Monday, July 01, 2013

Humility in Democracy

So, last week was crazy. The Supreme Court struck down DOMA, eliminated vital portions of The Votings Rights Act of 1965, and declared that the freelance supporters of California's Proposition 8 weren't authorized to defend it in lieu of the state. Texas Congresswoman Wendy Davis performed a 10-hour Texas filibuster[1], only for Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst to try and pass the bill after the legislative session had ended. Most notably, the saga of the NSA's Prism program continued unfolding, as whistleblower Edward Snowden was charged with espionage.

Democracy is great because it's rife with conflict. The conflict that comes from groups talking about opposing ideas helps participants develop their principles and sharpen their skills at expressing ideas. Two people can shout at each other for twenty years, but one would be mistaken if they thought that constituted a conversation. The powerful can impose their will on the weak, but no matter how they do that, it's not democracy. It's the interactive conflict that's great, not the decision that's reached. The humility to learn and reevaluate your position is one of the cornerstones of democracy [2].

Without humility, it's more common that people with power use that power to forestall the realization of their errors. Power is used to save face, not to enable discussions based on truth. Without that humility, people who should be taking an active role in understanding and engaging their political opponents simply congregate with like-minded individuals and reduce their opposition to straw men and caricatures.

When someone thinks their perspective is always right, they can feel their actions are always justified, which is one of the most dangerous attitudes for a human to have. Justification is the ideology which allows us to do what is wrong because we believe it serves a higher cause. Justification is what a soldier, pilot, or missile tech feels when they take another human life.

Even if someone is right, ideologically, their actions should still be subject to law and social norms; a form of collective review. Sometimes, there's a price to be paid for doing the right thing. Paula Dean hasn't done anything illegal, but up until now has had the power to demean her black employees without repercussion. Some say that her success at bringing popular food to regular folks means that it shouldn't matter how she treats those who work for her.

It would be better if people would consider the fact that they are wrong. It would be better if people would reevaluate their decisions and ask themselves if, just because they can do a thing they should do a thing[3]. I have nothing against Paula Dean, David Dewhurst, or James Clapper; I respect the things they want to do (cook, protect lives, and protect lives, NOT be racist, tell women how to live their lives, and suck up American rights like a gay vacuum cleaner sucks up hot dogs). I want them, for their own good, to check themselves before they wreck themselves.
[1]Yes, different from a regular filibuster, which is apparently a piece of paper. A Texas filibuster requires that the speaker stand without assistance while constantly speaking on the topic at hand. Davis' filibuster was stopped short of its planned 13 hours because the fifty-year-old lawmaker put on a back brace, mentioned mandatory ultrasounds, and brought up a previous anti-abortion bill, which was considered off-topic by Republicans.

[2] Another being that yes, you are trapped in here with the rest of us, so you should probably stop being a dick.

[3] Yeah, it's Star Trek VI.

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