No Room For Dissent From The Dissent

Pamela Paul writes about why she’s not keen on joining protests. It’s not that she doesn’t like the outdoors, or has bladder issues. It’s that they seem kind of ineffective, on the one hand, and intolerant, on the other.

Intolerant?  Try being the skunk at the garden party.

I’ve never been much of a tribalist or a joiner, and have no use for conformity of thought or dress. Unless it’s Halloween or a costume party, I don’t like playing dress-up. Nor do I want to be part of a group where people might think I accidentally left my pussy hat at home. When I see a bunch of white kids wearing kaffiyehs I can’t help wonder whatever happened to the whole anti-cultural appropriation thing.

When someone drones on about “solidarity,” all I hear is, “Get in line.” When there’s no room for dissent from the dissent, there’s no room for me.

Color me an anti-fan of performative politics, particularly if it means I’d be part of the show that features bigots posing as bleeding hearts.

I remember a few years back some baby lawyers were discussing me amongst themselves (which was weird enough), one of whom thought I should know what they had to say. They dismissed me as a “contrarian,” having spent years highlighting police misconduct and racial bias, and yet refusing to embrace identitarian ideology, anti-racism or the abolition movement. I was an inspiration to some back when, yet here I was refusing to march alongside them.

They joined a tribe. I did not. They adopted a simplistic ideological grasp of the world. I did not. They wanted to be a part of a movement. I did not. I am very much a feminist (second, not third wave), and yet I never considered knitting a pussy hat. ACANB, although any cop can be at any time and, too often, are just as inclined to presume the worst of a black man as they are to save a kitten in a tree. But only children believe that the world breaks down into good and evil, and they know which is which because their tribe tells them.

I’m a realist. A pragmatist. I want to save a black man from being beaten or killed rather than engage in a performative march in favor of poorly conceived and unsustainable fixes that are just as likely to cause harm as prevent it. Experience has taught me that when the pendulum swings too far one way, it will soon swing back, too far the other.

Grand solutions that come at the expense of grand problems are mindless palliatives. Sure, we grossly overincarcerate. No, being the victim of crime isn’t an easy tradeoff. Both sides are worthy of our concern, and any solution that “saves” one at the expense of the other is doomed to fail. And it should be.

Maybe the protesters could use a moment of peace and reflection. A chance to take a deep breath and open their minds. Picture, if you will, a meditative room filled with floor pillows, breathwork exercises and a small but well-curated bookshelf in the corner.

Perhaps now that we’ve gathered here all kumbaya-like, we can even offer a word for the people who look at the bawlers, the get-ups, the outrage and the zealotry and say to themselves, “No, thank you.” Here’s to the people who doth protest not.

It’s a nice thought, but Pamela Paul is being somewhat naive. The people who throw caution to the wind to link arms with their tribe aren’t thinkers. They aren’t leaders. They aren’t heretics. They don’t want to be. They have the ability to say, “No, thank you,” but not the desire. Most people lack the fortitude to not get in line, even when they have their doubts about what the tribe demands of them or realize that the tribe’s arguments are, well, stupid. After all, if they dissent from the dissent, they will be exiled from the encampment.

Some of us have no interest in joining the march in the first place, not because it isn’t in support of worthy goals, but because we’re unwilling to subjugate our thoughts to someone else’s commands. Wear your keffiyah if you must. Wear your red MAGA cap if you must. But don’t pretend you’re a leader, or even a rational thinker, as you march to someone else’s drum. You’re just another warm body in the tribe that tolerates no dissent. It’s not that you have to be, but you choose to be.

10 thoughts on “No Room For Dissent From The Dissent

  1. B. McLeod

    Maybe they do have to be. Maybe there is some kind of irresistible impulse they can’t overcome. It’s difficult to imagine anyone rationally choosing to behave like a mindless drone.

  2. L. Phillips

    Put me on the list of readers who would cheerfully pony up serious dollars for a video of you trying to knit a pussy hat. That is comedy gold.

  3. Elpey P.

    Sure, it’s a fine line between a protest and a mob – or maybe just semantics and alliance – but why bother with protests when you have an op-ed page in the New York Times.

  4. PK

    Hey Pops. I started reading you as a baby lawyer, and I want to thank you in particular for helping me grow into a better advocate. As far as philosophy SJ goes, this is the best statement I’ve seen of your thought. Bare expression rather than worrying about terms.

    I feel the pull towards groups and the simplicity of ideology. It’s understandable. Thinking is hard. However, as a person famous to me said, “anything easy ain’t worth a damn.” That skeptical outlook of yours is valuable in a world where bullshit is flung everywhere and in every direction.

    I’ll argue this isn’t tummy rubs, but whatever. Take it or leave it. Well done.

  5. LTMG

    Have been reading your blog for over a decade. Now I know why. You illuminated some of your stances and imperatives. They match mine. Perhaps like you, my head and back are pocked by the scars from arrows and stones.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *