Death of Disagreement
July 6, 2001
If there was any doubt of about the monstrosities perpetuated
by Slobodan Milosovic and his allies, the indictment, and
the Slob's response to it ("this is criminal" as quoted in
The Guardian), should make you sit up.
When I fast-forward to debates on the death penalty, which
is what I assume will happen to Milosovic if he is convicted,
weird things start happening to my thinking. Is there a difference
between condemning "any" to death, and "many" to death? If
there is, what is it, besides the letter 'm'? I start to wonder
what values does this man, and many like him, hold so dear
that not only would he would kill and be killed to affirm
them, but also are expressed by the killing of other human
Slobodan Milosovic. Adolf Hitler. Josef Stalin.
I see these three as markedly different from, say, Timothy
McVeigh. The difference is in scale, in intent, and surely
in outcome. Remaking the world into the image of your own
mind is something each one of us does - it's called mental
modelling. We codify our expectations into an understanding
of how the world works. And if our mental models also work
for other people, we develop a following.
If our mental models call for personal glorification, we
develop a cult. If our mental models hook neatly enough into
other people's beliefs or uninterest, we develop a movement.
If the movement attracts capital and serves the interests
of wealthy interests, be they corporations or individuals,
it may become a party. With each additional ratchet of growth,
less and less can be held in common, but more and more weight
is given to that which is common. Eventually, one emerges
to lead the party, personalizing the policy and the polity
When remaking the world into the image of the common mind
(the Contract with America would be a recent example) a number
of status quo situations become reinterpreted as crises that
justify extreme measures. Ironically, it is the ease of rendering
a sentence of death that becomes one of the common platforms.
Death is the extreme position of making someone become unlike
our selves - or the extreme consequence of it, depending upon
your point of view.
Despite attempts to reduce Hitler and Stalin as representative
of extremely right and left, they were one on the subject
of dealing death. In some respects they can be said to have
created a new division: morality of many and any executions
vs. the morality of maintaining the right to hold a dialogue.
It may seem ridiculous to equate the ability to kill and the
ability to disagree as natural opposites. Surely the tongue
and the tombstone are not the extremes of reason. But what
is more truly human, personal, distinctive, and individual
than a voice? And once a voice is raised, control passes from
adherence to a policy to an appeal to a person.
Disagreement, then, should surely be a buttress of Republicanism,
which affirms the values of individualism. Interestingly,
though, the Republican party seems increasingly fused and
wedded to only one point of view, expressed, judging by its
actions, as the acknowledgement of corporations as people
that require special assistance with surviving, and special
protection from, human people. Almost as if "trickle down"
rights followed "trickle down" benefits. But they don't. Conformity
is the key to an individual's survival in a corporation. Nowhere
is the death of the individual daily accomplished so well
as in corporate life, and no better illustration of corporate
life exists than in the Bush administration.
The death of disagreement is the death of individual voices,
which was recognized by John Stuart Mill:
"a State which dwarfs its men, in order than they may
be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial
purposes---will find that with small men no great thing can
really be accomplished; and that the perfection of machinery
to which it has sacrificed everything will in the end avail
it nothing, for want of the vital power which, in order that
the machine might work more smoothly, it has preferred to
banish." - J.S. Mill, "On Liberty" (Franklin Center: The Franklin
Library, Pennsylvania, p. 113)