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On Democracy and Truth: A Discussion with Yamin Zakaria  <[email protected]> 

By Ali Sina
2006/04/06

Yamin Zakaria wrote:

If you believe that head count does not make their beliefs right, then why do you believe in democracy, which is based on head count?

Voting does not make a proposition true or false. Voting  is a civilized way for conflict resolution. We could also throw a coin for that matter. But voting is a smarter way. The majority is not always right. That is why in democracies people continue to vote every four years.  

We can vote on what to eat for dinner for example, but we canít vote on the nutritional value of the food. For that we have to consult science. 

Voting is not about finding the truth. It is about what to do without having to resort to force and cut each other's throat.      

 

Sina, 

If you believe democracy is a way to resolve conflict even by sacrificing the truth, as you say "majority is not always right" but we accept it to avoid conflict. Which means you are making peace and resolving conflict the higher value than following the truth (Which philosophers like Plato in his Republic sees the highest value).  

In that case why do you not apply this principle of resolving the conflict to the world situation? Instead you are constantly trying to initiate conflict by foul-mouthing Islam and Muslims. For the sake of peace you should sacrifice the truth (according to you) and seize attacking Islam and Muslims.  

But in reality, it seems that you are once again violating your own principles, thus in reality you are an immoral man by YOUR own criteria!  

Yamin 

 

 

Truth cannot be determined by polling and through universal consensus. Galileo was in minority and the whole world opposed his view on heliocentricity. Of course voting in that case would have resulted in an erroneous conclusion. Truth must be found through logics, science and research.  

Democracy is for governance not for finding the truth. Democracy is devised to avoid conflicts. Wise people decided that instead of rioting, making revolutions and killing each other, it is better to vote every four years and let people choose their government, and change it if they don't like it after four years. We vote for the government not for the truth. My job is the pursuit of truth. Democracy has nothing to do with it. We are talking apples and oranges. Who said truth must be sacrificed in order to have democracy? Democracy and finding the truth are two different subjects. Both of them are important, but they are not related.  

If a group of us want to go to a restaurant and we canít agree which, we better vote on it. Another way is to obey the one who is bully among us and do what he says out of fear. Of course voting is better than following a bully. This has nothing to do with truth or falsehood.  

But we canít vote whether broccoli has more vitamin C or carrot. For that we have to consult the expert. If you are the expert on nutrition and we are not, all of us better listen to you. There is nothing to vote about.  

Democracy and truth are two unrelated subjects.  


Sina, 

You say "Truth cannot be determined by polling and through universal consensus." 

But yet you claimed earlier that there was universal consensus on the Golden rule (except for the Muslims) and for that reason it was the ultimate truth (even though there was no material on your website on this issue). So again it seems you always contradict your words.  

you say: "Who said democracy has to sacrifice the truth? Democracy and finding the truth are two different subjects. Both of them are important but they are not related. "  

If you believe democracy is a way to resolve conflict even by sacrificing the truth, as you say "majority is not always right" but we accept it to avoid conflict. So according to you truth should not govern society but principles of democracy in order to avoid conflict! Surely truth is being sacrificed! So democracy by your elaboration means truth has to be sacrificed in favour of resolving conflict. The two subjects are related. 

 

I said it already that democracy and truth are two different subjects. They do not even overlap. So why should one sacrifice the truth in order to achieve democracy?  

I brought a simple example that anyone would understand. If a group of us decide to vote in order to see whether we should eat Chinese or Italian tonight, this has nothing to do with truth. Which truth is sacrificed here? But if we vote about the nutritional values of the food, then truth is going to be compromised, because we are not expert and cannot make such judgment.  How much vitamin C exist in broccoli is not a matter that can be resolved through voting. This should be determined through scientific research and we better listen to the experts.  

In bigger scale, governments should be elected democratically. This means that all the citizens vote and choose their government every four years. This is better than having a despot decide for everyone else, jail those who disagree with him, censor opposing views and kill the dissidents.  

What is the choice of a people thus being oppressed? Their only choice is to rise in arms and overthrow that despot in a revolution. Of course in the process thousands or even millions could be killed.  So clearly dictatorship is not the smart way of government.

In democracies, revolution happens every four years. That is done through voting and no blood is shed. Which system is better?  

Democracy is about governance not truth. But incidentally truth is far more protected in democracies than in dictatorships. Truth can manifest through the clash of opposing ideas. In a place where thoughts and opposing ideas are suppressed, truth can never manifest.  

Take the example of heliocentricity we discussed above. Now we all know that it is the truth. But if Galileo and everyone who proposed such a theory were immediately killed how humanity would have known this truth? This truth triumphed thanks to freedom of speech which is part of democracy. If the Church had its way, Galileo's views would never have been accepted and anyone suggesting them would have been put to death as heretic. Galileo had to recant in order to save his life. So, although truth and democracy are two unrelated subjects, truth can only triumph in democracy and not in dictatorship where thoughts are suppressed.   

 

Finally, empirical and scientific investigation of the natural world is one thing governing human society is another.  

Democracy means to legislate laws to determine rights (truth) and wrongs (false)! these become truths and axioms in society. How often we are fed the majority this and minority, so on. 

No Sir. Democracy is not to determine right (truth) and wrong (false). Democracy is a smart way of governance and conflict resolution. If a group of us vote on where to eat, we are not determining right or wrong and our decision has nothing to do with truth and falsehood. We are simply coming to an amicable consensus about where to eat.  Today we might vote to eat Chinese food, tomorrow we may vote for Italian and the next day for Mexican. The same happens when the citizens of one country vote to elect  their government. Every four years all the citizens vote and decide who should be their government.  

 

 If numbers [headcount] is not a criterion then we should not advocate democracy as a means to establish laws of rights and wrongs in society! 

That is what I just said. Truth and falsehood cannot be determined in a poll. If in an Islamic country you ask people to decide which religion is true, of course the majority would say Islam. But Islam is false even if all humanity vote for it. To decide whether Islam is true or not, we must evaluate it with logic, science and commonsense. It is under this litmus test that Islam fails. Majority can't decide what is the truth. That would be argumentum ad numerum. which is a logical fallacy.   

 

Truth is not just scientific 'truths' but rights and wrongs in terms of laws and values governing society, those are not determined by scientific research

Laws have nothing to do with truth or falsehood. We make laws because they are useful and reduce human friction/conflict. We change them when they outwear their utility. As the society changes, so should the laws governing it. Laws have noting to do with right or wrong or truth and falsehood. In England the law say you must drive on the left side of the road. In France the law requires that you drive on the right side. Is one of these laws false?  

Some laws however are oppressive, outdated and they must be changed. They have been devised for times and societies very much districts from ours and they are not fit for our world. Most of the laws of Islam existed prior to Islam among the pagans. Take the law of cutting the hand of the thief. In those days and in that primitive part of the world, jails did not exist and the society could not afford keeping the criminals in jail. Jails are expensive. You must not only feed the criminal, you must also pay the salaries of a few guards and have secure prisons. These societies were mostly villages and nomads and such thing was superfluous. It was not feasible in those days among the primitive tribes of Arabia to have prisons. So the only way they could punish a criminal was to harm him physically. They either beheaded him or maimed him, according to the gravity of his crime. This was a very cruel form of punishment. Nonetheless it was the only thing those primitive societies could think of and do. Now the world has changed and we have much more humane ways for punishing the criminals. Also we are wiser and know that the criminals are victims of childhood abuses. So we create secure jails to separate these disturbed and dangerous people from the society. The idea is not to punish them but to protect the society from their harms and if possible correct them so once released they can be useful to the society.  

The law of chopping hands is barbaric. It has been devised by very primitive people prior to Islam and adopted by Muhammad because he was not a visionary and could not think beyond his experiences. But it is backward and draconian for our time. This law is wrong now, even though it had its utility thousands of years ago.  

In democracies, where people make the law, we can change inhumane laws. In theocracies we canít. This and the example of Galileoís theory about heliocentricity show that although democracy is not about right and wrong or truth and falsehood, it provides a milieu where right and truth can triumph over wrong and falsehood.  

Theocracies and all other forms of autocracies, can't tolerate criticism. They rely on falsehood for their survival and censor the truth. A good example of that is the Islamic Republic of Iran where those who speak against it are jailed or executed and dissidents outside Iran are assassinated. Iran is not the exception. In all Islamic countries, thoughts are suppressed and truth is nipped in the bud. Falsehood must rely on violence, censorship and suppression of truth to survive. Without that it will vanish like darkness faced with light.  

So although democracy is not about truth and falsehood, in democracy you have the chance to right the wrong and reach the truth while in dictatorship you don't have that chance.

  

 

 

 

 

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