By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(Plain Talk, April 18, 2019)
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
“I won’t tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world’s voice, or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too much. But there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely — or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!” — Oscar Wilde
We are at a crucial point in our society where the cult of personality and political correctness has become permanent features of the political firmament. The sole intent of the power elite is to intimidate a large swath of society, friend and foe alike, into reluctant obedience.
All of us must decide what kind of future we want for ourselves and our children, our neighbours and the nation we call home. We must decide to speak up now or risk being enslaved by an overbearing orthodoxy that desires strict conformity; speaking up does not mean blind and mindless opposition. As Ta-Nahisi Coates says, “it must mean placing our leaders and nation under unrelenting scrutiny because they are all we have got”.
We must never become so complacent so as to allow extreme minority voices to rule over the reasonable majority. It is a truism that the world will not be destroyed only by those who do wrong or evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.
Many of us went to the best schools, pursued outstanding careers and made successes of ourselves. However, we have been indoctrinated to believe the opinion moulders and mind benders. The sad truth remains that we were trained, rather than educated. We cannot really claim to be educated if we never question prevailing reality or take life alternating risks in pursuit of what we believe.
How many of us are afraid to speak our minds? How many of us have seen friends, acquaintances, family members or anyone shamed, intimidated or brutalised into submission for speaking their minds? How many of us practice self-censorship, afraid to rouse the maddening mob, even when that mob is perceived, often incorrectly, to be the majority? How many of us are too scared to have our lives ruined, simply for standing up for what we believe in?
The people who try to silence those who dissent against popular belief are scared of individual thought. They attempt to silent contrarian views not because their ideas are intellectually superior, but because they are fragile. They don’t know how to coherently and confidently defend their ideas against scrutiny. They offer rage and slander instead of enlightened conversation. Their mantra remains, wrong forum, not here, not now!
They want to shut down debate and conversation so that they can stay safe and certain in their conceited and deceitful bubbles. They don’t want to doubt their current beliefs; they refuse to grow and to acknowledge that they might be wrong. They confuse and conflate their views with what is right for the nation and its people. They have complete disregard for informed debate and policy opinions that differ from theirs.
We need people to speak up, now more than ever. We need more people to be vocal and question the authority of those in control of our financial, educational, religious, and power corridors.
Don’t be fooled, as Noam Chomsky insightfully said in his book, the Common Good “the smart way to keep a society passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum”.
Many of us in modern society fall for this narrowing public space because we are cowards. We never speak up and say what we really want to say because we all believe we will suffer alone and be ridiculed. We think we will lose everything and gain nothing, so why speak up at all? We are all waiting for the hero to emerge and save the day, but never expect to be the hero ourselves. We can be the hero that saves ourselves and everyone else if we are courageous enough to face the intimidating and oppressive forces.
We are allowing other people to think for us. We are lazy and unwilling to examine our own beliefs. We echo words that we have seen or heard before and insist that they are our own. We look confident on the outside but we crumble under critical examination. We are the herd, led mindlessly, unable to go off into the distance on our own.
We must display some backbone when we face adversity. A lot of us have no confidence in our ideas and principles. Why? Because we don’t spend time thinking about what we actually believe.
We have a general understanding of what kind of life’s rules we live by and what we might believe in, but when push comes to shove, we are willing to abandon everything and betray everyone, just to save our own skin.
The important thing to think about here is to pick our battles. We don’t want to say something completely outrageous to rile up controversy. We want to speak carefully and truthfully about our ideas and minimise our mistakes as much as possible so that our detractors will have nothing to criticise. Their criticism of genuine change agents will be seen as nothing more than wild bluster.
Avoid mindless debates whose only result will be plenty heat and little light, but do not shy away from conversations that may bring others with an open mind closer to accepting and listening to your perspective. If you want to live as a free thinker, you must be ready to defend your ideas to the grave. Stand your ground and never apologise for stating your beliefs and your honest thoughts.
Although we must all strive to be open minded and ready to change our mind if our opponent makes irrefutable and reasonable points, we must make sure they are given a good challenge and not fall victim to intimidation.
We can only hope that, sometime soon, more of us who are fearful, or exercise a callous indifference to the plight of others, will grow tired of being silent.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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