Why mob “justice” is likely to be a fatal flaw for democracy

I came across a Vox article that focused on all the commotion about killing of a lion named Cecil and the phenomenon of mob mentality and mob “justice”, and I begin to feel that mob mentality is a very real and growing phenomenon, one which cannot be allowed to grow lest it evolve into the cause of rampant disorder and fear. I could see myself fearing the prospect of a world where the mob is allowed to the point where it targets anyone who is different, which would inevitably include myself and thus present a personal danger to me, while invading everyone’s privacy, and I could feel an ethical desire to have a role in seeing true justice overcome mob “justice”. But there’s more to it than that. The fact that mob “justice” runs on the lowest common denominator, a group of individuals targeting who ever they feel like based only on brash subjective judgement that are made without contemplation, it feels a lot like how democracy tends to run on the lowest common denominator, because a lot of people go against a candidate for failing to please the common people (at least that’s the vibe I get in my own country). And as I’ve mentioned before, in our liberal and democratic “society”, the government has an awful lot of potential to acquiesce to the mob mentality of the lowest common denominator. The lowest common denominator is also capable of getting the government to babysit them because they failed to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens as long as they nag them enough.

The thing is, the whole reason many of us embrace democracy with the lack of contemplation that we do is because it puts the people, or at least the majority of people and by extension the lowest common denominator, at the center of matters of governance. It requires that we have a lot of faith in the people to do the right thing, or simply to have the right opinion and use it to influence things, and it always assumes the people are always interested in making things better for everyone. A problem with that is many people are likely to be more interested in their own conveniences, desires, or even opinions, than in serious contemplation on proper governance, and principles that would be conducive to said governance. The people have their opinions, but you can’t assume they agree on anything. We’re dealing with whole populations; the larger a group of people is, the less likely it is that they will come to an agreement on anything. It should also be remembered that everyone has their own opinions, and everyone argues with other people about said opinions. No one can totally agree with everyone except on the simplest and most universal matters. We think way too much about the Western world being a democracy just because we get to vote for our leaders, when in fact it feels like we’ve never had pure democracy. Pure democracy would mean that the rule of the people is total, which would mean a rule by the people and nothing but the people or the masses. That’s pretty much the same thing as mob rule when you get right down to it, but more importantly, it’s also rule by a huge and disparate group of individuals (in other words, everyone) who will be incapable of agreeing on anything, and to me it seems it doesn’t take long for there to be a situation where one group of people suppresses the other in such a way that the other party has less rights than they would in whatever system we’ve got now. We don’t have pure democracy. All we have is the ability to vote for the person we like most without knowing their true merit or talent, and the ability to tell people in government what they think hoping that they care enough to pay heed.

The problem with giving the people too much power is that most of the people have no idea how it should be used, and do not spend a lot of time thinking about it. When you democratize justice, you are making it so that the masses at large try and make decision on right and wrong, to try and protect the innocent, and to try and punish wrongdoing. You only have to look at recent examples of mob “justice” to see what the justice of the masses is like because they do not know anything about criminal justice systems, likely no more than I myself. When you live in a state where the masses try to dispense justice, you might as well pray to whatever God from on high you believe in to send plague, fire, or lightning bolts on wrongdoers because even that would be better because you are unlikely to wrongfully shame or harass someone by doing so. You don’t even have to actually do anything wrong for the mob to descend on you: you just have to be suspected of doing something wrong (like with Sunil Tripathi, who was accused of being one of the Boston marathon bombers and whose family Reddit users started hounding because of it, after which it was found he committed suicide), or of being associated with someone who did something wrong. Hell, on many social media sites, all you have to do is express an unpopular opinion, say something offensive, or even just say or do something stupid, all often without any idea that the mob of the average Twitter users, for instance, will descend upon you for it. And what about when people dig into your private lives and details and reveal them to the public, or when hackers threaten to expose personal data kept on a website? Is that justice? And don’t get me started on people like Anonymous, people who feel they can hack not just disreputable organizations or faceless corporations, but celebrities who likely have nothing to do with whatever politics they’ve been espousing, and call it a morally justified act, all while flying the flag of collective anarchy. Their self-righteousness is not only boundless, but it actually seems befitting of their time. In my opinion, if you give too much power to the people, all that means is more idiots either abusing that power or simply not knowing how to use it and going on to do stupid if not heinous things, and if we have pure democracy, or just plain democratize the rights of justice and liberty, the only thing that can arise is disorder and failure.

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7 responses to “Why mob “justice” is likely to be a fatal flaw for democracy

  1. there is a real problem with people getting this idea that they can have power without taking responsibility, and unfortuantely having large amounts of people hide behind, and band together through social media is a very convenient way of them making that demand for “power without responsibility” an instant option. The mob is unfortunately the perfect means of abdicating responsibility.

    The number of people who can’t agree on anything is maybe something of a safeguard, but if we did have direct democracy, the potential for abuse, witch hunts and scapegoating would be appalling all the same.

    • You know, I think if democracy means rule by the people, then big reason we love democracy is because we just love being flattered. In this capacity, the people turn into basically any dictator: always desiring flattery, never tolerating criticism.

      • there is also a doubly dishonest thing to it often – people feel entitled to have their will “as the people” executed, but somehow they never take responsibility for it. Then when things go wrong, we’re just “ordinary people”, like “what are we meant to know?”. You can’t really have it both ways. You can’t have maturity and infantile dependence simultaneously. That’s why (much as I *detested* Thatcher) hearing people complain on behalf of “the people” about Thatcher, I couldn’t see how they could seriously claim that approach, when she was herself elected *by the people*. Obviously not *all* the people, but the numbers were there all the same. It says more about “us” than about her. Everyone wants to act like “bad guy” is someone other than Joe Public, and direct the resentment against the person Joe Public elected. But that basically means that you thought the public were children who got hoodwinked. Yet if you thought the public were children, you surely should not have given them the vote? Whose fault is it? Are we dealing with adults or not? Saying 2+2 = 5, because “the people”, doesn’t really change things

      • That’s exactly why I find the whole controversy surrounding George W. Bush being elected to be largely hollow. Come to think of it, it’s usually conservative presidents/leaders who get the whole “enemy of the people” treatment isn’t it? Right down to David Cameron, as unlikeable as he is.

      • well they get that treatment from the left, and from liberals, but they generally get excused and supported by large sections of mainstream, privately owned media, which have enormous influence on the public

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