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Wednesday, 25 June 2014 10:52

The Cruelty of Banning Dissent in the United States

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adissent 1(Photo: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

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The unsparingly caustic Charles P. Pierce recently identified the dominant political culture in the United States as one of cruelty. In his Esquire blog on June 20, Pierce zeroed in on the rise of schadenfreude as the current national pastime:

There is a new kind of systematized cruelty in our daily lives, in how we relate to each other, and in how we treat our fellow citizens, and, therefore, there is a new kind of systematized cruelty in our politics as well....

We cheer for cruelty and say that we are asking for personal responsibility among those people who are not us, because the people who are not us do not deserve the same benefits of the political commonwealth that we have. In our politics, we have become masters of camouflage. We practice fiscal cruelty and call it an economy. We practice legal cruelty and call it justice. We practice environmental cruelty and call it opportunity. We practice vicarious cruelty and call it entertainment. We practice rhetorical cruelty and call it debate. We set the best instincts of ourselves in conflict with each other until they tear each other to ribbons, and until they are no longer our best instincts but something dark and bitter and corroborate with itself. And then it fights all the institutions that our best instincts once supported, all the elements of the political commonwealth that we once thought permanent, all the arguments that we once thought settled -- until there is a terrible kind of moral self-destruction that touches those institutions and leaves them soft and fragile and, eventually, evanescent. We do all these things, cruelty running through them like hot blood, and we call it our politics.

A large segment of the public responds to political campaigns that - often in coded language - vilify and blame those who are in economically distressed circumstances. It is the most selfish of cruelties: justifying one's heartlessness and venom by accusing those in need of deserving their condition.

This self-righteous malice is also used to stifle dissent. Take, for instance, the reaction of the North Carolina legislature, which responded to the principled challenge mounted by Moral Mondays - in which crowds seeking to restore compassion to government protested at the state capitol – by passing a prohibition on "imminent disturbances" earlier this year.

As the AFL-CIO released a statement on the North Carolina legislature's "efforts by extremist conservatives to silence protestors for creating any 'imminent disturbance'": "This could include singing, clapping or speaking loudly. The AFL-CIO has been quick to point out that the greatest moments in America’s history were born out of imminent disturbance."

According to the Raleigh, North Carolina newspaper News and Observer, the Moral Monday supporters are now turning to ensuring that citizens are not denied the right to vote in the state. In a June 1 editorial, the paper opined:

Clearly, Republican legislators didn’t expect Moral Monday to become such a big movement. Some 945 people were arrested during the last, catastrophic session on Jones Street, when Republicans attacked public education, teachers, the unemployed and the poor and sick. Some GOP legislators dismissed the protesters as the great unwashed, people with nothing else to do or just soreheads. In fact, the protesters represented doctors, soccer moms, the poor, the rich and all races – a cross-section of North Carolinians worried about the future of their state.

Charles Pierce wrote a book that is often referenced on BuzzFlash at Truthout: Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free. Cruelty in the hands of those who are maliciously ignorant is something to fear - and resist with all one's might.

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