced back to their source if ever there was one. And even if they could be traced, there would be nothing but opinions to consider. Polls and statistics have a way of concealing the evidence that could settle the matter. By the same token, polls and statistics also have a way of avoiding the settlement of such issues as right and wrong.
Most people are conditioned to accept "majority rule" without a second thought. In doing so, they assume the majority is always right. Accordingly, they are resigned to accept whatever polling results prevail even if they may have personally chosen otherwise. This habit of thought is explained by the observation made by Jonathan Swift over three-hundred years ago that “some people have no better idea of determining right and wrong than by counting noses.”
Of course, there can be no argument with those people who are in a position to claim to be right in the perverse sense that “might makes right.” To the extent the policeman has a sanction from the majority, few will pause to question whether the "majority" can muster superior physical might in the population to suppress minority dissent. Thereby, the presumptive leaders of the "majority" obtain the superficial appearance of being in the right.
In actuality, the majority is usually wrong. It can be right only by accident because its predilections always represent the inclinations of the lowest common denominator of opinion. How else does a majority of diverse individuals come to a uniform consensus?
Who is the majority that "he" can have an opinion? Opinions like decisions are formed in a human brain or not at all. Since a majority is only a mindless collective mass of humanity, majority decisions are figments of human imagination. They are only the illusions of the participants in a poll, who are like the participants in a masquerade.
Given prevailing sentiments and illusions, the people's concern for the integrity of the ballot box is understandable inasmuch as its contents will determine who shall rule over them. The ballot box contents sanction the people (a fictitious entity) to rule the people (the actual population), who are not only the ones who cast votes but also the ones who didn’t. This clever sophistry resigns most people to submit to whatever the outcome of the poll as long as such outcomes are believed faithful to the ritual. Never mind that the "majority" is spurious and the decision illusory: blind faith rules. The outcome is considered fair as long as the sacrifice is uniform, universal and high-minded. Bring on the rituals. Let's have a parade. Feel good in the bosom of the group.
What passes for a decision of the people is a proposition that must be formulated by some person with a brain to be subsequently ratified by a ritual poll or vote count. Curiously, the outcome of this process can be radically altered by one anonymous vote more or less. Whatever raises doubt that the tally is at odds with an actual nose-count casts doubt on the outcome. Such doubt disturbs the faith. It shakes the belief in the legitimacy of the outcome and any succession to rule so ordained. The slightest hint that the vote count was corrupted, miscounted, miscarried or forged can quickly turn the mood of the subjects from doubt to outrage and on to outright rebellion. The reaction to even an abstract notion that the “decision of the majority” was thwarted by some evil conspiracy can produce panic in the streets.
Thus, a population of volitional human beings becomes a herd of political animals. Such a hysterical reaction might be expected from an invasion of alien plunderers. Alien invaders may be real or imagined, but plunder is a fait accompli when the rulers take over and shake down their peers. Plunder is traceable to the election in any case however conducted, and the plunderers will not be aliens. They will be domestic opportunists. Ballot box contents settle the issue as to who shall be anointed to do the deed with legal immunity.
Al Lowi (send him mail) has been a professional engineer in private practice in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, for the past 40 years.