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Dissent on Trial: The Grand Inquisitor. The Silence of the Lambs

Summary:
Citizen Smith Jones stands before a judge in the US Federal Court for Crimes against the State. Mr. Jones, are you aware that paranoia is a serious offense? What? I’m not suffering from paranoia, sir. You espouse wild theories that could only come from a disordered mind. A mind that believes others are out to get him. I merely disagreed with the State, when I wrote that— NO. DON’T mention what you wrote. That is no part of this proceeding. Why not? We are here for one purpose. To confirm you have criticized edicts of the government and the press. But we need to examine what I claimed, to see whether it was factual. We are NOT permitted to publicize the particulars of dissent in this court, because we would then be giving them

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Citizen Smith Jones stands before a judge in the US Federal Court for Crimes against the State.

Mr. Jones, are you aware that paranoia is a serious offense?

What? I’m not suffering from paranoia, sir.

You espouse wild theories that could only come from a disordered mind. A mind that believes others are out to get him.

I merely disagreed with the State, when I wrote that—

NO. DON’T mention what you wrote. That is no part of this proceeding.

Why not?

We are here for one purpose. To confirm you have criticized edicts of the government and the press.

But we need to examine what I claimed, to see whether it was factual.

We are NOT permitted to publicize the particulars of dissent in this court, because we would then be giving them EXPOSURE. We must be silent about the content of your posts and attempted tweets.

Silent?

You admit you disagreed with the State?

Of course.

Then you stand guilty as charged.

Again, Your Honor, suppose what I wrote is true?

It can’t be true.

Why not?

Because all statements are normative.

I don’t know what that means. I’m reluctant to ask.

All statements imply an ethical position, which in turn suggests behavior. I sit here to decide whether that behavior would benefit or harm the State.

Are you a Sophist?

I taught medical ethics at Johns Hopkins for 25 years. Upon retirement, I was appointed to this position. I gauge whether defendants want to help or harm the State. Whether their motives are pure or tainted.

What about my motives?

You’re a reasonable paranoid. That combination is difficult to cure. You’re a traditionalist. You believe we should examine dissent for truth or falsity. That’s a very old idea. It’s already been tossed in the dustbin of history. You’re not aware of this.

Who owns the dustbin?

In this court, I do.

Again, Your Honor, suppose what I’ve written is true? And if it’s false, what about the First Amendment?

You’re fixated on this issue, Mr. Jones. Why should the State care about what is true or false? Our power comes from EDICT, which is law.

Why shouldn’t I be able to express dissent?

Obviously, because one drop of opposition becomes two, and then they multiply like germs. You should express your opinion through your vote.

But if the voting process itself is—

SILENCE. Don’t finish that sentence. The content of dissent is not permitted in this court.

Then I automatically have no defense.

Mr. Jones, my colleagues and I are trampling on the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. We’re ending anger directed at the government and its media partners. Don’t you realize that? We’re trimming hedges of expression to achieve conformity and uniformity.

I stick out from the crowd so you’re chopping me down.

Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say you’re selling a substance you claim will heal disease. You’re brought into court. You tell the judge you want to present evidence that your product is effective and safe. The judge will simply determine whether the FDA has approved the product for sale. If not, you’re guilty. You won’t be given the chance to describe one iota of your evidence.

I could be healing the sick, but I’m guilty.

Exactly. We keep things simple. You want to publish thoughts which are departing from government edicts? You’ve committed a crime. It doesn’t matter what those thoughts are. Am I getting through to you, Mr. Jones?

You are.

Good.

You want the silence of the lambs.

That’s right.

You want to make it seem that non-silence is provocation of some kind. If I publish my thoughts, I’m—

Make it seem? There is no seem. There is only is.

Then it doesn’t matter whether my expression of thought is actually provocative or incendiary. It might be. It might not be. The expression is the crime.

In a nutshell, yes.

My clarity on this issue is improving. Have you considered an edict that would demand a pledge of silence?

We have. It would be voluntary. Those who sign the pledge would enjoy certain privileges. Think of how peaceful things would become if people kept their mouths closed.

Yes. Peaceful. Assuming the government is beneficent and fair.

Mr. Jones, it doesn’t matter what the government is, as long as it is the government.

Therefore, what I wrote about the government—which is why I’m here today—doesn’t matter. I was objecting, based on standards which don’t exist.

Correct.

I see, Your Honor. You’re clearing up things for me. YOU want to make MY objections into outright rebellion and revolution against the government. I was expressing critical comments, but because you rule by edict alone, any criticism I make becomes insurrection.

Mr. Jones, you have the intelligence to work for us, but not the temperament. It’s a shame. We could use you.

Really? And what would I do?

Assist our philosopher kings and princes.

Excuse me?

Our best people are really making philosophic distinctions. They’re passing judgment on language, on ethics, on psychology, on WHERE IDEAS COME FROM.

Where do they come from?

Take, for example, Justice. Is that an ideal form which exists in a realm separate from humans? An ideal toward which we strive? Or is it a principle we humans construct? If we are constructing it, HOW do we build it? With what motives and goals? How do we describe those goals?

You’re referring to Plato and The Republic.

Of course. There are high-level discussions taking place within government of which you’re unaware. You see, these days, academia and the State are One. The wisdom of each pours into the other.

What about the dustbin of history you mentioned? Isn’t Plato in it?

My dear fellow, what is dead is revolution. Revolution is over. Finished. But history is very much alive. We are building Plato’s Republic. Our own version. The best minds rule.

And everyone else submits.

What else would you expect?

Squashing dissent is a policy of the best minds?

It has to be. In order to achieve stability. If we allowed all sorts of dissent, so we could “pick the best ideas” and institute them—what would result? Chaos.

I see. So it’s subdue, and then uplift.

You really should be working for us.

And these “philosophic discussions” you mention. Do they include debate and dissent?

Of course. But they are taking place INSIDE the wall of government. The participants understand they’re working toward a deeper understanding, which will become policy.

If I were let in, I could make my positions clear?

You could write and speak to colleagues with full knowledge that you are protected.

Even if I were highly critical, if I tried to represent the people outside the wall?

Once you’re in, Mr. Jones, you’d be free to operate in that space. You’d find we’re a collegial group of thinkers. We consider a very wide range of possibilities. Nothing is out of bounds. Imagine, for example, sitting in a room speaking with people very much like Hitler and Thomas Paine. BUT both of these men understand it is government that provides them the freedom to air their views within the undisturbed space, inside the walls.

I could argue for the destruction of the walls?

We have men and women who do just that every day. But they also know they must carry out their campaign within the context of government.

Apart from the people outside.

Yes.

You must have an occasional defector, a leaker.

Leaking is a capital crime with special circumstances.

You’re trying to recruit me.

Mr. Jones, do you think I enjoy sitting here, day after day, handing out sentences to people who commit petty offenses? The whole reason the government wants me here is to discover good minds.

What about my paranoia?

It’s cured the moment you enter our world. Notice I didn’t call it a disorder or a disease. I said it was a serious offense. And it is, for a person who lives on the outside.

If I agreed to work with you, what would I do?

To start, you’d help prepare arguments to be presented at our formal symposia. Eventually, based on merit alone, you could rise to a position of greater strength. Your colleagues might consider you a formidable force of intellect. And of course, informal discussions and debates are occurring on a daily basis.

I assume I’d have to sign a contract of some kind.

We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. We also sign the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women of the government are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

You’re all seeking—

Knowledge. The highest knowledge possible. Among our ranks, we have Platonists, Aristotelians, Cartesians, formal logicians, and so on, and many hybrid thinkers of various persuasions. Most of our people fall into no particular categories. But yes, our pattern, so to speak, is Plato’s Republic. We’re trying to build the ideal State. We unashamedly profess that ambition.

I appreciate your offer, sir. My inclination is to stay outside the wall.

You say that, Mr. Jones, because you suspect our motives.

Yes. And because I believe the distinction between inside and outside, between government and the people, is wrong, to the highest degree.

You say that now, but having learned what we’re really engaged in, let your thoughts simmer. You’re free to go, with no penalties—this time. Mingle with your friends, with the “general population,” and register your own reactions to their opinions and abilities. See if you really believe that our creation of an elite is a serious mistake. Are we just grabbing power, or are we taking a rational course of action? Do we impose our will because we long for control, or are we facing up to the brutal fact that some people are more intelligent than others? Is it just and kind to allow a demonstrably imbalanced person to navigate a ship among rocks, in storms? There is no expiration date on my offer to you.

Understood, Your Honor.

Don’t you wish for a better forum, where your ideas are taken seriously?

Of course.

Don’t you want an audience of people who understand the distinctions you’re making? Don’t you wonder where such an audience is? Well, they’re in government. They’ve gravitated to us. Consider this, Mr. Jones: If you want discussion that MEANS something, that can impact POLICY, don’t you have an obligation to go to government?

Not if government is merely a cover for fascism.

My goodness, man, OF COURSE government is fascism. It has to be. It isn’t a free-for-all wrestling match. Forget about the elected officials and the appointees who give statements to the press. They’re inconsequential. I’m talking about the planners behind those persons. They’re the best and brightest. You should aspire to be among them…if you have the intelligence.

So, in essence, you’ve founded a Church.

If you want to call it that. Indeed, among our ranks, we have deeply religious people. But on the whole, no. We don’t want a Church.

Then let’s call it a cult.

When was the last time you found a cult in which the widest possible range of opinion and debate was encouraged? We ARE what you’re asking for. But we understand that freedom must have a secure home. A home where debate and dissent are understood for what they are, where they can be weighed and tested, where impulsive and outrageous bias are absent. YOU WANT TO BE TALKING TO US, AND WE ARE HERE.

You call yourselves philosophers.

Yes. We go to the roots of positions. We don’t stay on the surface. At the same time, because we institute policy, we have to enact pragmatic decisions.

Decisions based on how you can control the population.

Once inside our wall, you would be free to argue that the population shouldn’t be controlled.

But as soon as I come inside, I’ve accepted certain limitations.

You mean you agree that the State is necessary? No. You can define a position that claims the State should be dismantled. But you would need to defend that notion against excellent minds. Perhaps you’re not up to the challenge. Mr. Jones, in my opinion, when Plato finished his magisterial work, The Republic, he surely saw he had painted himself into a corner. His State was deeply repressive. But he let the work stand. Why? Because his whole effort was noble. He was trying to enthrone the wisest of men to lead the world. A worthy goal. By some estimates, an absolutely necessary goal. We deal with that paradox every day.

Well, Your Honor, in my estimate, there are people who are high-IQ idiots.

And you think I am one of them?

I don’t know.

As you leave here and go about your life, perhaps you’ll dream about me.

Sir, I have been dreaming about you for a long time. During many nights. You and I are facing each other in a crude pistol duel. You and your agents are pursuing me inside a great labyrinth. I’m destroying your outposts. You’re a Greek, bearing gifts. You’re a priest, trying to convince me to confess my sins. I’m a spy gathering information in your inner sanctum. You take over the land I own. I catch you in a net and throw you into the sea. You’re a prince, and I’m a member of your council plotting your overthrow. I live in a shack at the edge of a cliff, and you arrive with a retinue to rescue me with temptations. We’re passing each other in the street, and suddenly time stands still, and we’re paralyzed, staring at each other. You’re a Pope in a cathedral, intoning the mass. I stand up and proclaim you’re a traitor. You offer me your blessing. In the wind, I crouch at the edge of a river, on your back. I force you to carry me across. You and I are signing a peace treaty between nations. There is alarm and danger in the room. The minds behind you are tuned to perfection, which means their failures will be spectacular…

Those dreams are cautionary tales. I’m not offering you paradise. I’m giving you a foothold. You can climb out of the crowd and the mob and the darkness, into a cloister of unparalleled safety. If you have the skill, help us to be better than we are. Perhaps one day soon, you and I will walk together through the wall, and you’ll take up residence in the best place we have yet made…

Your role, Your Honor, is temptation.

I do what I can.

Reprinted with permission from Jon Rappoport’s blog.

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