Once upon a time, a lifetime ago I used to read legal judgements as part of my ill advised venture into studying law. I most enjoyed reading the dissenting arguments. I admired the passion, logic and analysis injected into something that someone would look at and might think didn’t matter. I admired that they didn’t run with the pack. And I respected how every dissenting argument I ever read was committed to the idea of dissent as important, as part of the record, as part of the history.
Dissent is important. It’s so easy to just go along with what everyone else is doing or saying even when you feel that clench in your stomach telling you that it’s not something you agree with. Even when your skin crawls a little bit with the distaste of it. Because you don’t want to be disagreeable, or difficult, or take something too seriously or too personally.
I believe the opposite of that. I believe if we all got a whole lot more personal the world would be a better place. If everyone was a little less faceless, a little less annonymous, then all of a sudden it forces your hand and you have to be the best version of yourself.
There is a strong instinct to silence dissent. As though if dissent exists next to the majority it somehow negates the majority. Dissent is silenced in obvious ways and far more subtle ways. Dissenters are referred to as a ‘vocal minority’. As if their words lose impact because there aren’t too many of them and they make too much noise anyway. Dissenters are silenced by being dismissed as unimportant. Mothers expressing an opinion are frequently told to stop neglecting their children or go read their children a book, a particularly cruel silencer. Dissenters are told to get over it, to move on, that they are making too much of a small thing. Silence is everyone’s enemy, not just the enemy of dissent. More could be gained if people stopped fighting against dissent and started fighting against the sound of silence.
If you have an opinion and have the courage to stand behind it then a different opinion should be able to stand beside you, peacefully and without conflict. If you are having an argument, the end result isn’t having the other person abandon their own belief set and agree with you. If you are having an argument, the end result is hearing what the other person has to say. You don’t have to agree.
Lately I’ve heard the loudness of the sound of silence echoing in my ears. And worse, the rationalism of the lowest common denominator. Example.
Australia is Racist.
Australia’s not racist. Everywhere is racist. There are far worse countries.
I think we can all aim higher than that.
We should not have to fall in line. We should not have to follow the pack. I should be able to disagree publicly with someone no matter who they are without the weight of their populist army set upon my back. Dissent is important and it is worth it.
And yet too often when I see someone express a dissenting opinion, the outcome people seek is silence. Perfect silence. As though the majority opinion is so fragile, so weak and so vulnerable that it cannot stand even a slight breeze before it.