Opinion: ‘Majority Rule’ Isn’t What You Think

Why this political principle must be used sparingly among healthy friendships and teams.

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“It is a weak mind that imagines its version of reality valid for all men.”

-Rick Remender

Anybody who’s ever worked in some sort of group has heard the term “Majority Rule”. A semi-controversial political doctrine used by most democracies, including the United States, Majority Rule has long been a fixture of western group dynamics. In fact, the word’s first known use is in 1848 A.D., though the concept has existed in some form since as early as the Athenian democracies.

The mechanics of Majority Rule are simple. Suppose that there are ten congresspeople weighing the Pros and Cons of a bill. If, when the time comes to vote, six of the politicians feel the pros outweigh the cons and vote yes, while the other four disagree and vote no, the bill will still pass. This is because the majority (more than 50%) are in support of this legislation. This tactic is used in lawmaking and elections in the United States, though it is admittedly somewhat addled by the Electoral College, and is generally considered to be a simple and successful administrative doctrine. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its detractors, because it certainly does, but largely this system is found to be better than a dictatorship. While some way claim that Majority Rule positions the majority as a oligarchical tyrant, the cyclic and impermanent nature of American elected officials prevents permanent classes (other than political parties) from forming.

This is exactly why Majority Rule works politically, but not personally.

Let’s imagine that Cynthia, Ethan, Alex, Michael, and Pablo are bandmates painting their van. Alex, who is also an artist, is tasked with designing a pattern and creates a red and gold design with prominent stripes. Pablo does not prefer this design and designs his own, which Cynthia and also prefer. Pablo then declares that, according to Majority Rule, his design should be used over Alex’s. Is Pablo in the right?

Yes and no. The fact of the matter is, Pablo’s is more popular, and regardless of how Alex and Michael might feel this places his design at a significant advantage. However, Alex was the musician assigned to this task, and Alex spent weeks working on her design and integrating the feedback of the entire band into the product. Regardless of Pablo’s popularity, one cannot fairly ask Alex to discard her hard work.

The truly fair solution in this case would be to implement Alex’s design with aspects of Pablo’s worked into it. Perhaps if Alex’s involvement had not been determined earlier, Pablo’s design might have been the dominant one incorporating elements of  her design. The fact is that Majority Rule doesn’t apply as cleanly in this situation as it does in political situations. The group is smaller, and more intimate, and neither Pablo, Cynthia, or Ethan is in some position of power. And even if they were, say, the lead singer of the band, that would not give them the right to wash over Alex and Michael’s ideas like that.

Also, consider that these five bandmates are not entering the situation unbiased- the five of them are students, who know each other beyond the band and likely have preformed opinions about each other. How does the situation get uglier if it is revealed that Cynthia is very good friends with Pablo and Ethan, and holds an intense dislike for Alex? This colors Pablo’s desire to cut Alex out of the process completely differently, and also throws doubt into the legitimacy of the “Majority Rule”. In this case, a clique of three friends, naturally predisposed to agree with each other, holds total power over the other their colleagues. In essence, an oligarchy has formed, and any illusion of democracy has vanished.

Cyclical electioneering is not present, nor is it pertinent, in this situation. Our five friends here are part of a team, and it would be unjust for the majority to exercise sole creative freedom. All members of the team should have their ideas represented in some form or another.

I find myself writing this as a Senior in High School because I have seen cruel instances of cliquishness and bullying justified under Majority Rule- a phenomenon I would have thought deceased in young adults as old as we. Such improper usage displays a distressing level of egocentrism which should not be present in students nearing 18 years of age.

If a team truly values all its constituents, it should construct compromises and create concessions so that at least everybody is represented somehow.  It is said that in a good compromise nobody goes away totally happy; and by extension nobody should go away feeling ostracized or marginalized. This isn’t some radical form of local socialism- this is a measure in basic kindness and teamwork.

A group is more than the sum of its parts- there may not be an ‘I’ in team, but there also isn’t an ‘Us’.

Thank you for reading, and remember: be kind.

Bibliography

“Majority Rule.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/majority%20rule.

“Majority Rule/Minority Rights: Essential Principles.” Democracy Web, democracyweb.org/majority-rule-principles.

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