The EU Referendum & the Tyranny of Democracy

In the debate about the referendum for the UK to leave the EU any people are complaining about the perceived lack of democracy in the EU parliament as policy are put up for debate by unelected bureaucrats, although they are voted on by elected members of the European parliament and sent to each national government to look over and they can choose to veto them.

My question is why is this so bad? Surely some policies should be completely off the table and a purely democratic process can theoretically entertain any idea. What if it, for example, the majority of the populace thought the UK should bring back the death penalty? Some would say if that’s what the people say that should be allowed to happen. I’m not convinced, I would have to be presented with strong evidence that threat of the death penalty reduces crimes and outweighs the costs of ending human life and the psychological and social costs to people who live in a society that has the death penalty (fear it will be used on innocents and the effect it has on workers and inmates of prison for example). Yes, bureaucrats who curate the status quo are also unlikely to put forward potentially more positive changes and who they are and how they make selections should be scrutinised.

The best way to sort through the various potential policies, to bring new things to the table and weigh their costs and benefits is, as always, the use of strong scientific and other evidence in the use of policy, not popular opinion. Yes we need democracy in some form; it is quicker to adapt to changing circumstances and people’s voices should be heard. But I’m becoming more and more convinced democracy is its own form of tyranny, one dictated by the many rather than the few. Unlike some commentators I don’t think that the electorate is unqualified to make certain decisions (that’s just snobbish), but when science is revealing the variation among people more and more it becomes more and more clear that the obeying beliefs of the many will always come at a cost for the few. Different people have different needs to make them happy and society should aim to maximise that for all of them as long as it is not at a cost to others (again this comes back to the argument about capital punishment). Science is guilty of this too, because statistics works by looking at what works for the majority, this is one of the reasons many feel modern medicine doesn’t work for them and choose to have complementary or alternative treatment. But science doesn’t discount the minority and the outliers and its nature means it does correct itself when it overlooks them and is more capable of building up a more nuanced picture.

 – Matthew Dickinson,
The Spiritual Materialist

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