The following is taken from the prelude portion of the chapter entitled
"Democracy" in the book Socioeconomic Democracy: An Advanced Socioeconomic System. Other perspectives dealt with at the start of the chapter include
some of Bucky Fuller's thoughts on democracy and Harvey Wheeler's ideas about
democracy in a revolutionary era. The chapter then explores some of the contemporary problems of
Qualitative Democracy (whereby, for example, a
democratic society might democratically select between Candidate A or Candidate B or, perhaps in desperation, even Candidate C to fill some elected
public office) and the promising possibilities of Quantitative Democracy (whereby a democratic society might democratically determine
amounts or magnitudes of important matters in question).
OF MAJORITY RULE
It is at once instructive and amusing to consider a hypothetical history
of the origin and some possible early developments of the concept of majority
rule. This discussion is by no means intended to imply that the following brief scenario actually, accurately or adequately characterizes the
prehistory, as it were, of the conscious appreciation and adoption of majority rule. It is rather a more or less mythical sketch of what might
have happened back in that dimmest past of arguably human existence.
Let us therefore go back in time to the land from whence we all came and
where we all have and share our roots -- back to Africa. Let us go back, say, to around the time of our
common Greatmother hundreds of thousands of years ago. Imagine a group of wanderers -- long before the domestication of
animals and the invention of agriculture -- roaming the verdant meadows and shimmering savannas, the lush jungles and proud mountains of a magnificent
Africa. Visualize the pristine jewels of lakes and winding rivers, regal black at night, save where sprinkled with
shimmering silver reflecting the brightest of stars or washed with a dancing swath mirroring the moon,
transmuting to burnished gold at sunrise and sunset and to the clearest of crystal sweet water during the day. Stand in awe with our group of wanderers
and marvel at the near-endless expanse of an ever-changing and always enchanting coastline. Witness the scudding clouds of every possible shape
and shade majestically soaring through a sky unquestionably unique on this planet.
Imagine now two such groups accidentally and unexpectedly encountering
each other. If the males of those two clans were anything like most of the males of recent times (say at least the last six thousand years), no doubt
the first thing both groups would do is set about trying to kill everyone in
the other group. After all (some in the two groups might have already begun
to reason), there may or may not be enough for everybody here in paradise.
Thus would the carnage ensue. Both sides being determined to exterminate
all the members of the other tribe and thus eliminate any threat from them (they both being, up to then, glorious victors in the evolutionary struggle
for survival), both sides would therefore suffer much bloody, painful and agonizing death. The dead remains of the "winners," let us call them, were
perhaps buried and the live remains of the surviving group went on with living -- maybe but probably not the wiser. And who knows about the dead
remains of the "losers"? These deadly annihilating encounters (all very stupid, as everyone can now plainly see) might have eventually formed a proud
tradition that was periodically celebrated and repeated down through the passing decades, centuries and millennia of yet uninvented time.
Then one day, it can be imagined, it occurred or was revealed to one --
or perhaps independently to a number -- of these prehistoric humans that that
group which had the most members could always win the war and be able to kill
all the members of the other tribe. Furthermore, realized these insightful prehistoric people, they could kill all the others with essentially no loses
on their side. Succinctly, all they had to do was think!
For example, all that was needed, reasoned the inspired ones, was for
those in the "majority" tribe to grab and just hold on to someone, more or less their own size, from the other tribe while the "extra" prehistoric
people from the tribe of the majority picked up good sized rocks and crushed
the skulls of the members of the minority tribe who were not necessarily totally subdued but merely more or less held in place. Even if the majority
tribe had only one more prehistoric person than the other tribe, the results
could be more or less guaranteed -- everything else being equal, of course. Overwhelming majorities (hundreds of thousands of years later to be referred
to as mandates) just made the job easier and faster. Thus was Clausewitz's interest in the relationships and shadings
between politics and warfare somewhat anticipated by prehistoric thinkers.
For the mathematically inclined (or those who aren't), it is clear that
if the single extra prehistoric person in the majority tribe who was doing the skull-crushing performed that job unassisted by his
(or her) tribespeople, the minority tribe could be dispatched at a more or less linear
rate. If each member of the majority tribe picked up a large rock and proceeded to help finish the overall job after that person's particular
opponent had his (or her) head crushed and was no longer a threat, the annihilation process could proceed at a much more rapid exponential rate.
High technology clubs (as opposed to bare hands and arms) could and did change the balance, and we can wonder about
prehistoric club manufacturers and club dealers. Unequal technology can, of course, allow a
minority tribe to dominate -- at least for a while.
Some prehistoric humans, even back then, may have been evolved enough and
conscious enough to realize just how stupid the popular bloodletting rituals
were -- and a few of them may have even dodged the disgusting bloody battles
by running off into the jungle and waiting until the hotheads had killed each
other or tired of the slaughter. The leading edge of the ever-evolving "bell-shaped curve" may have already created some prehistoric persons who
could see clearly that thoughtful cooperation could always accomplish anything costly competition can do and usually a whole lot more. But if
there were such evolved prehistoric people, they evidently were not conscious
enough to put a stop to the stupidity. Perhaps they were all killed off.
As the capacity to reason, like all other things, slowly but surely
evolved, it can be further imagined that someone else, building on the earlier observation about the almost magical power of a majority, eventually
envisioned an even better use of the principle. "Instead of killing off our
minority opponents with majority rule," this already highly thoughtful prehistoric person might have reasoned, "let's make slaves of them and have
them do our dirty work for us. We will be rich! Rather than crush their skulls with large rocks," explained the more thoughtful one to his curious
clanspersons, "the free members of our majority tribe should tie up all the minority tribe members as we hold them still
and then, at our convenience, we'll start to teach them the new program. Of course, if any of them look or
act like troublemakers...."
Or perhaps some member of a minority tribe at one of the chance
encounters quickly learned to count, thought at an accelerated rate and then
suggested that they, the outnumbered, could be beneficial slaves for the larger group, reasoning that it is better to be a slave than dead -- a
proposition continually reconsidered down through the millennia. Thus, perhaps, was the "Tyranny of the Majority" first invented -- a giant step
forward (at the time) in the prehistory of social relationships.
As the capricious capacity to reason further evolved in both the slave
owners and the slaves, so did the customs of and constraints on the institution of slavery. To get the slaves to do an increasing number and
variety of tasks, eventually subtle slavery was introduced. At least in a number of instances, down through the years, the name was dropped and the
slaves were thereafter called workers -- which evidently fooled a lot of people. It even turned out that in some cases the slaves began to support
and get behind the program so much that it became cost-effective for the
slavemasters (who were eventually called employers, bankers, lawyers, landowners and economists) to see to it that at least some of the slaves had
inidual residences, autos, personal bank accounts, TVs, VCRs and other toys in order to facilitate their work as well as provide what they called an
"economic incentive" for the other slaves to work harder.
But this is leading us to the distributions of wealth and income in a
society. Here, we are concerned about democracy and societal decision-making. Let us therefore return from that distant past of
prehistoric majority rule, proud of our common and thoughtful African ancestry -- which, in fact, allows all Americans to correctly claim to be
African-Americans, with our primary distinction simply being which ship and deck we or our immigrant ancestors came over in. Except, of course, for
America's indigenous peoples; or are they Asian-Americans, or more respectfully yet, African-Asian-Americans? In any case, let us now consider
some of the problems and possibilities of modern democratic societies.
© 2000 by Robley E. George