Thursday, June 18, 2009

What democracy means

Earlier today, I posted a comment on Youtube where I said that for me, economic liberty is not a question of efficiency or of selfishness. Instead, it's a moral issue. I don't believe that the majority has any right to dictate what I do with my money. I will voluntarily donate to charity (which I think is a good idea by the way), but the point is that it is voluntary. By what right, I asked, does any other person hold claim to my productive output?

Now, rickelmonoggin responded, saying that what I had said was that I do not believe in democracy. That gave me pause. On reflection, it's true. We believe in different versions of democracy. His version may be loosely termed "majority rule". My version is individual liberty.

I believe the term democracy is equally applicable to both, and here's why. The word derives from the Greek demos kratos, meaning literally "people power". I think individual people should have power, rickelmonoggin believes the majority should have power. The latter view is immoral in my opinion. Taking from one person to give to another without voluntary consent is theft, no matter whether it is done by an individual or a government. I hold that no group of individuals has any more rights than a single individual in that group. Might does not make right, in other words.

So what does my vision of democracy look like? Let's take the example of roads. I'd support a system where if you don't pay the road tax, you don't get to drive on the roads. That's fair. If you don't pay the electricity bill, you don't get electricity. You have no right to demand that other people pay for services you enjoy. If they willingly contribute to funding those services, that's absolutely fine. That way, the amount of funding allocated to services is determined by the market of individual choices, rather than by a sub-committee sitting in a small room somewhere in Washington.

Perhaps an instinctive reaction to this philosophy is that it is cruel and selfish. I disagree; I think to say this is to say that man is a mean, selfish little animal, when it is perfectly clear that we're not. The richest men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are also the largest contributors to charity. They don't have to contribute, they do so voluntarily. To me, that's a fine example of the essential good nature of humanity.

Let's look at the alternative philosophy. In the philosophy of majority rule, one implicitly accepts the principle that a group of individuals may demand unearned payment from a smaller group of individuals, provided the first group is big enough to establish a majority. That is a cruel and unjust position to take. By that logic, it's perfectly acceptable to enslave others, provided most people agree that it's a good idea.

One of the distinguishing features of the United States is that it has a constitution that prevents precisely this sort of abuse of power. The constitution, in fact, exists to limit majority rule. It says that all men have inalienable rights that no decree of congress may abrogate. The only problem, as I see it, is that it doesn't go far enough.

So what do you think? Is majority rule fair, just and moral? Or is it just an excuse to pick the pockets of the wealthy minority?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Science: a call to arms

We live in a world made by science. From putting on the coffee pot in the morning to switching out the lights at night, everything we do involves some or other product of science. Yet science does not ask that we pay homage to it. It does not require us to attend service or pray at its altar. We do not even have to obtain a minimum understanding of science before we make use of its products.

Science does not assert truth without reason and evidence. Science does not dictate how we live our lives. The essence of science is a devotion to discovering what is real. It tolerates dissent, and absorbs change when it is clear that the existing understanding is flawed. The professional opinion of one scientist is worth more than the views of a thousand twittering idiots.

And yet, for the very reason that it is so tolerant, science does not respond aggressively when it is pissed on by uninformed morons. Science makes no philosophical comments. It is polite to its detractors. The irony is that virtually all of the anti-science, anti-reason brigade make active use of technology to opine that science is flawed, untrue or "just a theory".

It's time for that to change. It's time for us to teach the troglodytes just how powerful a scientific theory is. It's time to show the world that not all opinions are equal. It's time for the talking heads to show a little goddamned respect to science. They owe it.

This is a call for scientists to stop appeasing the unwashed masses. Stop allowing them to claim that their ideas are just as valid as scientific theories. Tell them the truth: that when it comes to reality, science is the only game in town. All the rest is noise. When they whine about their personal beliefs, tell them to put up or shut up.