Democratic Underground

The Death of Disagreement
July 6, 2001
by Slow_Simmer

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 beings.

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 behind it.

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)

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article
Want to write for Democratic Underground? Click here.

View All Articles