Sunday, January 22, 2012

Arguments from Democracy

I'm submitting a new logical fallacy classification called an "Argument from Democracy" for public consumption. It probably won't make it to the Nizkor Project, as it's a subset of the Appeal to Popularity.

I first noticed it around the time I started this blog when Russ Roberts debated Bill McKibben on the "Buy Local" issue. Roberts criticized communities that pass special ordinances restricting store sizes in an effort to keep out chains like Walmart and McKibben defended the policy by saying it was established through democratic means.

So were Jim Crow laws, prohibition and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That doesn't make them reputable.

I'm reminded of something John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty about the wisdom of the public:

They are always a mass, that is to say, collective mediocrity. And what is still greater novelty, the mass do not now take their opinions from dignitaries in Church or State, from ostensible leaders, or from books. Their thinking is done for them by men much like themselves, addressing them or speaking in their name, on the spur of the moment, through the newspapers.
The Founding Fathers understood that the whims of the public poses serious risks and that's why they opposed direct democracy. It is fallacious to believe that simply through the act of voting, all of the ignorance, misconceptions and the superstitions of the general public will be washed away and replaced with complete metaphysical wisdom.


  1. If children were taught actual history in schools, when they grew up they might understand that democracy is not some magical form of governance, and is instead a synonym for mob rule. Once upon a time every kid had to read about the Ancient Greeks and the bloody struggles they had with pure democracy, and our founders essentially refined their politics to the modern "constitutional republic". But now children are blissfully ignorant of all this, as they are taught proper condom use and community service instead of anything useful.

  2. I wasn't aware the prevention of HIV, high birth rates (which correlate with all sorts of ills, including high maternal, neonatal, infant, and child mortality rates), and other disease was useless. I'll let Africa know right away, Mark.

  3. I will let him fill in as needed, but I took Mark's point to be that schools concentrate too much on trying to shape society using captive children instead of teaching them math and science and other traditional subjects.

  4. I took his point to be blah blah blah history should be taught how I see it blah blah blah educating kids about condoms is useless. He's plainly wrong and entirely ignorant of global health issues. The Catholic Church's stance on keeping people ignorant about the effectiveness of condoms,for instance, leads directly to deaths. Maybe Mark is okay with this because he holds some awfully callous libertarian positions, but I think everyone has a clear interest in promoting healthy populations, especially in developing nations, but also right here in the U.S.

  5. Don't try to start a flame war. This isn't a fish biology page.

  6. This isn't a flame war. Lindholm lacks a social conscience (and proudly so) and he's insensitive to the concerns of people who aren't him. This is evidenced by his ignorant comment about the uselessness of condoms. Personally, I care if entire populations have high mortality rates - rates which consistently trend with high fertility rates.