Democracy, gang rape and a failure in communication

Majority Rule

The heaviest shall rule

There was a fuss and a lot of misunderstanding over a quote MP Zainudin Nordin posted on his Facebook page a few days ago, particularly on the highlighted sentence:

People use democracy as a free-floating abstraction disconnected from reality. Democracy in and of itself is not necessarily good. Gang rape, after all, is democracy in action.

All men have the right to live their own life. Democracy must be rooted in a rational philosophy that first and foremost recognizes the right of an individual. A few million Imperial Order men screaming for the lives of a much smaller number of people in the New World may win a democratic vote, but it does not give them the right to those lives, or make their calls for such killing right.

Democracy is not a synonym for justice or for freedom. Democracy is not a sacred right sanctifying mob rule. Democracy is a principle that is subordinate to the inalienable rights of the individual.

— Terry Goodkind

I don’t know anything about this author Terry Goodkind, but this doesn’t read like a rant against democracy, nor does it equate democracy to mob rule. Many Singaporeans responded with comments without giving it a proper read or thought, which is regrettable. As for opposition parties issuing statements asking for an apology, it really doesn’t speak well on their comprehension abilities.

Goodkind was trying to explain the basic idea that democracy can be damaging to certain segments of society if necessary safeguards are not in place. Essentially, if we allow rule by majority as how it’s supposed to work in a democracy, individual and minority rights must exist to prevent what’s known as “tyranny of the majority”.

Here is a very good explanation of the essential principles of Majority Rule/Minority Rights. The site also gives historical examples in slavery, women’s suffrage and the Holocaust of the dangers of majority rule without minority protection and rights.

The quote from Goodkind is thus not a problem, but the issue lies with what Zainudin has done. Basically, he has borrowed a quote from someone else and posted it on Facebook without bothering to explain the context or the message he’s trying to drive across. This leads easily to misunderstanding as we have seen. Some people do that because it makes them look smart when others try to decipher what profound thoughts are on their mind. But for a public figure who put words out into the public domain without proper explanation, the fault lies with him when it gets misconstrued by others.

And neither has he bothered to engage and explain to those who were offended and to the many others who have responded. In fact, he seems to revel in being the smart aleck so much that he has followed up with more quotes. Social media is not supposed to be a one-way street.

Zainudin can look smart with all the borrowed pearls of wisdom, but what he has quoted can easily be politicised and turned against him and his party. Does he truly believe that all men have the right to live their own lives, that democracy is subordinate to the inalienable rights of the individual, as Goodkind said?

According to the government, the majority of Singaporeans are conservative and not ready to accept homosexuality, ergo the retention of Section 377A that denies consenting male adults the basic right to do what pleases them in the privacy of their bedrooms. Isn’t this an example of the PAP using the premise of majority rule to infringe on individual rights in present day democratic Singapore?

Let me end with a quote myself. This is taken from an old movie, though many of us might have heard it from the Guns N Roses song Civil War:

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men.

— from the movie Cool Hand Luke