Dissent

It is probably one of the healthiest things in the universe, because if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger, or at least tougher. Those who can afford to let it be, are strong. Those who must crush it, are clinging to power by their finger-tips. They don’t want to fall, so they do so. The only trouble is that when they do fall, it’s a lot harder, with a lot of payback. Revenge is a dish best served cold… but not if it is you being devoured by it.

If a government, a group, a blogger, an online forum runner, or even an author with the imaginary people in his head is happy to allow them to disagree, to sell their viewpoint in a competitive marketplace, without crushing it, belittling it, insulting it, or getting the IRS to impede it… It’s still worth having your say in that environment, but sure as death (not taxes, because those, it seems, are variable) there’s a good answer to your argument… or, in an experience which would probably make most heads spin (well, OK there are a few authors who do this with their characters, but otherwise it’s rare), the person being dissented with might change their minds or offer a compromise.

In all three of these result dissent was good news, not bad. I’ve always found it thus in writing. Author: “Fionn is going to charge in there roaring and spitting fire, to rescue his apprentice.” Voice of dissent AKA Fionn-in-my-head: “Are you out of your tiny mind, author? I am old, and not particularly large. I got that way by being a trickster and as cunning as well…. not Baldrick!”

Author: “While you didn’t have to rub my nose in it… You have a point. But the plot requires you get caught, and she saves you.”
Voice of dissent (now in more reasonable tones) AKA Fionn-in-my-head: “Hmm. Well we could have the cunning plan go wrong. Something simple and unpredictable. Use instinctive behavior or something. Or have my foe prepared for it, owing to knowledge you’ll have to go back to chapter 3 and insert.”
(Fionn, BTW, is the ultimate dissenter. The anti-hero hero.)

And thus a better stronger story evolves. Dissent sometimes happens because people are stupid, or because they’re simply coming from too far off. Sometimes the dissenters too are engaged in crush, belittle, insult, and… insisting on moderate language and no ad hominem attacks, and well, logic, generally works on the all but the absolute loony tune. And even there you can often extract some value – it makes you look like decent bloke, or refine your argument. Eventually you may have to set a limit, or just not answer – that too makes the unreasonable moderate their tone. You might never persuade them, but you may well do so to others. If, eventually, there seems no other course… you have the teacher’s kid dilemma – if you silence a person you are thought to dislike for disruption, you’ll need to act a lot more harshly against those you are thought to favor.

Being the kind of person I am, of course my deepest respect (and thus likelihood to support and accept their points of view on other things) goes to those who listen, think and either give me a reason why I’m wrong or accept that they are (or we both are, and the reality lies somewhere between). Because that is what I consider honorable, I must accept that I’m wrong sometimes, which I suspect is not that common either. I have met others. Eric Flint, Sarah Hoyt, Kate Paulk and my wife Barbara come to mind as people as people you may know of, that I’ve disagreed with – had a reasonable… argument with, I suppose, and I’ve admitted they were at least in part right, and sometimes entirely so, AND vice versa. It is not strange that these are people I turn to when I’m in doubt about things. Whose opinion I respect and value, even if I may disagree. Dissent is no threat to them. Likewise, not from those people in my head. Yes, I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box to disagree with anyone. (okay, I am not the bluntest either, and logic and tying apparently disparate things together is my strength. Why, in a stick-less environment I tied a spoon and a fork together and toasted marshmallows without burning my fingers… seriously, Slow Train to Arcturus
is me tying biology, sociology and engineering together as others have not. I’ve had a few ‘geniuses’ miss the point/s of the book, but I yet have to see evidence that I got that wrong. I blame it on genetics and my hunter-gatherer ancestry, where noticing small details and reading into them was a survival trait, and when you add that to a genome where not thinking ahead for winter was a death sentence, you have an odd person.) It has been said that even a fool can ask a question a wise man cannot answer. I’m going to add to that. Only a fool does not try to answer. A writer whose answer to dissent is “shut-up” will do that to the voices in his head, and is at best going to be a propaganda preacher, and probably not worth reading – unless you’re the sort of loser who likes his pre-conceptions re-enforced. And yes, if you cannot think and adapt, in a genetic sense, you are a loser. Modern society may be protecting you, but that’s a short term thing.

Just because someone disagrees with you, it does not make them your enemy… not unless there is a fundamental problem with your position. In which case, yes, they are your enemy. You may as well tattoo ‘loser’ on your forehead, because you are and you will. And actually, if instead of screaming irrational abuse, they’re civilly using cold logic, then they’re not being passive-aggressive. They’re showing themselves better and brighter than you, most likely.

Of course there is a long history of folk – from governments to authors — stifling any dissent. It doesn’t actually belong to any wing of politics or even theology (except possibly the universal party and church of teh stupid, short-sighted and nasty). It’s worth noting that that which has endured, has deliberately protected and encouraged dissent (the Devil’s Advocate is an example, so is the US Constitution) whereas the totalitarian states (Nazi Germany, Stalin’s USSR) not only inflicted tremendous suffering but at best managed to hold it in for a few years. And the effect of holding it in on the rulers and beneficiaries, who enjoyed that power and triumph for a little longer… was that they fell even harder. They shut up the dissent, and poured out rivers of their propaganda to counter it. I’m sure some of them even believed they were right (as well as benefiting. Just incidentally, naturally. That would never have influenced them.). And yet… it seems that propaganda was always a short term gain, and bottling the dissent was like sewing shut a septic wound instead of letting it drain. The open draining sore is a little messy, a pain to clean and makes you feel a little sick. However it has some chance of clearing up. But the infection bottled up, forced to grow hot and angry under pressure never will.

The scariest part is, every now and again, the dissent crushers MIGHT even have been right. But what those who set out to crush, stifle and ridicule dissent need think on, is that it is the action which is remembered, not their original position. And what they are doing is lending credence and strength to their enemies.

So too with books. We need to accept that there will books that some people regard as to be stopped and prevented at all costs. Authors whose point of view we find offensive. If reading is to endure and flourish… that ‘crap’ has to be able to get out there too. But the minute- no the second- that they demand the silence of others… it’s time to call them. Organizations, government, blogs… they’ll collapse under their own sepsis, or reform, open the wound and heal – the latter is frankly unlikely but has happened. Sometimes it is hard when it’s an organization or group you had high hopes of… or even a book — but if it was worth having, something else will replace it.

We continue. You cannot merely silence us.

And now as the traditional publishing gateway which acted as a censor (thank heavens for Baen, one of the few exceptions that still bought on merit) has been weakened, it’s even harder to shut us up.

By the way, the pictures are Amazon links. If you want to make sure we are not quiet… buy a book.

41 comments

  1. Hmmm, I thought Dissent was Patriotic. Or at least it used to be. Now it’s Racist, but that doesn’t make much sense either. I just can’t keep up with this stuff, so I’m going to agree with you. *grin*

    1. 🙂 Bugger and blast (I’m allowed to say that, I’m a trainee Australian, and we’re still learning to be PC. It’s only caught on in the cities that someone may be offended, out here beyond the black stump we’re more likely to be calling a sheep a silly bugger than refering to sexual orientation, no matter what long ago the word used to mean (nice meant sharp, once). Or one of our mates. Oi! Stop making those associations at once! We have nice sheep. And mates, which is what we call friends… )

      Look couldn’t you just disagree with me for the form of the thing? Please?

      Dissent OUGHT to be patroitic.

      1. Yes, except what they called “dissent” here back when it was “Patriotic” was things like Nancy, the hairy one, going on a tour of the Arab countries to tell them our president was a poopy face and she loved her some Islam, she did, and next time hit us harder.
        There is a difference between treason and dissent and that came d*mn close to blurring it. (The silly bint also crossed herself in a mosque. No wonder she’s a “Catholic” who thinks of abortion as a sacrament. Tartufferie and genuflecting seem to be the only thing within her mind’s power.)
        You made me think this morning, which is always a bad thing. I thought about our rigged voting systems, at least in Colorado now making it virtually impossible to vote out incumbents. And then I thought that when I came into publishing, publishers had consolidated their hold and made it so no dissenting voice could even PEEP through. And the system was self perpetuating and… Enter kindle and Amazon — boom.
        I’ve been thinking that the only way to get around the bonds our government has been setting on us for fifty years is going to be a blood bath, but let’s hope I’m wrong.
        Just as we couldn’t have foreseen the Kindle, maybe there’s some thing, some way, just over the horizon, that upends all their control and leaves them fuming and impotent while we flow between their fingers like water. Given the only two other alternatives, I’m going to pray for that. I’m going to pray for the elephant of surprise.

        1. I think — well, hope, really — that what Bill Whittle has said recently about We the People rendering the state irrelevant in our daily affairs is a notion that has a chance of catching on. And THAT might be the side, or the tail, or the trunk, or the leg of that elephant.

          M

          1. Well, I have hopes of that too and thought of it independently and when Whittle and I come to the same point independently… we’re either both crazy or it’s reasonable, but I don’t know if they’ll manage to crash civilization first.

          2. I do hope you’re right.
            I am fascinated by the digital currency, bitcoin. Do I understand it? Absolutely not. But it’s cool, and looks like it has those kinds of possibilities.

        2. Ah. You mean it’s patriotic when I’m not in power, and the opposite when I am. Still, I’d rather have treason spoken in public than whispered in secret. Even the most rigged system in the world re (100% for President-for-Life!) eventually hits the stoppers, Sarah. Yes, they’ll try and grasp it again, and again. But unthinkable (a few years ago) changes are happening in Britain, Europe and Australia. I suspect the US is not actually that different and will also be affected by the ecomomic disaster happening out there. There is also the possibilty of real scientific change.

      2. You have sharp sheep? How does that work, as intelligent as sheep are I would figure they would cut their own throats?

  2. Some times I think dissent starts as a “social hierarchy” thing. I’d say “male dominance,” or closer to the truth, “male pissing contest,” if only I hadn’t seen so many women so doing. You _can’t_ admit you are wrong, without lowering your status relative to the one who was right.

    Except that is such a simplistic view of a complex interaction. Maybe it works for wolves. Until the pack gets hungry, because the Leader’s theory of hunting isn’t working.

    But being humans, we go even stranger, with religious convictions, even about things that ought not be religious. And I fail altogether to understand trained scientists who’ve started not-examining the data, and wound up biasing it themselves.

    But politics? I think the pack is getting hungry. The only question not is if we discuss a new hunting technique politely, or over the steaming entrails of the current leader-meme.

    1. And by politics, I mean both the national and international level, and the established industry-wide mind set of traditional publishing. I suspect the later is just a matter of being personally familiar with it. Other types of business are probably much the same–if not worse. I don’t even want to think about banking.

      1. I need an edit function. Or maybe caffeine. “. . . _crushing_of_ dissent starts as . . . ” and “The only question _now_ is . . . ”

        Why yes, I have been in editor mode for a few days. Does it make my derriere look fat?

        1. Ah, you look fine as far as I can tell, Pam, but then I’m still trying to recover from the sight of a very well-fed individual in paisley leggings, so my eyes may not have re-calibrated.

        2. No, but it does make your eyes look squinty-tired, if you’re anything like the writer in this household. If you’ve managed to solve the squinty-tired eyes screaming in dissenting protest only a few hours into the job, could you please tell me how?

          1. It’s the drifting mind that gets to me. “Oh, drat. How long have I’ve been reading instead of editing? How far back to I have to start over?” I avoid mirrors, during these difficult periods ;), so I can’t speak for the squinty-eyed part. I suspect it sets in after five minutes.

    2. Pecking order. It’s associated with women, but all chickens do it.

      Lower your stature, you get pecked, sometimes to death.

      1. I think you could be right, particularly online where other status cues are less obvious. ‘We’ll just have to agree to disgree.’ is quite common back where I come from, as a sort of no-I-won’t-give-ground, but I am not going to win and I accept neither are you. Is it one of those little holes in a common language and similar culture that just sneak up on me? (forgive my asking but I spend a lot of time trying to deal with the US mores. Mostly in the sense that I sell lot of books there, and deal with a lot people there, it is only polite to meet them on their terms, but also sometimes because I find we’re talking about the same thing, but the words differ.)

        1. I’m a horrible person to ask to explain it, but “agree to disagree” seems to fall into three camps: I don’t want to argue it, we have irreconcilable differences that I don’t want to work through, and “oh I’m such a nice person I won’t rub your nose in how horrible you are, even though I just spent the last paragraph(s) accusing you of everything short of pedophilia on videotape.”

          1. ;-/ Another of the areas that internet/posted replies fail at I guess, because the tone of voice and facial expressions are part of cue-box as to what it means. It also comes (more frequently here, maybe?) in the I like you, agree on a lot of things, but you’re as nutty as fruitcake on that issue, and because I want to stay friendly, I want to stop talking about it, flavor. (I have a very good atheist friend, where we have this arrangement. We’ll talk about almost anything else, I like and respect him a lot, he is a genuinely good man in what he has done (a hard, heartbreaking job) and I have to hope CS Lewis got it right about God.

              1. 🙂 Yes. To me the definition of God is ‘smarter than human understanding’. CS Lewis – who is one my favorite Christian theologians – put it that God would be capable of reading the intent and virtue in any man. I’m not positing that as a reason for ignoring the Church, just that I think it’s up to God to judge. The bloke I am talking about is a gentle, compassionate man – medical – who has spent many years dealing with people dying of largely untreatable conditions. I understand what it has done to him, respect him vastly for what he has done, even if I disagree with him about religion. So I hope CS Lewis got it right. I like to think so.

            1. in the I like you, agree on a lot of things, but you’re as nutty as fruitcake on that issue, and because I want to stay friendly, I want to stop talking about it,

              I put that in the ” I don’t want to argue it, we have irreconcilable differences that I don’t want to work through” camp.

              If you say the wall is blue, and I say it’s red, yelling really won’t help… and I don’t want to yell at you, anyways.

                1. And occasionally the on-line person losing the argument will say “Let’s agree to disagree” and block the thread. Fight turning into flight, with a band-aid of dignity and illusion of magnanimity. I think it’s the pain of having some facts shoved through the crack in their ideological beliefs.

                  A lot depends on the political leanings of the person. Too many useful social phrases are getting “repurposed” as long term ideological strategies.

    3. 🙂 Shows how cultures differ perhaps? The perception — where I come from — is that great statesmen score serious brownie-points by occassionally admitting they were wrong, being gracious in defeat, and magniminious in victory. I-gotta-be-right-alla-the-time and hissy fit in loss, and nasty vindictiveness in victory marks you as a second-rater, a beta in the troop, who will never be powerful/self confident enough to be really great. Perhaps it is different there.

      1. It used to be the same here. But it’s getting worse. I swear the current government is operation on a banana republic model.

  3. I yield to no man in my appreciation of the value of dissent — as a demonstration, I’ll dissent myself now, just a little. (I also yield to no man in my appreciation of irony.)

    The quagmire with issues such as this is just as every voice should have the right to speak in dissent or criticism, we tend to assume that most people have the right — via freedom of association — to create a private space where they can exercise their right not to *listen* to dissent or criticism, and to refuse to provide a private audience or platform for it if they don’t wish to. The key is the distinction between “private” and “public”. We deny, and should deny, any power of the state to shut voices out of any given public sphere, but we also in principle deny, and should deny, any power of the state to *force* voices *into* any given *private* sphere.

    The difficulty is: When does a given private sphere become large enough that those outside it who want in can start claiming it is *effectively* a public sphere? And how much collusion between members of a private sphere is permissible before it becomes thus “de facto” “public”? A given publisher refusing books of a certain philosophy is not censorship, because it can always say “Try somewhere else”; *all* publishers colluding together to *pre-emptively agree* on that refusal, so there *isn’t* in effect anywhere else, strikes me as a lot less likely to deserve that claim of innocence, their status as “private entities” notwithstanding.

    1. Weeeelll, in property law (and note that I am a historian, not a lawyer), it was ruled in the 1950s that a mall, being privately owned, was not an agora (the public square) and so limits could be put on political and other speech that could not be applied to the old courthouse square. I’d posit that the Internet, because of its mixture of public and private “space”, is de-facto public, although certain sections remain private (Tw1tter and Faceb00k being prime examples of privately owed space, despite what many users seem to think).

      The publishing world is harder, because you do have a nomenclature/ “the Anointed” who seem to operate via groupthink. Although, while they do limit speech to a degree, there are still options, ranging from self-publishing to presses such as Regnery and Baen and ThomasNelson. I think, as long as people can point to the outside options, it will be hard to break the lock on publishing (until they all go belly-up because of bad business sense and reader flight, [which leads to a really odd mental picture of a giant random penguin stranded, belly up and beak open, tongue sticking out, on a beach somewhere].)

    2. If there is no collusion in publishing, then there is a pretty good ‘groupthink’. The example of John Norman springs to mind. You might not like his books (I found them boring long, long before the pack turned on him) but he was a commercially successful author with a substantive fan base. He fought with his publisher (over terms IIRC) and suddenly found that no-one would have him. Also while I agree that voices should not be by force inserted into ‘private’ space so there is no escape, it’s a very slippery area. If the private space is your home or a meeting hall and Joe is shouting his opinions loudly in them… that’s one thing. But if it is an e-mail list, or twitter, or facebook – you personally can block that individual. There is one commenter on a list I belong to who injects so much teh stupid it makes my blood pressure rise… their post goes straight to the deleted bin without ever hitting my inbox -and i am not a wizkid at setting these things up, so it’s not hard.

      1. I think I saw some new published John Norman books a year or two ago, not sure who was doing the publishing, possibly self-published through something like Createspace. I had them recommended to me because I liked Burroughs, I too found them very boring, but on the plus side they are gobbled up on the used book market and I made a profit on getting rid of them. So I have since picked any up I seen for cheap, because I can always make a profit on them and use the proceeds to buy books that I find worth reading 😉

    3. I yield to no man in my appreciation of the value of dissent — as a demonstration, I’ll dissent myself now, just a little. (I also yield to no man in my appreciation of irony.)

      *bites tongue to avoid “what about woman?” joke*

  4. Way off topic (but just recently found your site through Instapundit):

    I know some of you are Baen authors. As a fan of Baen publishing for several decades now and the owner of a B&N 1st edition Nook, I’ve enjoyed purchasing ebooks from Baen’s Webscriptions service.

    Do you as authors get more money if purchased through Baen or from Amazon? Personally, I’d rather buy directly from Baen as I can get epub without having to convert the format, but willing to purchase through Amazon if it helps you in any way (even if it’s not financial but helps with sales numbers, etc).

    Did do a search through your blog and found a post about Baen’s move to Kindle written by Amanda on December 18th. Was curious how you might see the change now that’s in been six months into the change.

    1. The answer (and boy this does not make me a happy camper) is that no one has told me what the difference is (they have the rights, nothing I can do about it. My interpretation of the contract means I need to know what they get from Amazon to work it out, and I don’t know and have not been told). And I think the 6 months isn’t a full 6 month reporting period – the 6 months run Jan-Jun, Jul-Dec — but before you get a report – 3-5 months after, your book must have been available an entire reporting period. (so if your book comes out on 2 Jan, its first complete reporting period is…1 July -31 December.) And you will get the results in late April or early May.

      Common sense would have a better reward for the author from Baen, but if you buy through one of my Amazon links I get another 6% of that purchase price from Amazon. But buy from whatever is easiest for you Everitt – the difference is cents, and I’d rather have you enjoying the book with minimum hassle and coming back for more, and telling your friends than get greedy for a few cents.
      Dave

  5. Ignorant American question – what previously unthinkable changes are happening?

    1. I was trying to reply to “But unthinkable (a few years ago) changes are happening in Britain, Europe and Australia. “

    2. Well, Ori, trust you to pick up the details that would take a whole book to answer adequately 🙂 You’re rather astute like that. Make me work too hard. Ok, As we are both emigrants I’ll mention some of those. They’re worrying trends because while they’re generated by the sort of fringe elements I’d cheerfelly see sent back to where they came from, they’re capable of growing to engulf valuable and well-integrated migrants too – if those migrants don’t try hard to fit in. In the UK even 5 years ago, the idea of limiting migration was verboten, would have anyone who even mentioned the idea mass-attacked by a chanting mob screaming ‘racist’. The fringe right-wing parties who did speak up about the idea -the BNP were pilloried and attacked, and got little support. Fast forward 5 years… UKIP – who are anti-EU (free migration within the EU is a major feature) and anti-unskilled migration, and anti-non-integration (‘multiculturalism’) are polling around 20-26%, growing fast, BNP is up too, and suddenly the Conservatives (who were barely left-of-center) are moving right fast, and asking nasty immigration questions… and, and this is important, the left wing Labour party, has moved a long way from their support of ‘multi-cult’ and is also coming across harder on immigrants (which is curious as it makes a lot of their support base). A broad Govt research survey has just been published showing the effect of emigrants on health, schooling & social services to be very bad. Five years ago it wouldn’t have been comissioned let alone published. Similar trends are present right across the EU, and certainly in Australia. A lot of this relates back to economics and employment – which I believe a lot more fragile than we are allowed to know. Details like the Baltic dry index and Chinese electricity usage (an honest measure of economic activity) are worrying to say the least.

      1. Good point about the growing popularity of restricting immigration (I didn’t think of it because in the US restricting immigration has never been off the table). I’m afraid that pendulum has swung so far in one direction (multiculturalism) that it will brain people while swinging the other way. As you said, it will probably hit bona-fide immigrants too like you and me – but we’re both working hard to fit in so it won’t be you and me.

        I really wish I could disagree with you about the economy. Unfortunately, I am not very good at writing fiction so I can’t ;-(

        1. And of course the problem with so many of these things is they’ve hitched their wagons together – emigration has become a ‘racism’ issue, the gay rights movement has bonded close to racial and gender activists etc… and they all assumed, contrary to every historical example, that it was always going to go one direction – the direction of the early 2000’s. Moreover as many of these are small groups, they assumed that larger groups with the numbers and potential fighting muscle would side with them when the going got tough. This, as history shows over and over, is false. As a result, instead of looking for higher ground, looking for integration across a broad spectrum, and invisibility, they’re going with yet more provocation, yet more demands. They don’t seem to realize the cup of giving is a very finite one, and when things get tight (which I expect) the larger group they got historical support from (the labour party in the UK for example) will start tossing them off the lifeboat to save themselves. The trouble with this is people who think themselves well-integrated and safe often end up paying for this too (look at someone like Haber – who was not not a practicing Jew, was a rabid German patriot, played a huge role in WW1 and was very well-connected to the business elite. And it made no difference). I’d rather that people saw and wound their necks in and things did not become extreme, even if I do not like much some ‘outliers’ (our Islamic immigrants with their customs).

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