“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Afshana stumps for civil public debate on issues of common concern

(Ms. Syeda Afshana, 34, was born in Srinagar. She attended the Vishwa Bharti High School in Rainawari, Srinagar, and the Government Women’s College in Srinagar where she received a B.Sc. degree. She completed her Master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 1999 and was the Gold Medallist (first position holder) in her graduating class. She is currently a Lecturer in the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the Kashmir University and pursuing her doctorate on the role of internet after 9/11.)

Learn to Dissent

“If all mankind
minus one,
were of one opinion,
and only one person
were of the contrary opinion,
mankind would be no more
justified in silencing
that one person,
than he,
if he had the power,
would be justified
in silencing mankind”
(John Stuart Mill)

Nations develop when there is debate on ideas and policies. And people become mature when they dissent and seek an alternative viewpoint. Evolution of new thoughts and principles takes place as dissenting opinion aids in making the majority opinion better or at times, influences in rectifying the same. It shapes the intellectual landscape of a community. Therefore, it needs to be encouraged as well as to be protected.

Dissent or disagreement as such is not always ‘wicked’, as usually labeled by dissent haters. A healthy practice of expressing one’s viewpoint cannot be just troublesome or irritating. But then, what is it that upsets the majority opinion whenever there is dissent? Why to brush-off the difference of opinion? Possibly the majority opinion is never convinced of its probity. Or either the dissent haters are blind towards the facts. The perceptual blindness, in turn, can be because of any prejudice or a vested interest that has many favorable linkages to procure.

It appears strange as to why separate opinions are so much ostracized and looked down upon. Cannot individuals think differently, and have different take on various issues? The whip to make them think alike, aimed at establishing consensus opinions sounds bizarre! Dismissing disagreement for the sake of ‘unanimity’ is fallacious. Unanimity is not unity. It is only a symbol of ‘common ground’ disguised as comradeship.

The notion that dissent encourages noncompliance is again an alibi to suppress the dissenting voices. No worldly word is final. No law is an indisputable verdict. And no rule is an unquestionable commandment. Obedience is obviously warranted but the same cannot be entailed or enforced by the killing of the dissenting opinion.

They say a dissenting opinion is often the product of the battle itself. The battle is between the dissimilar parties or individuals, arguing on a plane of right and wrong variable. Of course, both the variables are definite, and can not be relative. Right is just right, and wrong cannot be set as right, come what may. That’s why dissents act as a pivot in the system of checks and balances. It is a pointer for the brooding soul, an indicator to the future which may get betrayed by the incorrect estimation or projection of the majority opinion.

Societies, institutions and organizations need dissenters to save these from collapsing due to ‘consensus virus’ that slaughters the independent thinking and prolongs the culture of mindless compliance. The concurring minds are never ingenious and innovative since they have nothing to offer and hence, no dissent. They agree to everything and sign in every decision. The ‘Herd Mentality’ is their hallmark.

To be an honest dissenter is not that easy and painless. It needs moral courage to speak up and disagree. It needs challenging tolerance to face victimization for committing the ‘sin to object’. It needs strong self-sufficiency to withstand lobby pressures and not getting bogged down by ruthless criticism. It needs indigenous merit and competence to go against the majority opinion and face the music all-time.

Dissenters cannot hope to revamp the various systems operating in the nation overnight. Be it political, social, academic or administrative etc. They can just put the brakes on the growing process of degeneration, injustice and unfairness, trying to slow it down to the extent that the nation does not go nuts, altogether. The situation that will descend into anarchy; pushing us into a kind of mob rule or majority rule, where what counts is merely the heads, and not what is actually contained in the heads.

Well said that ‘a dissenter is the gladiator making a last stand against the lions’. Over here, the crushed gladiators are rare. And the crutched lions are ruling the roost.

God save us. God save this nation!