Monday, November 16, 2015

Civics Class in the School of Hard Knocks

I was told to get involved. I did. I and others worked hard to be heard. We weren't. We were told the city didn't agree-I didn't know agreement was part of the deal? My civics classes and theirs vary.
Source: Facebook.
Let's say that this Facebook lament is about the Richardson city council voting to approve a rezoning request for the Palisades development despite vocal opposition from neighbors in Canyon Creek. Otherwise, the rest of this might not make sense.

Three things about this Facebook lament.

  1. In what civics class did this person learn that if a lot of people want something, the city council should feel obligated to do as the crowd wants? The way a constitutional republic works is that the public elects representatives who exercise their own best judgment and if they don't do as the voters want, the voters have the right to toss the representatives out on their ears in the next election. But since the event in question, we've had another election and not only didn't the voters toss their representatives out on their ears, every last council member running for re-election was re-elected handily. That brings me to my second point.
  2. Even if, say, seven hundred people turned out at a city council meeting, that's still a small fraction of Richardson's 60,000 registered voters. Isn't it at least in the realm of the possible that the city council might have been representing the majority who did *not* turn out at city council meetings? Maybe those other 59,300 voters were OK with what the city council was doing. Don't you have to at least entertain that possibility? That brings me to my third point.
  3. Was this person mistaken to think that the opposition to the Palisades rezoning was as universal as those crowds at city council meetings implied? Perhaps. How does one judge the opinions of the people who did not turn out? One way is to assume that most people are similar to the people you hear from. Thinking this way leads to a logical flaw called the "majority illusion." The majority illusion strikes when people who are the most outspoken all have the same opinion. The rest of us are led to believe that this opinion is shared more widely than it actually is. The Washington Post's Wonkblog provides a simple example to show how it works. I suspect that turnout of seven hundred like-minded people at that city council meeting was a real-life example of the majority illusion at work. At least, it's possible.
And that's your civics class in the school of hard knocks.

No comments: