Political Silencing

There was a demonstration at Charlottesville, VA sometime recently, and it has brought out strong feelings from nearly everyone I have seen comment or write on it.

I am aware there were people who openly identify as white supremacists in attendance.  While I disagree with their defining viewpoints, I do not want to see their opportunity to be heard stifled any more than I would want to see any other non-violent or political gathering (including the Black Lives Matter events) shut down, even (and especially) if the people are voicing their anger or frustration.  The ability to speak and be heard is essential to our political system.

I understand there were both the originally planned protests, and counter-protests being held by opposing viewpoints.  I would not want to see their voices stifled either, although it does seem like having both groups within a small space without any civil controls in place would create a shouting match with both sides fighting to be heard, rather than a healthy, if lively, discussion of opposing views.  The only solution I know for that is hosting public discourse, such as is done in town halls.

I understand one of the counter protesters did die while in attendance.  I wouldn’t want to condemn anyone in advance of their fair trial on the basis of hearsay alone, no matter how convincing the version of the story I heard, so I’ll just add a link below about it.  I think that death is tragic and was needless.  I do not think using violence is an useful way to make a statement.

I am also concerned because of a certain amount of vigilantism I saw, which prompted me to write this article.  A person is deliberately looking up the information of people in attendance and doxxing them.  Doxxing is when you reveal private, protected information to the public, usually with the intention of causing them harm.  It seems at least one person has already lost his job (and not a prestigious job) as a result of his participation in the event.

This speaks to a bigger problem in our country right now, which is that the right to participate in political discourse is becoming a privilege, and not a right.  That privilege is being reserved to the wealthy and powerful, who do not need to fear retaliation for taking a political position or voicing an opinion.  Working people are not able to participate or even voice an opinion for fear of losing their livelihoods.

There is a lot of anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction in the country right now.  That is much of what got Obama elected, and it is what got Trump elected.  The status quo is not working for the average American, and in a democracy that is a problem.  I feel like a big part of Hillary’s problem is that her message seemed to be “Everything is fine, what are you talking about?”

When people fear retaliation, they do not go out and protest.  Frequently, merely expressing an opinion that is unpopular or out of line with the official company position can lose your job.  This stifles the essential open conversation that must take place for our democracy to work, especially since complex problem (such as those in finance or medicine) might only be fully understood by the people who work in those fields.  I understand dismissal over a viewpoint when it is done on the job or using company resources (as happened recently at Google), but when a person chooses to express a particular viewpoint as an individual without involving their place of work, it seems inappropriate that they fear retaliation in the workplace.

Even if such a person is wrong, there needs to be discussion of why they are wrong, and not simply their condemnation, elimination, and silence.  Public discourse cannot advance without having these discussions.  Debate is not just between the interlocutors, because everyone is listening.  That kind of important discussion, where error can be corrected, cannot happen if people fear expressing their views.  That is how incorrect ideas are rooted out.  Human psychology is an ancient thing, and we frequently stumble upon the same wrong answers our ancestors had to learn from.

It seems like the whole country is more interested in being angry and fighting itself than making any kind of real progress toward a solution.  We need to discuss the ideas, not try to hurt the person holding them.






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