Democratic decisions

by Milan on June 8, 2011

in Climate change, Ethics, International relations

It is incorrect to assume that the fact that a decision was taken democratically means that it was ethical. Indeed, the fact that a decision was supported by a plurality or majority of those consulted is neither necessary nor sufficient to establish it as ethical. Democracies make unethical decisions all the time, and ethical decisions are frequently made by means that are not democratic, such as court judgments.

We shouldn’t have special respect for discriminatory policies because the government that created and supports them is democratic. Nobody should see the civil rights movement in the United States as illegitimate, just because democratically elected legislatures passed many of the laws that were being opposed.

Democracy probably produces the worst outcomes in circumstances where those who are voting have a strong personal interest that is in contradiction to the interests of another group that doesn’t get to vote. This situation comes up rather often, whether the outside group is the citizens of another country, or members of future generations. It is quite possible for a collection of citizens to decide that they want to protect their immediate financial interests, while telling people in future generations or on small island states to go hang. Such decisions are not ethical, despite their democratic character.

In dealing with problems like climate change, we should not be too deferential to what the majority sees as the appropriate course of action. The majority has shown over and over that they want cheap gasoline today, much more than a habitable planet for their grandchildren 100 years from now. That kind of short-sighted attitude cannot be allowed to win out, despite how our system of government empowers those who are focused on short-term consequences while disempowering those who are thinking about the long narrative of human civilization.

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. June 22, 2011 at 12:37 pm

To make our elected leaders take action to solve the climate crisis, we must forcefully communicate the following message: “I care a lot about global warming; I am paying very careful attention to the way you vote and what you say about it; if you are on the wrong side, I am not only going to vote against you, I will work hard to defeat you — regardless of party. If you are on the right side, I will work hard to elect you.”

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