Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on

Most issues in life should not be decided by majority vote. Majority votes are a political mechanism to resolve political issues. This sort of decision-resolution only makes sense for the very limited number of political issues – issues that are neither trivial, nor matters of life and death. For example, two coffee drinkers going out with a tea drinker should not force their tea drinking companion to drink coffee simply because the tea drinker is in the minority. Similarly, when it comes to determining criminal guilt, we require unanimous findings, not merely majority support from eligible voters.

A literally totalitarian view of the world sees everything as a political decision. What you eat, what you drink, what you wear, how you cut your hair are much better resolved as issues of personal preference, not political control. If you like your steak cooked well-done, it would cause me to think you have bad taste, but that’s ultimately your (bad) choice. The vast majority of decisions in life – across issues of family, vocation, faith and passion – are simply not resolved very well by majority voting.

If Alex and Billie want to marry, they are not likely to be dissuaded by a public poll. When Chris dreams of growing up to be a firefighter, it is not be limited to what political officials decide. Humanity has tried that, it didn’t work very well. Dylan is not going to have faith in God determined by majority voting either – and Evan isn’t going to choose to play field hockey based on an opinion poll. In each of those personal areas, the personal decisions of each person are best made outside the political sphere. These are firmly personal decisions, and are best made by the people who have the most skin in the game – the individuals themselves. Alex and Billie are going to live with the joy (or misery!) of marriage, and they should control their own marriage. Chris is going to have to live with the benefits (and costs!) of becoming a firefighter. Dylan’s faith is an intensely personal decision, and Dylan’s mind can only be controlled by Dylan. Evan’s leisure time is similarly best controlled by Evan, subject to Evan’s preference of personal joys.

Each of those decisions are personal, and hence, not political. Political decisions should only be issues of public concern: your private preferences should not be subject to the whims of public mobs.

There are, however, other public decisions are not political decisions. We see obviously this in determinations of fact: 2+2 does not equal 5, no matter how unpopular 4 is. Determining the guilt of accused criminals is a similar decision of fact, and hence, we have required unanimous juries to make such decisions. Of course, juries are not perfect, but whatever weaknesses they have would be exaggerated by introducing majority voting for criminal trials.

I think that the decisions which are best solved by political processes are those which are public AND subject to value judgement. Clearly, there’s no value judgement in 2+2. Clearly, there should be no value judgement in criminal trials to determine if someone is guilty: either the accused did the crime, or did not.

So, what sorts of decisions should be political? Typically, they are decisions which affect large groups of people (in the context of Governmental political decisions, this will typically be the public). For example, take the decision of whether 20 year-olds should be allowed to drink alcohol. That’s a decision which is public (it affects lots of people!) and there’s no object way to determine this. There’s nothing baked into the universe which makes a 20 year-old allowed (or disallowed) from drinking alcohol, and thus, different communities on our planet have made different decisions about whether to allow 20 year-olds to drink alcohol. While 2+2=4 everywhere on earth, not all societies allow 20 year-olds to drink alcohol.

We can, of course, come up with different political processes to determine whether alcohol is permitted, and under what conditions. Some societies ask their clerics to read the Qu’ran and determine whether alcohol should be allowed. Some societies ask representative politicians to make the rules. A society could outsource the decision to a group of esteemed elders (“experts”) to make the decision, and another society could hold a community referendum on the issue. Arguments about alcohol laws are likely to see different people arguing for different ideas based upon their judgement and their values – it’s difficult to imagine anyone saying, “I can prove that alcohol consumption laws should be thus.” This is very different from someone saying, “I can prove 2+2=4”. Issues of proof are not political issues: political issues will typically be issues of judgement. Political issues are typically going to be in the format of people arguing in favour of various values and subject judgements, not objective determinations.

Similarly, there’s no way to “prove” that sentences for criminal breaches should be of a certain type or severity. Some societies could plausibly sentence criminals to many different outcomes: from reprimand, to community service, to fines, to prison, to torture, to death, and many other sentences too. Even within each category, it is easy to imagine someone arguing for a heavy jail sentence, and another person to argue for a very light jail sentence. It does not make sense, however, to claim that someone can “prove” a particular sentence is objectively right. It will only ever be a subjective decision, made in different societies by different processes, using different subjective judgements.

Thus, in our modern society, sentencing will always be a fundamental political issue, because it is a fundamentally political question. We can, of course, create different processes to answer the question, and obviously different societies across the planet have come up with different processes to produce different sentences for different crimes – but sentencing will always be political.