Collectivism & consensus in a post Covid-19 world

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The crippling effects of even a single taboo topic can, for Orwell, "have an all-round crippling effect upon the mind," since "there is always the danger that any thought which is freely followed up may lead to the forbidden thought" (167) [notes: see the original article]. Thus, even though the actuality of a totalitarian state may not be present in the polity of a society, the atmosphere of totalitarianism produces something of the same effect.

This kind of atmosphere can be seen in the cancel culture response to those who dissent from the accepted orthodoxies of today. In the case of de-platforming or disinviting guest speakers, for example, the philosophy behind the authoritarian behavior is immediately exposed: If something is considered true only because everyone says so, then can a group that wishes to maintain that "truth" afford to let someone/anyone express a different opinion?

This is where the undermining of reason interacts with the undermining of individual rights. Anything that threatens the consensus of the group, threatens the group itself and, with no objective reality to refer to or axiomatic truth to reveal and maintain, it is a zero-sum game that the individual must be made to lose.

Study after study has confirmed that humans, as social animals, have a need to conform to the values of the group (Aronson 13). In The United States of Lyncherdom, Mark Twain refers to this need as the "herd mentality" and argues that it is the commanding feature of the great majority of men, insisting that its only remedy was the creation of a counter group that could offer an individual both a safe and alternative option (243). For that, however, one individual must step forward and become the first member of a group that others feel increasingly comfortable rallying around.

It is for this reason that speakers are routinely de-platformed or disinvited. Since, the contrary opinion is the existential threat, the issue is not whether someone who does not want to hear the differing opinion has the choice to listen to it or not, the issue is that there are others who can listen to it if they so desire. This cannot be allowed: What if some extraordinary person says something extraordinary? What if some not so extraordinary person says something that nonetheless is of some use to those who have decided to make the choice to listen? What if some observation made is the beginning of a new consensus? [...]

A world where truth is determined by the number of people who believe something to be true and no other objective measurement, must devolve to authoritarian measures to maintain itself. It must procure allies also. It cannot allow the individual to operate individually, to be left to think their own thoughts or express their own opinions. They are either for or against the group; there is no middle ground.

This is the danger in the collectivism of Fascism and Socialism alike; this is why the brown-shirted Sturmabteilung (SA) of Nazism first did battle with the red-fisted RFB (Roter Frontkampferbund) of Socialism in the now infamous street brawls of Germany: In the 1920s, they were fishing in the same pond and viewed each other as the greatest initial threat to their own consensus building projects. Thus, out of collectivism, emerges tyranny.

source: Article 'Collectivism & Consensus in a Post Covid-19 World' by Glen Paul Hammond (Master of Arts in English Literature from the University of Toronto); www.politicalanimalmagazine.com/2020/07/10/collectivism-consensus-in-a-post-covid-19-world/; Political Animal Magazine; 10 July 2020