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You Can Never Ignore The Voice Of The People

May 8, 2010

Today I was reading Ludwig Von Mises’ book ‘Human Action’ and he began talking about human society and governments.  The discussion moved toward the philosophy of democracy.  After reading what he said I had a quick image of Bill Maher pop in my head, when he made a guest appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.  Bill Maher was saying how Obama needed to ram all this legislation through even if the majority of people didn’t want it.  To Maher, even if people are stupid, you need to give them what’s good for them.

Now I really like Bill Maher, but when I heard that I thought,  “No Bill, you can’t do that.  I agree with the policies you want enacted, but that approach doesn’t work.”  Then Conan responded and said, “Well, I personally feel you need a bi-partisan effort in these things.”  Maher seemed a bit disgusted, but I was very impressed.  I really shouldn’t be too surprised though.  Conan graduated with honors from Harvard, and his major was history.  His good sense shows.   That’s part of why I really like him.  Even though he’s goofy, doing his string dance with a masturbating bear behind him, he’s a very intelligent guy.

Here’s a quotation from Human Action:

“Liberal social doctrine, based on the teachings of utilitarian ethics and economics, sees the problem of the relation between the government and those ruled from a different angle than universalism and collectivism. Liberalism realizes that the rulers, who are always a minority, cannot lastingly remain in office if not supported by the consent of the majority of those ruled. Whatever the system of government may be, the foundation upon which it is built and rests is always the opinion of those ruled that to obey and to be loyal to this government better serves their own interests than insurrection and the establishment of another regime. The majority has the power to do away with an unpopular government and uses this power whenever it becomes convinced that its own welfare requires it. Civil war and revolution are the means by which the discontented majorities overthrow rulers and methods of government which do not suit them. For the sake of domestic peace liberalism aims at democratic government. Democracy is therefore not a revolutionary institution. On the contrary, it is the very means of preventing revolutions and civil wars. It provides a method for the peaceful adjustment of government to the will of the majority. When the men in office and their policies no longer please the majority of the nation, they will—in the next election—be eliminated and replaced by other men espousing different policies.

The principle of majority rule or government by the people as recommended by liberalism does not aim at the supremacy of the mean, of the lowbred, of the domestic barbarians. The liberals too believe that a nation should be ruled by those best fitted for this task. But they believe that a man’s ability to rule proves itself better by convincing his fellow-citizens than by using force upon them. There is, of course, no guarantee that the voters will entrust office to the most competent candidate. But no other system could offer such a guarantee. If the majority of the nation is committed to unsound principles and prefers unworthy office-seekers, there is no remedy other than to try to change their mind by expounding more reasonable principles and recommending better men. A minority will never win lasting success by other means.

To change the world you have to change the hearts and minds of people, one person at a time.  We live in a society with a lot of other people who believe a lot of different things.  If you want to change the way society works you have to convince them as well.

I always like to think of everything in terms of farming analogies.  Growing up I used to help my Dad in the garden.  You can’t reap a harvest unless you first plant the seeds.  Everything in life works this way.  You have to plant the seeds, watch over them, water the plants, fertilize them, and then after months of work you finally reap the rewards of your labor.

Everyone wants to ignore the planting, weeding, and watering stages.  We have a fast food culture.  But our country isn’t like that.  It’s more like a garden.  If you come at the people with political ideas they’re unfamiliar with you have to start off by planting the seeds.   You introduce them to the topic and discuss it with them.  Next you have pull up weeds before they choke out what you planted.  This includes things like not letting liars spread lies.  You say, “No, that’s not how it works.  Here’s the facts.”  Then you continue to water, and fertilize, which is further educating them.  Then when you’ve finally completed the steps you reap the harvest.  The people let you pass new laws and change society.

Try to ignore this process and all hell will break lose.  It’s frustrating how society moves and changes so slowly, but that’s just the way it is.  It’s also frustrating when established industries spend fortunes in disinformation campaigns, flooding the internet and the news with lies and bad statistics.  They’re hoping to choke out all progress before it has time to grow.  Anyone who has ever tended a garden knows that it’s no fun to pull weeds.

There are cases of political leaders who step into office and bring vast changes almost overnight, everything going smoothly.  But when that happens there’s already been a lot of time and effort invested behind the scenes.  It took the work of a lot of people laboring to educate and inform the masses.  The leader just came in and reaped the harvest, taking all the credit.  But no major societal change happens out of nowhere.  Movements have to build.  Seeds are being planted, and it’s important that we pull out the weeds and only let the right ideas grow.  The most effective methods of change happen when we change those within our sphere of influence, sharing our ideas with them.  It’s a one person at a time process.

A society and its leaders typically reflect the intelligence of its constituent members.  It’s a bottom-up process, not top-down.  Dumb people elect dumb leaders.  Corporations provide products based on what people buy.  Most stores will stock their shelves with literally anything.  They’re there to make money.  So if you walk into the stores and see mindless garbage all around you, that’s a reflection of the mainstream culture.  It’s not Wal-Mart and the corporate CEOs imposing a mindless culture on the people, it’s a mindless people demanding worthless things.

You can never change society from the top down.  It doesn’t work that way.  You might get a dictator slide in, capitalizing on a downcast society, promising them all sorts of things then pursuing a cruel agenda once in power, but those people never last.

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