Monday, May 3, 2010

Truth is not Subject to a Vote

On Sunday the Chronicle opined that the primary motivation behind some opposition to red-light cameras is money.
A frequent charge leveled against the use of cameras to catch red-light violators is that their prime purpose is making money for municipalities rather than improving traffic safety. As it turns out, a prime mover behind a petition drive to force a referendum on the issue in Houston knows all about how to make money off traffic tickets.
The paper goes on to tell us that public safety should outweigh the interests of "self-serving" lawyers--we must put aside our personal interests for the "public good". The editorial implies that we should simply dismiss anyone who stands to profit from a particular policy decision.

On the other side of the issue is the majority of Houstonians:
An opinion survey commissioned by the group [Keep Houston Safe] found that two thirds of likely Houston voters back the system, with that support consistent across political, racial, and socioeconomic lines. Seventy-seven percent of respondents agreed that cameras were a reasonable way to curb red-light runners, and 71 percent believed that the cameras make Houston safer.
In this age of democracy, the will of "the people" reigns supreme. If 71 percent of those polled "believe" that red-light cameras make the city safer, then it must be true. The actual facts are irrelevant--if we want to determine the "truth" all we must do is take an opinion poll.

Reality however, is not as cooperative as the advocates of majority rule would like us to believe. The facts of reality are not determined by a vote. The number of people who believe a certain idea does not determine its truth. That most people once thought the Earth to be flat did not make it so. The majority can be, and often is, wrong.

Just as the paper implies that the "public good" supersedes that of individuals, it also implies that the will of "the people" supersedes the judgment of individuals. In mind and in body the individual is subservient to others. In thought and in action the individual must cower to the dictates of the majority. Such a view is morally wrong and disastrous in practice, for there is no atrocity that cannot be "justified" on such a basis.

The Founding Fathers rejected tyranny in any form, whether a tyranny of one (the King) or a tyranny of the many (democracy). Indeed, James Madison--the father of the Constitution--wrote:
There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.
Right and wrong, like truth, is not subject to the whims or caprice of the majority. And that is a fact, no matter how many people believe otherwise.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you that the Red Light cameras save lives and allow the police to focus on other crimes. I support the cameras and am glad you do too.

Brian Phillips said...

You certainly have a very good imagination. I said nothing about supporting, or not supporting, red-light cameras.