Monday, December 28, 2015

Government by Decibel

Related to things like university students demanding censorship of ideas or information: the problem of government by decibel, the loudest tend to get their way.

Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, or simply the crowd demanding exclusion of some ideas from their colleges. They make so much noise that nobody looks at how many people they actually represent. Too many simply assume that any group that noisy must be important.

I've no idea what percent of college students want to exclude some ideas, what fraction of people support the Occupy Wall Street and related movements, or what percentage want to claim that Black Lives Matter to the exclusion of all lives mattering. I doubt anybody has solid data; the questions are simply not being asked, much less answered. However, it is almost certain that those groups have influence beyond their numbers. Serious students who want real education, working people who want to work and live in peace, Blacks who agree that all lives matter, all those are likely to be too busy to join the screamfests. That means that the protestors are self-selected and almost certainly not representative of the population in general.

Those screamers have excessive influence for at least two reasons. First, too many decision-makers pay attention to them and ignore the majority. Second, many in what we can aptly call the silent majority, allow themselves to be intimidated and do not speak out.

This is a travesty for our democratic society. It puts unwarranted power in the hands of those with no productive employment, the students who scream instead of studying, the fanatic wing of any movement, those who have no jobs and plenty of time to protest. Our government, including university administrators, is supposed to work for all the people, not just whoever who can scream the loudest.

The solution is simple, though not necessarily easy. The silent majority must be silent no more. We must insist that our representatives represent us, not just the noisy. And we must insist that tax money supporting colleges be contingent on those institutions allowing free speech, on any subject. Only when we do that will we turn around the ridiculous state we now find ourselves in.

Do you think this will not work? Look at the facts. Government officials may not agree with the majority, but they do agree on one thing: they want to keep their jobs. A few years ago some friends were testifying at the Oregon legislature about a proposed law. They had data, facts, charts etc. Their presentation was impressive. Then one state senator took them aside. “You guys need to understand something about the legislature. We don't care about your charts and data. What we care about is getting re-elected.”

Let's let our representatives know that their re-election depends on representing all of us, not just the noisy. Letters to them and to news organizations can go a long way.

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