December 14th, 2004

Dissent

I have just finished Why Societies Need Dissent by Cass Sunstein which I was reading for the book club I'm in.  It reminds me of a line of argument in J.S. Mill's On Liberty, but modernised, and way too dry, like white toast without butter.  The best thing about the book, for me, was its recounting of some experimental data about the effects of dissent and conformity.  I was familiar with some of the results, but not all.

As you might guess from his title, he gives societies priority over individuals.  He makes the point this way:

"Well-functioning societies take steps to discourage conformity and to promote dissent.  They do this partly to protect the rights of dissenters, but mostly to protect interests of their own."

Note, in the last sentence, that the priority is specifically not to protect rights, but rather to protect social interests.  It's a dangerous formulation, since it seems to open the door for the abrogation of rights in the name of promoting dissent.

If that's what he meant,
I dissent.

And that will have to do for the rhyme of the day.

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