• Tom Cleary

Beware the Majority


Palm Sunday is always a stellar time to reflect on the fickle uselessness of the majority. On Sunday Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem by mobs shouting hosanna in the highest but by Friday these same mobs are screaming, crucify Him! God has never cared about the majority and in fact it is good to remember that the Kingdom of God is not a democracy.

That is not to say that majorities are always wrong. It is to say that in matters of right and wrong, they are irrelevant. The notion that right and wrong are determined by a show of hands is ludicrous and I would argue offensive to God. He has made very plain what He considers right behavior and further we know in our hearts when we are engaging in such behavior or not.

This very week on Maundy Thursday we commemorate the delivery of the New Commandment; to love one another the way God loves us. Notice Jesus did not say, “but first take a vote on it”. As with many passages in Scripture, if we think on it, we can discern some guiding principles for how we conduct our life in the here and now.

If we know in our hearts what is right and wrong, and we know that this right and wrong are independent of majorities then it is prudent that we are wary of majorities. In fact, most human progress has been made in spite of, not because of majorities. Think of the great scientific advances, which are almost by definition the work of a few, challenging the majority. Think of the great inventors and innovators; Edison, Einstein, Ford, Hawkins and Jobs. The were singular people with a vision that flew in the face of the majority. Thank God material progress is not achieved by majority vote!

This wariness of majorities is especially important in times of stress and crisis. A mob mentality is all too real and can and has produced profoundly regrettable outcomes, as much of history shows us. Usually it results in violence or the turning over of our fundamental human rights to authoritarians in a desire to be “secure” and “safe”. As the adage goes turning over one’s freedom for security produces neither.

Following the mob, out of fear or for any other reason can and does, put us at odds with the Gospel. Trampling out lives and freedoms because we are caught up in the moment is no excuse, and I for one do not want to be before the Judgement Seat of Christ with some lame ass explanation like “well it was the will of the majority”. The faithful should be made of sterner stuff than this. If need be, we are, more than most, to be the one’s yelling STOP! In the name of God STOP!

We are, sad to say, in such a time of mob hysteria. Whenever you hear, as California Gavin Newsome has said, that you cannot overreact, then hold on, it’s going to be a rough ride. Yes, the pandemic is real, and it has produced a great deal of misery, pain and death. No doubt regardless of the government response, the economy was going to take a hit, particularly the public facing sectors. That this is the case is not a reason to succumb to the mob mentality of the majority. There is never a good reason to set aside people’s foundational human rights and every good reason to think that doing so will produce more harm than good as well as take society down a dark road.

Yes, the majority is screaming for “something to be done”, but the question as always is what? Beware those who play to the majority mob by offering up a false dilemma; either we give government complete control or you would let people die in the street. This is the rhetoric of majoritarian extremism. Beware also those who say there are no tradeoffs to be made; that we must do whatever it takes to save every life. There are always tradeoffs. You may safely ignore those who live in a fantasy world of no scarcity that eschew any tradeoffs, as if we can have everything all at once right now. These are intellectual and emotional children and one should never argue with children.

However, even the control mongers are making a tradeoff, even if they won’t admit it. They are saying that it is worth it to crush the 83% of the economy that is not healthcare in the hopeful, maybe, possibility that we can save the 17% that is healthcare from being overrun. Note, also that they are not really arguing that they will save lives on net, only that the deaths will occur over enough time to protect the health system from being overrun (based only on a statistical model, I would add). They have determined, consciously or not that the lives destroyed from this economic suppression; the lives lost to despair, suicide and addiction; the opportunities taken from the future via the mountain of new debt (and the relative poverty it creates) are all worth it to maybe save lives now. It appears that the majority is with them on this, at least for now. But we know better than to blindly follow the majority.

An ethic built on the One God who gave His One Son to save us from our sins and to show us how to live a fully human life has pointed us in a different direction. We can and should ignore the mob majority and focus on the dignity of individual human lives, never being willing to sacrifice the rights and dignities of any of God’s children. This points us, as always away from the indiscriminate use of power and coercion that are at the heart of the majority’s response to this crisis. This leads us to demand that we maintain the foundations of a free and nonviolent society (and the sure conviction that this society will produce better results than one based on immorality).

This also leads us to a sense of humility and circumspection. The majority might just be wrong and us with them. Yes, there are tradeoffs to be made. Why we would allow government to arrogantly take ALL those tradeoff decisions unto the majority when there is every reason to be humble about the efficacy of such a thing (while being certain of the coercion that it would generate). The great insight of the economist Ludwig von Mises is that government cannot calculate. What this means is that government cannot rationally allocate scarce resources against unlimited demands; that is, that it is not in a position to make sensible tradeoffs. This inability to calculate is not suspended in time of crisis, it is magnified.

The only rational way to accomplish this task is to allow a free people to freely interact and to offer a diversity of solutions to the problems of society. Like ecological diversity, this will produce better outcomes, while at the same time being protective of people’s human rights. If the government imposes a one size fits all, top down solution and they are wrong (and they are likely to be), then we are screwed. If on the other hand many different ideas are implemented to work the problem, then there is likely to be a solution or solutions produced. This is of course not dependent on the majority but upon individuals working cooperatively to determine the best course.

An awful price will be paid by many in the course of fighting this pandemic, but that price does not have to include our God-given freedoms nor our prudent skepticism of the mob majority. Just as the majority were wrong about Jesus and the few were right, the few and brightest among us can cooperatively come together to get through this crisis with our humanity intact; if only we will insist on separating right and wrong, prudent and imprudent from the whims of the majority and instead anchor it in how God would have us treat each other.

Praise Be to God

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