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Separating dissent and disavowal

This is the era of outrage politics. Dissent from the popular opinion and, no matter how eloquent or meritorious the argument, prepare to be swept up in a deluge of outrage. Complain of the injustice of such treatment and the opprobrium is doubled by those who condemn self-defense as a violation of free speech rights.

The end result of such a system of interaction is social hierarchy. Not only are dissenters stigmatized and subsequently marginalized, those who sputter the loudest in righteous indignation are enshrined as cultural authorities.

Rhetoric is perverted because authority, or ethos, and emotion, or pathos, which are in fact two entirely separate categories of appeal which fit into their own distinct argumentative styles are conflated. Since the difference between an idea and the mind that synthesizes and articulates it is eradicated, to dissent is to repudiate a person on an existential level.

This far exceeds the natural human impulse to civility which functions, much like a governor on a stove, as a tempering agent on inflamed passions. It is not just access to the space of public discourse or the social conventions which regulate it that have been warped, but the way in which individuals consider themselves in has been fundamentally transformed as well.

It is tempting to attribute this phenomenon to the rise of political correctness as this has actively egged on the exclusion of dissenters as an influence which endangers the welfare of the general populace, but this view goes much deeper.

Ultimately, it is the influence of collectivism which promotes the view that individual opinions can present actual danger to society. This is the only system that imagines society as a living, breathing entity that has greater value as a whole than as a sum of its parts. When society is treated like a living organism, it necessarily gains a will of its own and develops instincts. Like any other creature, its character is primarily determined by its need to survive.

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Dissent undermines the standing order. And any change to the standing order represents an end to life as the social collective knows it. It is not opposing thought that must be eradicated, but the very impulse which drives it as independence in any form threatens collective stability.

The myth of society must therefore be dispelled. Individual speech has no power beyond that which the hearer gives it. If ideas are socially dangerous as promoters of social justice and political correctness like to claim, it is only because they allow them to be so.

But ideas can no more take on physical attributes than can a majority, which is only a group of individuals who happen to be united around a particular thought or idea. Agreement or disagreement is not something that has influence on a group. If it does, it is because each individual member of that group has weighed a proposal and adjusted their position either in accordance to new and better information or has rejected it and remained static.

This is how society moves, through individual interactions. Ideology has all the characteristics of federalism. It begins at the bottom and expands upwards and outwards.

Therefore, to dissent to an idea is not the same thing as to disavow an individual, unless that individual’s whole existence is dedicated to one end. And the difference between the two must be reaffirmed if the much descried culture of divisiveness which now rules America is to recede.

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About Katherine Revello

A recent graduate of the University of Maine, where she majored in journalism and political science, Katherine Revello is an aspiring political commentator. Her focuses include theory, the philosophy of money and populism. Currently, she is a graduate student at Villanova University. She is the founder of The Politics of Discretion, a blog dedicated to advancing her philosophy of discretionism. Follow her on Twitter: @MrsWynandPapers