One theme in the literature dedicated to democratic theory is the notion of a “tyranny of the minority.” This is where the desire to protect the interests of and give voice to electoral minorities leads to a tail wagging the dog syndrome whereby minorities wind up having disproportionate influence in debates about policy. The minorities in question may be political, ethnic, religious, racial, cultural or identified by other characteristics, but the commonality is in their (previous) relative disenfranchisement when compared to dominant electoral groups, again defined by various criteria. For example, white, straight, christian males have traditionally been an electorally dominant group in the US; transgender gay afro-asian atheists have not.
In democratic practice the issue is one of striking a fair and equitable balance between the rights of the (electoral) majority and the rights of minorities. This has been attempted via re-districting and voter enrolment schemes that allow for more minority representation in politics at all levels, affirmative action initiatives and regulations that preferentially promote minorities in fields and institutions in which they are traditionally underrepresented, advancement of historical accounts and alternative artistic expressions that reflect the experiences of the subaltern, exploited and dispossessed, etc. The objective is to level the playing field across the gamut of social endeavour, thereby leading to more democratic outcomes in politics and society.
The push to democratise has by now gone well beyond politics and deep into the fabric of social life. Old notions of what is permissible even in the sanctum of family life have been challenged and redrawn away from traditional heterosexist patriarchal hierarchies. Private firms can no longer ignore gender bias or subtle racism in their ranks. Children no longer fear the teacher’s rod or strap.
All of this is good. Historical injustices have been addressed and authoritarian social structures have been reformed as a result of democratisation efforts world-wide. The fear now, in some quarters at least, is about an over-reaction to previous ills when it comes to democratising society. It also has prompted a backlash by reactionaries, who in earlier decades whined about “political correctness” and “culture wars” and who now whinge about “triggered” “wokeism,” “cancel culture,” “snowflakes” and limits on “free speech” (when what they actually mean is restrictions on public expressions of various forms of racism, bigotry and other intolerance).
At its core the argument against economic, social and political democratisation is about over-compensation and giving a few people too much just because they were done wrong somewhere down the road. To wit: unencumbered by traditional forms of discipline, children will run roughshod over their parents. Students will have rights without responsibilities. Wives and teenagers will mouth off with impunity and people of color will expect and demand equal treatment by law enforcement. Once tradition goes, chaos will rule.
Of course none of the above is true and fears grounded in such beliefs lack substantive foundation. But the concern that minority rights might eventually supercede majority rights is a real one for more than political scientists, and has become what is known (in very simple terms) as the tyranny of the minority.
The backlash to economic, political and social democratisation was to be expected because the backlash comes from those who benefitted from the majoritarian electoral status quo before the political, economic and social rights of minorities was even allowed, much less considered as part of the democratic equation. But now the backlash has taken a particularly sinister turn in the form of the dissemination of disinformation and false narratives under the banner of democratic “balance” when it comes to minority voice.
As a lead in, let’s consider the CNN approach to political debates on its opinion shows. In the interest of being “balanced,” CNN shows regularly feature paid Republican shills (reportedly on a retainer of US$150,00/year) who with increased frequency over the years have blatantly lied, denied, denigrated, insulted, engaged in specious false comparisons and “whataboutism,” and generally acted like the a-holes that they truly are. Rick Santorum, Kayleigh Mcenany, Paris Dennard, Kelly-Ann Conway, Jason Miller and assorted others were given a huge platform from which to dispense their bulls**t, and some even managed to use the CNN enhanced profiles to step into White House jobs in the Orange Merkin administration (Dennard and Miller were caught up in sex scandals so are now relegated to talking to the converted on Fox News).
Given their disinterest in honest debate and fair play and their use of the CNN platforms to push fake news and disinformation, why on earth were they given that privilege? What was CNN thinking? Did it do so out of a naive belief that these people would behave with a modicum of grace and decorum? Or did it feature them out of some mistaken belief in “balance?” What objective balance can exist between an honest and neutral commentator and a dishonest partisan spin-scammer? Why would one even try to “balance” objective truth with rabid lies?
That is the crux of the tyranny of the minority today. Because of the advent of social media and (successful) practice of sowing deliberate disinformation and fake news, everyone who has an opinion is not only entitled to one but has equal weight in the debates of the moment. Take the anti-vaccination crowd. Even though a thousand scientific journal articles and books by leading epidemiology and vaccinology experts have been written about the effectiveness of vaccines, even though polio and other diseases were essentially eradicated within a few years of immunization campaigns being introduced against them, some celebrity chef or other uninformed ignoramus will find one medical practitioner and a few tinfoil quacks who claim that vaccines cause autism, rabies, droopy eye syndrome and alien reproductive parasitism in humans and use that as a counter-argument against vaccines. Rather than ignore these fools, some other internet-schooled morons seize upon the minority opinion to show “proof” that the counter-narrative is true.
Many will embellish the original stupidity with talk about Big Brother Deep State social control schemes, and before long the internet is festooned with anti-vax screeds vying for attention with real scientific publications. Because scientific publications are hidden behind paywalls or in university libraries and use technical language in order to be understood, the “my kid has autism because of a measles shot” scientifically uneducated crowd have the upper hand in the democratic space that is the unregulated social media market. So much for being blinded by science (apologies to Thomas Dolby).
When confronted by the utter inanity of their claims, the anti-vaxxers will respond with something along the lines of “you may have your truth but I have MY truth.” The false equivalence between them then becomes not a matter of fact versus fiction but a matter of disputed (selective) facts. Everyone not only has an opinion and places to publicise them. They now have their own set of cherry picked facts to back up their views (“links please”). At that point the slippery slope toward full blown conspiracy theories begins.
That is where we are today. Conspiracy theories vie with objective reporting as preferred narratives on social issues. The latest conspiracy gem from Q Anon involves fake snow in Texas rather than the real blizzard-caused sub-zero snow and ice that killed over 50 people and left that state without power water for days. One can only conclude, charitably, that those who subscribe to such views do not live in the Longhorn State.
However absurd all of this is, real damage has been done. Well before the January 6 conspiracy-motivated assault on the US Capitol, the pervasive echoing of political and social conspiracies permeated rightwing media, whether out of a sense of sincere conviction or opportunistic political gain. Faith in government at all levels has been consistently undermined by the promulgation of minority extremist ideological views that in a truly fair and confident society would never see the light of day but which now are given equal space with fact-based reporting. In an effort to democratise social and political discourse, the field has been given away to the tyranny of an often deranged or evil-minded ideological minority.
The truth is that not all opinions are equal. Not all views are worth considering. Not all “facts” are empirical, falsifiable or objectively measured. Some thing should simply not be considered because they are not worth the time or energy to do so. But here we are, with Plan B (non-expert) academic fools in NZ disputing the expert scientific approaches to pandemic mitigation and me arguing with anti-vax housewives in the primary school parking lot.
I blame post-modernism, including cultural relativism and other forms of inter-textual subjectivity, for greasing the slippery slope into the tyranny of the ideological minority. I do so even as I recognise the contributions that modes of critical inquiry like subaltern studies have made to the study of humanity and the advances to the human condition pushed by non-binary interpretations of what constitutes personhood. But the descent to the “all truth is subjective and therefore all views are equal” syndrome that has led to the popular rise of pseudo-scientific claptrap masquerading as alternative truth and conspiracy theories as counterfactuals to reality-based narratives lies in the notion that one can transpose an alternative methodology designed to interpret human social behaviour onto “hard” scientific inquiry or the lived and experienced reality of the people in question.
In reality, Pizzagate did not happen. The Democratic leadership demonstrably does not run a pedophile ring. It has been repeatedly verified that US election results were not stolen, in any State. On the other hand, fake snow in Texas and Jewish space lasers setting fires to California forests for profit are not objectively provable and yet are peddled (by Republican politicians even!) as if they were empirical fact. The commonality among them is the all of these views share space in the rightwing conspiracy ecosystem that is by design focused on countering observable and verifiable information provided by objective reporting in various media.
In other words, it is not what you know and the basis for how you know it. It is about how you interpret things based on what you are told, whether it is verifiable or not.
In a weird way, the path towards democratising stupidity is proof that human social evolution is dialectical, not progressive (in the sense of progressing from lower to a higher forms of knowledge, consciousness or material well-being). The push for economic, political and social democratisation, which through much trial and error and while still a work in progress, has yielded significant gains for populations previously denied agency in their lives and in society in general, has also eventually led to the spectre of the tyranny of the minority. As a result, much effort has been put into ensuring that democratisation efforts do not result in the “tail wagging the dog” effect mentioned at the beginning of this essay, and much pushback has been levelled at that effort by those who fear the effects of democratisation on the traditional socio-economic and political hierarchies that constituted the previous era.
This all is evidence that human societies do not always progress from more simple to more complex. But the dialectical progression is most clearly seen in the democratisation of social discourse to the point that idiots and evil-doers are given equal opportunity and space to vent their irrational, mean-spirited and unreal views as if they were truth, and where a minority of ideological retrogrades can manipulate the digital media space to dissemination lies, falsehoods and disinformation unimpeded by reality-based filters or objective facts.
Before, the fear was that democratisation of electoral and social opportunity would lead to a tyranny of people denied voice because of who they are by the previous systems in place, and who would use the new, more open institutional structures to impose their minority preferences on the majority. Now the threat is posed by ideological minorities who in a rational world would be laughed off stage but who now, with the democratisation of telecommunications, have global media platforms on which to spew hatred and ignorance unencumbered by a grounding in objective knowledge and notions of honesty, civility and fair play.
If Hegel could see us now, I wonder what he would say.
There isn’t a tyranny of a minority, this pro-minority stuff is coming from caucasian educated urbanites. And that is why it is running out of control, because they aren’t in the affected minority group they aren’t directly getting any feedback that could tell them they’ve reached their goals.
There are conspiracy theories on the left too, it is not just a right thing. I do think it’s worse on the right but the left is catching up fast. Right-wing conspiracies tend to be about physical stuff and hence they are easier to spot and disprove, left-wing conspiracies are usually more social in nature and are harder to parse truth from fiction.
And what is CNN thinking? Well they are just wanting to make money; that’s the real problem in media: the advertising driven nature of it.
If Hegel was alive he would agree with you, Pablo!
“Even though a thousand scientific journal articles and books by leading epidemiology and vaccinology experts have been written about the effectiveness of vaccines, even though polio and other diseases were essentially eradicated within a few years of immunisation campaigns being introduced against them, some celebrity chef or other uninformed ignoramus will find one medical practitioner who claims that vaccines cause autism, rabies, droopy eye syndrome and alien reproductive parasitism in humans.”
Anti-vax tin-foil hattery wasn’t necessarily invented by a struck-off doctor in the Internet age. Rather, he likely reheated John Birchist 1950s Red Scare propaganda that linked water fluoridation & polio vaccines to Soviet mind control plots.
James Green: Also, leftist conspiracy outlets such as Grayzone or Chapo Trap House generally don’t have Rupert Murdoch types to bankroll them. Even George Soros, a favourite Emmanuel Goldstein of the QAnon mob, isn’t known to go anywhere near GZ or CTH.
“The rational alone is real” ..Hegel.
Strangely, in Europe, vaccine refusal is higher among healthcare workers than the general population.
See? This could be exactly what I am talking about. Do you have a link to a reputable professional outlet that conclusively demonstrates that “in Europe vaccine refusal is higher among healthcare workers than the general population?” I ask because “Europe” is a large and variegated place on many dimensions, which means that the methodologies required to conclusively prove your assertion would have to be pretty darn sophisticated and comprehensive in their scope in order to be accurate. That includes defining “Europe” and “healthcare workers” before getting into the specifics of refusal rates across countries, ethnicities, gender, urban or rural locations within countries and across the continent, age groups, etc.
I am not trying to be pedantic or disputatious and certainly do not equate you with them, but that sort of blanket assertion is exactly what the likes of Q Anon and Alex Jones do all of the time.
Do you consider the Guardian a reputable professional outfit?
I don’t think this is a claim that refusal rates are higher uniformly across every single variable of gender, location, nationality etc etc. One can state a broad trend without claiming that it is a uniform trend. Saying “men are more likely to commit domestic violence than women” is an even broader statement, since “men” is a group of 4 billion people with massive variations of class, sexuality, income, profession and just about every other factor. But despite all that, the broad statement it is still a correct statement, and it still captures a truth.
The same is presumably true of this statement unless the Guardian is making up statistics (which I doubt). This doesn’t mean that one could not find certain groups within the larger set of “European healthcare workers” where vaccine refusal rates were not higher. But if one were to identify that, for example, Portuguese urban female healthcare workers did not have a higher refusal rate, this qualifies the overall point, but it does not negate it.
The Guardian is a reputable left leaning newspaper. Unfortunately, nowhere in the article that you cite is there mention of healthcare workers having high refusal rates. In fact, the article is about resistance to a particular Covid vaccine ( produced by AstraZeneca) set against a backdrop of overt politisation of medical policy and deep seated cultural aversions to vaccination in many parts of Europe–but which vary widely amongst individual countries.
In other words, you have made my point. You made a definitive and specific assertion in the previous comment and when challenged you offer a link to an article that does not even remotely come close to addressing, much less supporting that assertion. You then deflect into a defence of broad generalisations when in fact you made a very specific claim about European healthcare workers having higher refusal rates than the general population. You continue to provide no evidence for the original assertion while defending it as a broad generalisation. The trouble is, unlike the generalisation that men are more likely to be domestic abusers, your original assertion appears to have no basis in actual fact.
Rather than get bogged down in a back and forth on this, let me simply note that were you to continue to make that assertion in social media and elsewhere, some people might actually believe you and repeat it themselves as if it was truth. From there other people might well add and embellish the original (unsubstantiated) assertion so that, for example, the story becomes “European healthcare workers have higher refusal rates than the general population because they know that the anti-Covid vaccination campaign is a Trilateral Commission/Rothschild Deep State plot to embed micro-tracking chips in the population prior to the establishment of a New World Order under Agedna 21 rules. And so on and so forth. That is exactly what the so-called “Q” does: drop some outrageous theory into the social media mix and then watch it take off in the ethersphere.
Again, I am not accusing you of anything of the sort. I am just noting, pursuant to the original subject of the post, that it is exactly the types of assertion such as yours that become, thanks to a myriad of factors including the democratisation of telecommunications, part of the logical latticework of ideologically-driven conspiracies devoid of scientific fact, which in turn leads to the tyranny of the minorities that traffic in them.
I suggest that we call it a day on this.
It’s in paragraph three, ” Almost unbelievably, scepticism is highest among healthcare workers.”.
Ah, I see. I missed that so apologies for the oversight.
However. It is one line offered with no evidence at the end of a paragraph that is dedicated to the skepticism about the AstraZeneca vaccine only. It is therefore not generalisable to anything else, including other Covid vaccines. Rather than repeat the line as if was a universal truth and therefore run the risk of perpetuating a falsehood, I would write the good people at the Guardian and ask them to tell the author to provide concrete proof of his assertion and/or further qualify it.
Having been hijacked off of the original subject, this thread is now closed. Further comments will be deleted.