The Tyranny of the Majority : This is your democracy on drugs

Writing about the ongoing car crash that the Home Office has initiated by sacking Professor David Nutt, Gurning offspring of Andrew Marr and a euro-skeptic sock puppet Dan Hannan MEP wails

I just heard a BBC presenter remark that drugs policy should be taken out of the hands of politicians and left to a panel of experts, rather as interest rates were left to the Bank of England. …

If drugs policy, why not also tax policy? Or education policy? Or European policy? …

For what it’s worth, I agree with Prof David Nutt, the adviser sacked after criticising the Government’s decision to categorise cannabis as a Class B Drug. If anything I’d go further. He’s plainly right, this Nutt, when he says that the government’s attitude to cannabis is counter-productive, ill-informed and vote-grabbing. But that is what governments do: they grab votes. And, for all its faults, no one has come up with a better system than democracy. The BBC/Nutt option – contracting out important decisions to “experts” – has been the justification for every dictatorship in history, from Bonaparte’s onward.

And he’s not far wrong. He is wrong though. Most dictatorships are based on revealed truths of some kind. The interpreted will of some deity, the ramblings of some deranged political philosopher, or simply the psychotic narcissism of some monomaniac.

I can’t think of any dictatorship in history (and do please correct me if I’m wrong) that outsourced it’s decisions to a rational process founded on the scientific method, for instance.

There is a name for such a form of government : Technocracy. Wikipedia‘s definition of technocracy will suffice for illustrative purposes.

Technocracy is a form of government in which engineers, scientists, and other technical experts are in control of decision making in their respective fields.

If I were to sketch my perfect totalitarian state structure, you can be sure that Technocracy (and technocrats) would play a large part in it. We might get to that later. For whatever merits it may have, Technocracy is, of course, a form of tyranny like all other dictatorial structures.

If Prof Nutt feels strongly about the subject – and, as I say, he has every right to – then the correct procedure is to stand for election and see if he can convince his fellow countrymen.

That’s not democratic enough for Hannan though, who to his enormous credit – given that he’s a politician – goes further

Better yet, let’s decide issues of this sort by referendum. I realise that, as a libertarian, I might well lose. But I’d rather live in a democracy than a quangocracy – even when, as must occasionally happen by the law of averages, the quangocrats happen to be right.

There’s a problem. Can you tell what it is yet ? Yup, that’s it. We have a referendum, popular opinion wins, the popular opinion doesn’t suit everyone. Oh shit! Democracy Fail! because democracy, especially as practised by referendum, is the tyranny of the majority.

If we assume that the MORI poll conducted by the ACMD (discussed here) is indeed representative, pubic opinion is that Cannabis should remain a class ‘C’ drug under the Misuse Of Drugs Act. Assuming also that that was the question posed by the referendum.

That, though, still leaves us with something of a problem. I mean, yeah, great, we had a bit of democracy theatre, everyone had their say, fine. But the result still isn’t a drug policy based on a rational analysis of relative harm.

Have we really lost confidence in our ability to govern ourselves through the ballot box?

Govern ourselves Dan. So often when we visit the ballot box we are not, in fact, seeking to govern ourselves but to govern others. Nutt’s MORI figures suggest that the majority favour at least some criminal sanctions for possession of cannabis. We are forced to conclude then, that these folks are not themselves likely to be in possession of cannabis. These sanctions will not apply to them.

It would be a desirable feature of a democracy if we were able to inoculate it to some degree against undesirable things like stupidity, ignorance or the vicissitudes of the howling mob. Since we can’t actually do away with stupidity, ignorance or the vicissitudes of the howling mob, the only way we can minimise their impact on democracy is to use democracy to make less decisions.

And the way to do that without re-introducing the tyranny is to empower the individual to make as many of the decisions as possible that affect their own life.

So no, Dan, I don’t want to be governed by David Nutt, but I also don’t want to be micromanaged by a poorly informed but democratically constituted amorphous mass of other people.

What I want is to have the opportunity to examine the evidence and make an informed choice for myself.


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