September 10, 2008

Democracy: Our Wonderful Freak!

Democracy is the art... of running the circus from the monkey cage.” H. L. Mencken

Democracy rules! (Okay, actually it governs, but that doesn’t excite anyone.)

But the way democracy works is completely unnatural. Sure, it seems like a perfectly normal system, but you probably grew up with it. Like me, you may have also grown up thinking fake brick linoleum was a good flooring choice, or that a Humvee with bulletproof windows was a sensible vehicle to drive. (Admittedly, I got a lot of death threats in elementary school.)

Voting can only take place when a nation reaches a advanced form of civilization. And it’s only within our advanced civilization that we can control our “natural” inclinations. As a wise person said, “Human nature... is what we are put on this earth to rise above.” It's natural to want to drop a glockenspiel on someone who did you wrong. But that doesn't make it right; you should go with a small woodwind instrument instead.

To illustrate what a freak democracy is, here is an absolutely true and apocryphal story from the 1840s:
One winter’s day in South Carolina, a woman named Abigail was arguing with three plantation owners about slavery. No matter what she said, Abigail could not get the three men to agree that slavery was morally wrong.

“But surely you agree that all people have souls?” Abigail finally asked.

“We do,” said the first plantation owner, “but slaves are not people.”

Driven to desperation by this stupidity, Abigail cried out, “Lord, please give us a sign to prove that I am right!” And to her amazement, there was a distant rumble of thunder.

“Thunder on a winter’s day can hardly decide this argument,” maintained the second of the men.

“Oh Lord,” cried Abigail, “can you provide a further sign that slavery is wrong?”

A fork of lightning snaked down, flashing in the darkening sky and hitting a tree.

“These are actions of nature, not signs from God,” said the third man.

Abigail looked pleadingly upward and raised her arms to the sky. And to the awe of all, a deep voice boomed from the heavens. “She is right. Slavery is deeply wrong.”

Astounded, Abigail turned her triumphant gaze to her cowed adversaries. “What do you have to say to that?” she demanded.

Recovering his wits, one of the men said, “Okay, now it’s three votes to two.” And so democracy carried the day.
That sad tale makes it easy to understand why John Adams said “majorities are as tyrannical and cruel as unlimited despots.” So the next time you are frustrated by someone who doesn’t see things your way, try to be tolerant. You’re stuck with every single Stone Age muttonhead (like me!) in the nation.

The founders of the United States knew this would be a pain in the neck. John Adams again: “America is a great unwieldy body... It is like a large fleet sailing under convoy. The fleetest sailors must wait for the dullest and slowest... that all may keep an even pace.”

To illustrate the point, Adlai Stevenson ran against Dwight Eisenhower twice in the 1950s. At one point, a supporter told Stevenson that “every thinking person” would vote for him.

Madam, that’s not enough,” he answered. “I need a majority.”

SIDELIGHT: As you can see above, the sole of Adlai Stevenson's shoe was once photographed, and the fact that it had a hole in it set off a mild uproar. Stevenson's campaign sagely turned this to their advantage; their candidate was truly frugal! The symbol of a holey shoe even became a Stevenson campaign pin (left).

Last thing: Any sources I've used that aren't directly referenced above can be found here.
Lastest thing:
If you think I'm giving myself a pep talk in case the presidential election doesn't go the way I hope it does, you're right.

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