Majority not always right

Letter to the editor

Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2003

One piece of the argument to control smoking in Juneau's bars is that it is the will of the majority. That may be true, but that doesn't make it the right decision. One might note many blacks were lynched under an apparent majority opinion in our history. Just yesterday, Queen Elizabeth apologized to the Acadians who were forcibly removed from Canada 248 years ago with the acknowledgement that the rights of minorities must never be allowed to be trampled by the force of a majority.

A little farther back, Alex deToqueville devoted an entire chapter to fears of America's potential tyranny of the majority. On March 15, 1790, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison decrying the potential, under our system, for the despotism of the majority.

I only rarely partake, but occasionally enjoy a good smoke in one form or another, and thoroughly enjoy the energy and camaraderie of a fun bar. I also have to admit I find no joy in the proper places where only majority opinion reigns. I just don't desire alcohol that badly. It is said that only between 25 and 30 percent of the citizens smoke nowadays. My offhand guess is that number mainly reflects those who answer surveys and don't count the probable 5-plus percent that have caved in to the social pressure and remain as closet smokers. That is a fairly significant minority.

Sure, it may be "for their own good," but ultimately is the job description of the perceived majority to define all the likes and preferences of others? Is it worth the job losses, potential business closures and general disgust of this portion of the population? Many of us already find the banality of strip malls, the loss of small family businesses, the coercions of fashion, and the proliferation of fast food in our country of individualism and freedoms to be a blight. What is next - only one cookbook to be diligently followed or one kind of acceptable pet? How about people that speak a different language or have the "wrong" color skin? I'm sure that alcohol is on the chopping block, probably candy, too. The domino theory never goes away.

What else will be banned in the near future when only 30 percent of the population is doing it in spite of the famed majority? If this can be done to such a large group of citizens expressing their preferences, what will people of Native heritage - at 16-20 percent see as their future as citizens - or the many other cultural or ethnic minorities in Alaska?

It is not so much the issue itself that bothers, me but rather the principle at stake here. I don't have many bad habits anymore, but I will always reserve my right to indulge myself if I should so desire. The ability to think, act and feel differently is what differentiates Americans and Alaskans as a society of woven fabric rather than a sheet of plastic.

Christopher Wright


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