Vox pop

by Chris Bertram on November 13, 2003

Catherine Bennett has “a column in todays’ Guardian”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,1083907,00.html making the points I made yesterday about the HFEA report on sex selection. She has a great opening paragraph:

bq. Here are some things that people think. The majority of people, anyway. People think that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is one of the best books ever written. People approve of the reintroduction of capital punishment (lethal injection, for preference). People want fox hunting banned. Their favourite song is Bohemian Rhapsody. People believe in ghosts and are in favour of identity cards. Their favourite meal is fish and chips and they feel sure GM food is a very bad thing. Almost half of them don’t think the MMR jab is safe. People underestimate the hygiene complications of preparing a Christmas turkey. They have never heard of the European Constitution. They think parents have the right to know the name and address of any sex offender in the neighbourhood. They think parental selection of a baby’s gender is so awful it should be banned.



Mikhel 11.13.03 at 5:04 pm

Not to be seen as advocating that sex-selection should necessarily be banned, but something about the paragraph bothers me. Take the example about Bohemian Rhapsody, which I remembered as being an old BBC story. Well, not that old. Anyway:


Top ten?

1. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
2. Imagine – John Lennon
3. Hey Jude – The Beatles
4. Dancing Queen – Abba
5. Like a Prayer – Madonna
6. Angels – Robbie Williams
7. Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever – The Beatles
8. Wannabe – Spice Girls
9. Yesterday -The Beatles
10. Let It Be – The Beatles

Personally, I like ‘Blackbird’ better than ‘Hey Jude’, but that’s not my point. The ‘majority of people’ is probably very small when we consider that there are thirty songs on the list. Sadly, the BBC doesn’t give us The Numbers.

How about some of the other examples? Well, going from the argument as such, do all people who think the Potter book is one of the best all time, advocate the reintroduction of capital punishment, and like Queen, and have unfounded fears about the MMR? Probably not, I’d wager.

I admit that the first time I read the paragraph I chuckled: it’s a nice juxtaposition. But the majority of people who believe in ghosts might not be any of the people who like Queen, or read Harry Potter, or like fried food. For all we know, the people who are against Sex Selection might enjoy Pachabel’s Cannon in D, read ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ and eat healthy Thai.

The rest of the article is great, but we shouldn’t make presumptions about one majority of people (the ones who are against sex-selection) as if they were another majority of people (the ones who believe in spooks).

Majorities are all over the place.


Stentor 11.13.03 at 5:50 pm

mikhel: I don’t see where in the article it was implied that the majorities who like these different things are the same majorities. I also don’t see how it matters — if you put each policy individually to a popular vote, it’s irrelevant how many of the people who voted for Harry Potter also voted for Bohemian Rhapsody. Perhaps one could say that greater overlap in the majorities would lead to greater inequality in number of preferences enacted (i.e, more people who always got their way because they like popular things, and more people who never got their way).


msg 11.14.03 at 5:07 am

“For me democracy is also substantive democracy. Democracy has its own internal morality based on dignity and equality of all human beings. There is no democracy without recognition of basic values and principles such as morality and justice. Above all, democracy cannot exist without the protection of individual human rights – rights so essential that they must be insulated from the power of the majority.”
—Aharon Barak Keynote Speech, 52nd Commencement, Brandeis University, May.21.03
“Every man is a channel through which heaven floweth.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson- Essays: Second Series, Nominalist and Realist 1844

“Shall we judge the country by the majority or by the minority? Certainly, by the minority. The mass are animal, in state of pupilage, and nearer the chimpanzee.”
Emerson- Journal, 1854

The men responsible for the soul-numbing pablum on television claim to be innocently responding to public desire, at the same time of course they have a direct, profound, and provable influence on what it is the public desires.
Barak has it right. Those things which attack human dignity are to be opposed, will of the majority or not.
The illusion is that ‘the people’ are a fixed thing, and that the demands of the present majority are more important than their effect on those who come after.
Through the filter of this deception the will of the current populace is taken to be the highest expression of democratic principle.
It is the people as a whole democracy serves, and that must serve it in turn.
The people as a whole is an unended thing.


rvman 11.14.03 at 5:56 pm

From the following paragraph:
“Mercifully, for those who deviate from the majority position on most of the above, the public view does not have to be emulated, or obeyed”

Of 13 points, fox-hunting, Genetic modification, sex selection, sex-offender notification, identity cards, the European Constitution, MMR inoculation, and the death penalty are subjects of existing or proposed legislation in one jurisdiction or another, . That mean 5 of 13 (HP, BR, F&C, Turkey, and Ghosts) make up “most” of these issues. Hmph.

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