Dissent

My former co-blogger Austin Evers sent me this quote from law professor Cass Sunstein.

Conformity is often a sensible course of action; we do our best, by our own lights, if we do what others do.  One reason we conform is that we often lack much information on our own, and the decisions of others provide the best information we can get.  If we aren’t sure what to do, we might as well adopt an easily applied rule of thumb: Follow the crowd.  The problem is that widespread conformity deprives the public of information that it needs to have.  Conformists are often thought to be protective of social interests, keeping quiet for the sake of the group.  By contrast, dissenters tend to be seen as selfish individualists, embarking on projects of their own.  But in an important sense, the opposite is closer to the truth.  Much of the time, dissenters benefit others, while conformists benefit themselves.  If dissenters are punished for expressing nonconforming views, they will fail to disclose what they know and believe, to the detriment of society. [Why Societies Need Dissent, pp. 5-7]

The tagline on our old blog was a riff on a Bernard Henri-Levy line: “Writers, hence dissidents.” Austin and I both viewed the act of blogging about what was happening in the world and engaging in political writing an important act of dissent. I think Sunstein would agree.

Moreover, I think Sunstein’s quote should be used as ammunition against anyone who thinks bloggers should not participate in critiquing the Democratic Party, or more specifically, President-elect Barack Obama. There’s been a fairly heavy pushback around the blogs, primarily from commentors but from bloggers as well, against people who have written critically about Obama’s cabinet and staffing picks. For the Obama administration to be as great and successful as we all want it to be, there must be expressions of nonconforming views and criticism of a popular leader.  Hopefully those that express dissent about Obama will have a welcome place in the Democratic Party’s discourse over the next four to eight years.

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