Populism & Civil Liberties

The Archetypal Image of a Vigilante Mob which is Civil Liberties After Populism is Done With it

While civil liberties are associated with democracy, the public doesn’t like their existence. Civil liberties are based on a universal love that people are quite averse to. The natural rights posited by enlightenment individualism may not include among them the right to be loved or some minimal agape everyone is duty-bound to have for everyone else but the cultural tradition they arise from, that of Western ethics, does have that requirement and the idea of universal equality which entails a universal respect is ultimately Christian in its origins. On this blog before I have complained about how grudges against exes and ex-platonic friends people who made offensive statements on social media and the like are afforded the hatred and rancor one would expect to be reserved for rapists and murderers and for durations so disproportionate to the offending act that they baffle the mind. Certainly, a society that quick to dole out lifelong, effigy-burning, grudges isn’t prepared to accept the rights of their enemies without serious doubts.

                I am a supporter and member of Black Lives Matter and am one to agree that the system is racist but when a police officer is acquitted there is always a part of me that worries about authoritarian tendencies among my fellow activists who lose faith or belief in the idea of a neutral judiciary and instead of reforming the system, wish to replace it with one that convicts based on “common sense” rather than evidence and law. Furthermore, they often outwardly express the sentiment that the accused don’t have the right to counsel or, if they do, fail to appreciate and laud that right. That is, they not only take the liberalism of the judiciary for granted but begrudge it. That isn’t to mention the other famous trials where the defendants were convicted in the media prior to any conviction or potential conviction in court like Casey Anthony for which there was almost an uprising over some overblown and cheap piece of media gore from Florida.

                I usually try not to weigh in on whether a particular defendant should be convicted or acquitted and I don’t think it is safe or wise for my fellow activists to do that. It is far better to focus on systemic and social issues in politics rather than to take sides in a particular case. I don’t think it was appropriate to scream that the George Zimmerman verdict in the Trayvon Martin case was unfair or unjust but to instead say whether or not it was that, statistically, unarmed minority people are much more likely to be killed and on a social level this needs to be addressed. Earlier on this blog, I have lambasted the glitz and salivation with which the media, especially news media, is conducted. If it bleeds, it may lead but it also shouldn’t lead because that’s bad for people. If people watch The Bundy Tapes and the other intellectual junk food about serial killers their brains will infer a false perception about who is actually on death row (statistically usually poor, minority, people from broken backgrounds and guilty of low-single digit murders) and be more likely to support the death penalty.

                Human passions do not lend themselves to objectivity and as a normative value our society values it ever less. What goes viral are only the worst examples of clickbait and, by its nature, when it involves criminal justice or legal rights, it enrages people and makes them less supportive of civil liberties. Owing to the Dunning-Krugger cognitive bias, people with little information usually believe the little information they have is an accurately representative sample when it isn’t and that is why they become dissatisfied with the legal and civil system that liberal democracy has and often believe that sweeping actions based on gut-level common sense would be faster and more accurate when the reality is they would result in vigilante justice with significantly less accurate verdicts, on average, than the current system. That’s one of the reasons Trumpism is a thing. That people think complex issues are simple and are dumbfounded by why the experts fail to solve them when they imagine that they themselves could.

                So, populism doesn’t lend itself to civil liberties since populism puts the wisdom of people who lack the technical knowledge of a complex science as the foremost authority in the life-altering daily events inside a courthouse. Left-wing populism insofar as it advocates better conditions for common people is both warranted and right but to use the democratic adaptation of Plato’s ship allegory. While the people should be able to vote for the destination, the passengers should not operate the ship. I am a sailor, myself. That was my high school sport. If you think it doesn’t require skill, it very much does. In the easily emotional world of crime and legal rights, populism is a very bad idea and the general populace lacks the love, the kindness, and the insight to administer an institution with such grave consequences.

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