The Death of Dissent

In the aftermath of the horrific attack in Orlando, we have witnessed a death that is equally troubling if only because of its scope and the fact that no one is talking about it—the death of dissent.

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A photo shared on Facebook of 49 birds flying over a vigil for the Orlando victims has gone viral. The photographer wished to remain anonymous.

Sympathy and support for the mostly gay victims has come from all corners of society including charitable gestures from Christians, Muslims, and others who are considered anti-gay. The sympathy and support is not what’s troubling. What’s troubling is that the sympathy and support have been rejected.

Anderson Cooper famously grilled Florida Attorney General, who has previously fought against same-sex marriage, suggesting that someone who is opposed to same-sex marriage would be hypocritical to support the victims of the Orlando crime. The mayor of San Antonio was shamed at a vigil for being “part of the hurt”. Across social media, the folks in the LGBT community have challenged Christians who show compassion for gays after Orlando when they for so long fought against them. Some went so far as to condemn Christianity as the cause of the Orlando massacre.

Christians who offered support for the Orlando victims were practicing the traditional Christ-like policy of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. They forgot that many have identified themselves by their sin, and so hating the sin means hating them as individuals. They don’t believe they are sinners, and so don’t need their compassion anyway.

This kind of all-or-nothing mentality has rather defined the LGBT movement for quite a while now, and can be seen in full force in this latest episode. On social media, in politics, and at the workplace, sympathy for the Orlando shooting victims has seamlessly morphed into solidarity with the gay community. The symbol of support was not the Orlando or Florida flag but the multicolored ‘gay flag’, and could be seen on the Facebook temporary profile pictures, memorial lights, and armbands.

And, while it makes perfect sense for those who want to show sympathy for the victims to also show their solidarity with the LGBT community, it has become a requisite, and anyone who doesn’t show solidarity with the LGBT community is censured.

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One vocal progressive at my office took the opportunity to post a message which encouraged everyone to actively speak out in defense of the LGBT community and to not accept dehumanizing attitudes, speech, or actions they come across. It could easily be inferred that anyone who does not actively speak out in defense of the LGBT community must be part of the dehumanizing effort that culminated in the Orlando shooting.

The message being sent is clear: ‘You are with us or you’re against us. If you want to support the victims of the shooting, then you must also support everything they stood for. If you don’t support the LGBT community and everything they stand for, then you’re a perpetrator of hate, just like the terrorist in Orlando, and most likely no better.’

The objective bystander might wonder whether we’re missing a key perspective here. Can’t we mourn for the victims of the Orlando shooting, not as gay people, but simply as people? Can’t we support them as Americans, as free persons who can choose their lifestyle, and still not support their lifestyle? Can’t we deplore the actions of the terrorist and still disagree with the actions of the victims?

Just because the terrorist was wrong doesn’t mean the victims and their community should have license to do whatever they want. Just because we face one evil doesn’t mean we should accept all others.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the outpouring of sympathy immediately turned into a list of demands—all should show their support for the LGBT community or else be branded a hater and linked with the terrorist in mentality if not in action. As it was in the response of other politically-charged shootings (i.e., Charleston), and not unlike the response after 9/11, the prevailing milieu is that you’re either with us or against us, and if you’re against us, then you’re with the enemy, you are the enemy.

This is the standard in the modern hyper-social and childishly liberal age: If you’re against Obama, you’re racist; if you’re against Hillary, you’re sexist; if you’re against same-sex marriage, you’re homophobic; if you’re against so-called ‘radical Islam’, you’re Islamophobic. Basically, you can’t be against anything without being a bigot, extremist, and reactionary. That is, unless you’re against gun rights, the Constitution, and Republicans.

And this is the problem: If you oppose the prevailing standard, if you sail against the wind, then you will be labeled ‘apostate’ and banished from our society. Democratic tyranny it may be—tyranny of the majority—but it is tyranny nonetheless.

Now, America is no stranger to the tyranny of the majority. We have seen it since the days of Tocqueville and the age of the Internet has only intensified the issue. It has come to a point where this tyranny is leading to outright censorship (i.e., Facebook) and legal and criminal repercussions (i.e., IRS). In California, it will soon be illegal to question Global Warming. The concept of Hate Crime has already had a chilling effect on the way people talk.

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The sovereign can no longer say, “You shall think as I do on the pain of death;” but he says, “You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be our determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people. You may retain your civil rights, but they will be useless to you, for you will never be chosen by your fellow-citizens if you solicit their suffrages, and they will affect to scorn you if you solicit their esteem. You will remain among men, but you will be deprived of the rights of mankind. Your fellow-creatures will shun you like an impure being, and those who are most persuaded of your innocence will abandon you too, lest they should be shunned in their turn. Go in peace! I have given you your life, but it is an existence incomparably worse than death.”

—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)

Even though America is familiar with the tyranny of the majority, it has always offered recourse in the form of dissent. The Declaration of Independence is one huge statement of dissent, and in it and the Constitution is a guarantee of dissent. It could be argued that America, as a Democratic Republic, with elections seemingly every year, is a form of perpetual dissent. The ability to disagree and move on to something that you want is at the very core of this country, and has in many ways enabled the great growth and production and innovation that we have always been known for.

But we have forgotten that dissent does not have to lead to hatred, and hatred does not have to lead to violence. These days, we have identified ourselves as the sins we commit, and built up a great infrastructure of incentives and tax breaks to bolster those identities. As such, anyone who disagrees with our sins invariably disagrees with us as human beings. We have lost the ability to peaceably disagree.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Plaintiff Jim Obergefell speaks to members of the media after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Gay marriage is now legal. Oh, and, by the way, dissent is now illegal.

And isn’t that a sad state of affairs? If we are no longer able to dissent and live our lives as individuals apart from the tyranny of the majority, if we can no longer disagree with the way people live their lives and still peaceably live beside them, then we have lost what it is to be American, and we are ultimately no better than the terrorists whose only way of dissent is through violence.

This is the irony of our intolerant tolerance. Folks like Anderson Cooper and the vocal supporters of the LGBT community might mean well by imposing their beliefs on others, but, by forcing dissenters to agree with them, it is they who are like the Orlando terrorist, not the dissenters. The only way they can succeed in achieving the rights they seek is to live in a world where we can agree to disagree. And that means being humble, and accepting the sympathy from those who disagree with their lifestyle. Please allow Christians to mourn the Orlando victims. And please allow them to disagree with their lifestyle at the same time. Unless we do, all that is American is lost.

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