(’07) ‘The view of the majority is always right.’ Do you agree?

(my personal favorite~)


(Introduction) Majority Rule― that is likely the ‘righteousness’/’justice’ that the world goes by nowadays. But how do we even determine what is righteousness? Essentially, by using the number of people as the yardstick to determine what is ‘right’, we degrade the meaning of righteousness. Righteousness is not something that can be mass produced, nor something that is established by the number of people. Even if something is a mistake, even if cruel, even if stupid, if many people acknowledge it, it becomes the truth; this logic is sadly, still relevant, until today. But it is wrong. A right idea, belief or action still stands correct no matter whether one person or the whole world believes in it. We now establish the idea of ‘Majority Rule’ to determine what is right not because it is necessarily justified, sound, or ‘right’, but because it is convenient. And thus, I disagree that the view of the majority is always right.

(Refute 1) Some may say that the view of the majority is always right, because they believe in the morality of every human being. By believing that each individual has a set of sound morals, is logical and clear-headed, and will naturally make the right decision, cumulatively, majority view should always be correct. And in many cases, this is true. Things that the majority decide upon are often good and useful. For instance, Most people wash their hands after using the bathroom, even though they do not understand fully how germs can cause disease. Majority admits that there is a need to do something about global issues such as climate change, poverty, income inequality, water and food shortage, and more. Furthermore, normally, a person will take the view that benefits him/her. Hence, even if a view may not seem correct at first, if many people take it up, it means that the view accrues benefits/happiness most people, and should be the right view, as anything beneficial/that makes people happy is commonly perceived as good and righteous. This follows the utilitarian view, where the ultimate ‘good’/’goal’ of the system known as society is to bring the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people. Hence, majority view is always right.

(Supporting 1) But, I beg to differ. Firstly, the above argument assumes that each person will always be morally sound. But, in reality, the majority’s moral compass may be skewed, due to certain environmental factors or external influences. For instance, in the past, majority of American whites discriminated against the blacks, with the belief that they were in the right, when, in fact, they were violating the basic principal of human equality, and were morally wrong. This distorted morality that whites held was largely influenced by the fact that historically, the blacks were slaves who worked for white masters, brought in from Africa by European traders, and hence were beneath the whites and deserved to be treated badly. In Harper Lee’s book, ‘To kill a Mockingbird’, where Majority Rule of a white jury convicted an innocent black man of rape, this idea was illustrated brilliantly. In another example, majority of Indians discriminated against the Dalits (untouchables), due to the deep-rooted caste system in their society. Even though the Dalits were also human like the rest of Indian society, they were not allowed to drink from the same wells, attend the same temples, wear shoes in the presence of an upper caste, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls. Such treatment of fellow human beings definitely feels morally wrong/repugnant to any bystander/observer, but majority of Indians apparently thought nothing was wrong; they had the mindset that that was how the Dalits deserved to be treated. What makes up a person’s value system is then significantly influenced by the environment and culture he/she is living in; if the culture of a society is distorted, the normal person will also not have the correct mindset. Therefore, we cannot look at each person individually and naturally assume that he/she eternally has sound values and will always make the right decision; at any given moment, based on the situation in society, a person’s values may change. In this light, in present America, discrimination against blacks have largely (overtly) diminished, precisely because of society’s change; majority’s moral compass changed accordingly. Hence, I disagree that the view of the majority is always right; Only when society gets it correct, will the majority be right.

(Supporting 2) Furthermore, when a person takes the view that benefits him/her, it is out of (short-sighted) self-interest, and does not necessarily mean that the view is right. This is especially true when people are dealing with unpleasant situations that seem to put themselves at a disadvantage; in these circumstances, they first think about themselves, and their short-term interests, without considering what will happen in the long run/other (minority) groups. This short-sightedness and urgency to resolve the unpleasant situation immediately for themselves causes majority to take up the ‘wrong’ view, whether morally or not. For example, Influx of foreign workers into Singapore in the recent years have caused many Singaporeans to view it as a bad thing, with people citing growing strain on their jobs, housing, transport and infrastructure, and dilution of the Singaporean national identity as major concerns. However, in the rush for self-interest, many neglect that this influx is ultimately a good thing for Singapore in the long run. With an ageing population and shrinking workforce, foreign workers are needed to boost the economy. If they are barred from entering, there may come to a point where Singapore lacks labour, and will have to decrease production and raise prices for its goods/services, which is extremely undesirable for an export-orientated economy. Even if some Singaporeans recognize/realize this, they are still likely to choose self-interests over what is right; this is the phenomenon known as ‘groupthink’ in psychology, where the minority in the group concedes to majority’s view. In fact, ‘Groupthink’ tends to be most prevalent in conditions where there is a high degree of cohesiveness, there are similar interests involved, and situational factors that contribute to deferring to the group (such as external threats, moral problems, difficult decisions) are present. In this case, Singapore’s example can be considered to be significantly influenced by this phenomenon, as the situation fulfils all the conditions stated. Psychologists reason that groupthink could likely result in poor decision-making and inefficient problem-solving (also true/evident in Singapore’s case); this, coupled with people’s self-interests that cause them to neglect other possibilities, causes the majority to take up the wrong view at times. Hence, I disagree that the view of the majority is always right.

(Supporting 3) Lastly, view of the majority is not always right, because human nature causes us to largely seek the easy/convenient way out, instead of the ‘right’ way. In fact, in many cases, the ‘majority’ becomes the ‘majority’ not because that many people really happened to have the same view on the subject/issue/topic of interest, but because people just follow what other people do (social pressure), without any real thought/view on their own. Most of us are conformists, even if we do not realise it. Such exemplifies the attitude of humans to seek easiness; what is easier than not thinking? In Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiment, now regarded as a classic experiment in social psychology, Asch investigated the extent to which precisely social pressure could affect a person to conform. 50 male students from Swarthmore College in the USA participated in a ‘vision test’. Using a line judgment task, Asch put a naive participant in a room with seven confederates. The confederates had agreed in advance what their responses would be when presented with the line task.  The real participant did not know this and was led to believe that the other seven participants were also real participants like themselves. Each person in the room had to state aloud which comparison line (A, B or C) was most like the target line. The answer was always obvious. There were 18 trials in total and the confederates gave the wrong answer on 12 trials. Over these 12 trials about 75% of participants conformed at least once. As shown, even for a simple task/answer/view, people tended to just follow what others do, without believing in their own thoughts/views (if they had one in the first place). When met with issues/problems that are troublesome, all the more likely that we would follow other’s view(s). This may lead to majority choosing to ignore these issues, or striving to reach a shortcut. We are reluctant to admit the difficult view, or the view that requires a lot of thought to achieve, and this causes us to make the wrong opinion many times. For example, the 29th American president, Warren Harding, was elected simply because he looked like how a president ought to look like. The convention delegates and similarly the voters thought Harding, who “radiated common sense and dignity”, was the perfect candidate. However, in reality, he was generally limited in his capacities, and did not contribute anything substantial to the presidency. Historians agreed that he was “one of the worst presidents in American history”. As shown, the majority, in their tendency to take the easy way out when they need to assert their view on something, avoid thinking too deeply into the issue, and this results in them not taking the right view. Hence, I disagree that majority view is always right.