Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rethinking the myth of “consensus of the majority” - 1

Image thanks to here.

At the very outset, I would like to state this – consensus has its relevance and role. Now my thoughts on the subject:

Is the so called consensus real and founded on sound knowledge?

We like to think that one of the marks of a civilized society is the ability to reach consensus on important issues affecting society. In fact, consensus has today become as normal and unconscious as breathing in many important aspects of our life. Consensus indicates agreement in the judgment or opinion reached by a group as a whole.  The masses then adjust and manage their lives within the framework of consensus that has been presented to them – unthinkingly.

In almost every aspect of our lives – corporate, family, politics, religion, etc – consensus determines and controls our perspective of things.

It is generally accepted that consensus is vital for life to progress and the opposite of it will be chaos. If you belong to any social unit, you are expected to adhere to consensus; otherwise you will be ostracized as a trouble maker. The mindset of consensus is so ingrained in most of us that we are unable to see its clear and present dangers.

Consensus is also equated with “decision of the majority”. We have been brought up to think that decisions made by the majority are always good for all of us. We therefore must “respect” or adhere to the norms of the majority. Minority views are suppressed, not given any thought or even ridiculed.

I can understand the usefulness of consensus to achieve certain objectives in society. However, I will not extol it to be the “high virtue” that many seem to have unthinkingly accepted. Consensus is only useful when you understand its consequences and limitations. It appears to me that preference for consensus alone (to the exclusion of differing views) is indicative of the human being’s failure to rise from mental primitiveness.

Consensus, as practiced in our lives universally, has created more problems than benefits. My informal study of human history seems to suggest that consensus has been a major tool of oppression of the masses, reformers and intellectuals causing untold confusion, misery and cruelties.  Shocked at this proposition? Let me explain.

I view the unthinking obsession with consensus as people’s readiness to surrender their lives to a very small elitist group in their society. Most people actually live their life allowing it to be shaped by unseen human hands under the convenient tool called “consensus”.

I must confess that I began analysing the usefulness of consensus when I was compelled to think of the following verse from the Quran, some 15 years back:

“And if you obey most of those in the earth, they will lead you astray from Allah's way; they follow but conjecture and they only lie”. (Quran 6:116)

The above verse seems to suggest that majority views are often a result of conjectures (assumptions/guesswork) and untruths/lies/unfounded premises. I suppose this makes sense as any fact or truth is independent of the numbers who believe in it. As we often hear, a lie repeated a million times is still a lie and a truth of one is still the truth.

Since the Quran seems to suggest that majority views are a result of conjectures, it is therefore incumbent upon the thinking person to verify, ascertain and evaluate the views, norms or anything that he hears or experiences (see Quran 17:36).

In this paper, I shall attempt to analyse various aspects of our lives that have been wrecked by the myth of consensus and the untold misery and injustices that has unfolded.

Politics and Democracy

Democracy we say is the government of the people, by the people for the people. It is, we boast, a system that allows the people to form a government and run it by consensus. We say it is a majority rule government. Does that “majority” include you and me and the 15 year old child who does not know where to get the money to go to school? 

To be continued in Part 2.
Peace !

No comments: