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‘The people,’ grand conspiracies and 007
Commentary by Bob Lassahn

I received a somewhat irate phone call about my article last week on the community center meeting and my observation that most of the people there seemed inclined to want the project to move forward. The caller admitted he was not present at the meeting but still took exception to my conclusion and offered his own opinion that “no one” wants this community center.  When I questioned how he arrived at the conclusion he offered that he had talked to “the people” and suggested that is exactly what I should do before making such statements.

The conversation also involved an explanation of how the community center arrived at the present dilemma. According to him it was due to a series of conspiracies on the part of the Ocean Pines board. These include, but are not limited to a manipulation of the referendum vote. But more on this later, at present I am hung up on “the people” part of the conversation.

“The people,” two words pulled straight from the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States. The term invokes a powerful sentiment that the masses have declared their will. Political types have long relied on the phrase to explain their actions and positions. They listen to “the people.” Perhaps we should begin asking for clarification on what they believe might constitute “the people.”

Realistically, unless someone can honestly say they have spoken to at least 51 percent of a group and all responses were supportive of a specific position they have not heard the voice of “the people.” Pollsters might extrapolate results from a sampling, but unless that sampling qualifies as a valid cross section of the entire group the results might be flawed. When one relies upon sampling a small percentage that might hold similar beliefs on a topic the result will definitely be skewed since human nature often draws together people of similar opinions. Sampling among a limited circle of like-minded individuals, such as friends, does not cut it from a statistical standpoint.

Similarly, a small cadre of community activists does not constitute the voice of “the people.” They may be the most vocal and engaged members of the group, but one cannot assume they speak for the majority. “The people” may be quite content with the status quo and they are simply staying home to watch reruns on television, but there is similar danger here. Sometimes referred to as the “silent majority” their silence is often used to infer their support. But silence means consent is also a flawed assumption and should not be construed as the non-voice of “the people.”

As a result of the conversation I plan to carefully consider my conclusions regarding a determination of consensus. In the case of the community center meeting qualifying the determinations with “of those in attendance” should suffice. But I also believe it is time for those who want to validate a position with the statement because “the people” gave them a direction to fully qualify their assumption.

In this community center question there is only one clear majority, as expressed by the voters who cast their ballot for or against the referendum. Of 7,797 ballots mailed to eligible voters a total of 4,958 or nearly 64 percent were returned. Of these a total 4,906 ballots included a vote on the community center with 2,560 voting for approval and 2,346 voting in opposition. The margin of victory was 214 votes, a margin amounting to four percent of all voters casting their ballot on the referendum. It is not the will of “the people” since some of them have no say in the matter. It is a majority of eligible votes and no more.

It is time to stop using “the people” as an over generalization for an action (or lack thereof) and just own up to the fact that a decision is based upon personal opinions about right and wrong, good or bad, and what may or may not work. Listening to “the people” might equate to bowing down to a vocal special interest group. Is anyone really certain about what that great mass of “the people” really wants, and to stretch it further could the conclusion “no one” wants something ever be considered valid.

Click for Large ImageAs to the conspiracy theories provided by the gentleman and possibly others in the community. The depth and breadth of some of these are worthy of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), the fictional terrorist organization headed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the persistent adversary of James Bond. They inspire a vision of Glenn Duffy with a monocle and a cat on his lap directing his cronies to spray a mind altering gas over OPA so the $6 million community center can be built without resistance. (Now we know the real reason for the hot air balloon in the artist renderings.)

I seriously believe it is time to get back to Earth and realize that the seven Ocean Pines Association (OPA) board members may be fallible, may do some things that various members disagree with, and might even make people downright angry at times, but world domination (or even Ocean Pines domination) is not likely part of their game plan. They are members of the community trying to make the best possible decisions, sometimes under difficult circumstances.

Of course they might fool me, violate the referendum and start construction on a $6 million community center to serve as their headquarters during world conquest. All we could do then is hope Agent 007…Bond…James Bond…will show up and save the day. The OPA membership will then buy him a martini (shaken, not stirred) at the Yacht Club to express their gratitude before he fades back into the dark underworld of spy and counter-spy.

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Uploaded: 3/28/2006