Debate:Democracy and Civil Rights

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Maine and 0-31.[edit]

Universal human rights should not be put to popular vote because they're universal. Has any significant human rights initiative emancipation, women's suffrage, desegregation, etc) come about in the US because of a ballot initiative? RaoulDuke 14:38, 4 November 2009 (UTC)

Maybe one of our lawyers can explain this to me, but how does any law get put up to a popular vote? I mean, can we raise the speed limit? Get rid of red-light cameras? Legalize murder? How, exactly, can voters strike down laws? Z3rotalk 14:41, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
I think it depends on your state's constitution. Sterile cauldron 15:24, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
This raises a very interesting question about social change and political leadership. I can't speak for the US but here in the UK many of the liberalisation of UK laws which today we take as given - legalised homosexuality, legalised abortion, cessation of the death penalty to name but three - were probably against the popular vote at the time although all of them are widely accepted nowadays. How much should politicians lead and how much should they follow. Bob Soles 18:49, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
Oh no! The majority of people don't embrace my agenda, I must take the right to vote away from everyone one! - π 21:58, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
Wait, PI--are you saying that "majority rule" should always trump "agendas"? RaoulDuke 22:01, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
Mostly I find it insulting that people seem to have decided that the plebs are not capable of making these judgements and so we should take away their right to vote on these issues, instead brining down decisions from a high. - π 22:06, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
The democrat in me agrees wholeheartedly. The part of me who enjoys liberties which were won against the popular wish at the time... suddenly it's not so simple. Bob Soles 22:08, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
EC So a deeply flawed democratic process--one that is enmeshed in things well out of the reach of "plebs"-- like powerful political machines, PACs, corporate media, etc. etc. should represent the last word on what are ostensibly universal human rights? What if we had put desegregation or women's suffrage to the vote and the initiatives had failed? Would you be so quick to say "the majority has spoken, this is a clear expression of what's right and wrong and it's time to accept this and move on." Or would you not ask yourself if these issues need to be decided on some other way? RaoulDuke 22:11, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
It seems then it the failure to get the message across. If you put, "would you like more freedom?" on a ballot it would probably return yes by a huge percentage. What you need to do is make it clearer that a right for one "minority group" is in fact a "universal human right" because everyone gets to choice to whether they use it or not. Besides, how long is a governmental system going to survive if it always makes decisions against the wishes of the majority in the name of human rights? - π 22:18, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
I'm sorry but the idea that all people are equally qualified to vote is bollocks. I am (almost certainly) one of the 1% of people most politicaly active in this country, but I only know the Lisbon Treaty through the media, since (even though I've read it) it's so full of legalese and references to previous treaties that I'd need to spend a couple of weeks looking everything up. I'm quite prepared to do that, but my bank manager would take issue with the lack of income.
I am prepared in theory to delegate my vote to someone who knows what they're talking about because it's their job to look at all the pros and cons of any proposed law. In fact, of course, what happens is that political agenda overtake common sense so we end up with bullshit on party lines rather than sensible political debate.
The unfortunate truth is that if we have direct democracy for everything, we get whatever Rupert Murdoch wants. And that ain't democracy at all. –SuspectedReplicantretire me 22:19, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
The Australian Republic. Murdoch pushed for a yes vote through all of his media, even in the later days come out himself in support. Still got knocked back. - π 22:44, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
Of course there will be exceptions. The point I was (unsuccessfully) making is that people will get their opinions from the media rather than from rational thought. –SuspectedReplicantretire me 22:51, 4 November 2009 (UTC)

EC "Besides, how long is a governmental system going to survive if it always makes decisions against the wishes of the majority in the name of human rights?" PI, name some major advances in human/civil rights that came to the US as a result of a referendum/ballot initiative. RaoulDuke 22:22, 4 November 2009 (UTC)

None, that is why there are nutters running around the country with automatic weaponry, screaming "I still have the second amendment" making vague to explicit threats of succession - because they feel powerless! Not the right way to go about engaging people. - π 22:28, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
I'm not sure I follow you, then--if ballot initiatives are obviously not an effective means by which to advance HR initiatives because they're "not the right way to go about engaging people," what's your problem with doubting that the popular vote should be the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to these sorts of topics? RaoulDuke 22:36, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
I was saying making decisions from above is not the right way to engage people. To advance HR you have to convince the majority, possibly the overwhelming majority, that it is necessary and the morally right thing to do. Sure you can not get it done tomorrow the way a Supreme Court ruling would, but too much change too quickly is only going to turn people away from the system that is suppose to be advancing HR on their behalf. People are not stupid just because they disagree with something you see as vitally important. They do have other priorities, aspirations and dreams. - π 22:43, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
And what if the majority never gets it--never gets the idea that slavery is wrong, never gets the idea that people with vaginas should vote, never gets the idea that black folks should sit at the same lunch counter as white folks? And how much patience is it fair to ask people being denied fundamental rights to have? RaoulDuke 22:49, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
I don't know what worries me more the dogma or the pessimism. - π 23:06, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
How can someone's "priorities, aspirations and dreams" include barring someone else from a harmless activity? ħumanUser talk:Human 22:53, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
They shouldn't that is the message you need to get across. I am more annoyed at the attitude that it is the voters fault you can't convince them of your message. - π 23:06, 4 November 2009 (UTC)

Another way to look at this question, PI: let's say a bunch of racists wanted to start a ballot initiative calling for the reversal of the Civil Rights Act. I would imagine that your response, even if these racists managed to convince a substantial number of people to support their cause, might read something like this: "No way should that question go to a referendum, because we're talking about fundamental human rights here, and people shouldn't be voting on the question in the first place--because those are fundamnetal, universal human rights that go beyond the question of what "the people" want." Are there not, in fact, certain questions that don't and shouldn't fall under the rubric of "things we can vote on" because they occupy a different register than other types of policies? RaoulDuke 23:25, 4 November 2009 (UTC)

I would (hopefully) enjoy the look on their faces when the initiative fails to get even 10% of the vote. - π 23:28, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
Wow, what a smug and wrong response. Especially smug. You think that issue is beyond reproach? Have you ever studied US History? (I suspect not, as an upsidedownlander). ħumanUser talk:Human 05:39, 5 November 2009 (UTC)
Yes I am aware of US history. However we (Australia) did vote to extend human rights to the native Aboriginals in 1967 via a vote. It has happened before. Do you actual think that little of your fellow Americans that they would support such an initiative? - π 05:49, 5 November 2009 (UTC)
But you do think that people should have the right to vote on any idea, on any notion of rights, even those things that we hold to be universal? Okay. RaoulDuke 23:42, 4 November 2009 (UTC)
Okay lets run it the other way, lets protect ideas that are too important to be left for the plebs. Well we have human rights which in its implementation pretty much ends up equating to social policy. How about defence? If these ideas are too important for plebs to decide on, then the defence of these ideas form outside tyranny is too. How about economics? Look what happened when we left people to decide what to do with their own money, they ruined the place. What do we have now? A dictatorship. Yes I think people should vote on ideas because the alternative is even more unthinkable. - π 01:04, 5 November 2009 (UTC)
Sorry, but that's a false analogy. The matter of universal rights isn't that they're too important for the plebs to decide on, but that they are superior and antecedent to all laws the plebs can create. They can't infringe upon them, even via due democratic process; those rights are simply beyond their purview. This has been the basis of liberal democracy since it was conceived. PubliusTalk 05:05, 5 November 2009 (UTC)
Well said, thank you. ħumanUser talk:Human 05:40, 5 November 2009 (UTC)
You say that, but the constitution is constructed to be malleable. The founding fathers later inserted a bill of rights, but they didn't have to and it can always be removed. Either via direct or indirect democracy, you are allowing people to vote for human rights. - π 05:46, 5 November 2009 (UTC)
And we get into the fatal flaw, and ironically one of the saving graces, of democracy: the idea that a million people together are smarter than one. Of course, at a further glance one sees that this is false; for example, if I put a million high school math students in a room I doubt they would create a Unified Theory [or even general relativity] due to the proximity of their shared brain power. The human mind is meant for individual effort that can be combined, not net effort that can be detatched. However, the fact that it gives the people the thought that, by working together, they can change their way of life for the 'better' gives people the incentive to go out and do things rather than let someone run it for them. This leads to innovation, teamwork and a net improvement to the society if nurtured with rational thought and due diligence. Our current problem in the United States is that less and less people are using rational thought in their decisions, leading to the fiasco you find in Maine, or the health care town halls, et. al.
To sum up "Democracy is the belief that a million people are smarter than one. Hold on, say that again?"
"An autocracy is the belief that one man is smarter than a million. How does that work?" -- Lazarus Long. -- CodyH 14:45, 5 November 2009 (UTC)
^This. I can't argue with a Heinlein quote. Tetronian you're clueless 14:47, 5 November 2009 (UTC)

"A person is smart. People are dumb." I can tell Pi that putting the Civil Rights Act up for a vote would be scary. Especially if it were possible to nullify it on a county level. There are a plethora of counties here in the US that could, fairly easily, get nullfication to pass. On the State level, it is also not hard to envision. Though I doubt it would pass, I certainly wouldn't be confident on election night at the very least. --Edgerunner76Your views are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter 16:05, 5 November 2009 (UTC)

Do I actually need to point out that more than half your country voted for a black man to be President? - π 22:00, 5 November 2009 (UTC)
Do I seriously need to point out that I did give state and county caveats. Pi, you're obviously too much of an outsider to the US. I would not be shocked if, given a ballot measure and nothing to stop it, more than a few counties throughout the US could actually pass slavery back into law. That's a bit of hyperbole, but I would by no means have complete metaphysical certitude come election night. --Edgerunner76Your views are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter 13:43, 6 November 2009 (UTC)
There has to be middle ground. One can not lead people too far forward, (a) because you get a huge resentment and (b) you are probably wrong (Lenin, Mao, Tatcher, etc. Not that I consider those equal mind you). One the other hand most of the good things of modern society were probably pushed through despite a lack of public support. In the US alone: slavery (Civil War), homosexuality, segregation (remember the Federal troops were required), abortion, etc. Some of them now enjoy fairly broad support. One the other had Bush also thought he was leading the country forward, I'm fairly unsure where the line is to be drawn. Pietrow 17:24, 5 November 2009 (UTC)
Middle ground is right. I think Aristotle (or whoever it was) had the right idea: that the ideal government should contain elements or monarchy & oligarchy as well as democracy - i.e. that laws should be made by an elected group, under the guidance of a leader, rather rather than entirely at the whim of the majority. That is reflected in most democratic governments. Opening up too many issues to public referendum would be a dangerous move, as there are far too many people who would want to reintroduce or extend capital punishment, abolish alll taxes, shut down immigration, etc.etc. In this case, a state has voted against recognising gay marriage. Probably many of those voters would also vote to illegalise homosexuality if they were given the chance. That wouldn't make it right or just. €₳$£ΘĪÐWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 19:41, 6 November 2009 (UTC)