If something is right, it is not right by virtue of consensus. The popularity of a view has nothing to do with the truth of that view. The prejudice of mistaking popularity with goodness, and uniformity with love, is very primal, perhaps having its origins in our tribal roots.
Equally important to tribal unity, however, is the creative power of individual intuition, the ability of the human conscience to break free from the common habits of the flock. In many ways this defines what it is to be human. It proves we are not governed by instinct alone, that we can fight against our biology, and it is that fighting, ironically, that makes us supreme in survival.
Some might say that solidarity is the chief virtue of the Left, that by dissenting from the collective one risks betraying the cause. This is, among many competitors, the most persistent and dangerous myth of the Left.
Solidarity is the ability find common cause, to see that other people, under wholly different circumstances, have their own struggles for self-realisation. Despite the differences in circumstances, I can empathise with them, because a core sense of human empowerment unites us.
Solidarity is what makes me able to feel invested in the struggles of Kurdish female fighters and working class men in the USA. Solidarity is a leap of the imagination that moves past and through the barriers of time and space.
None of this says that I have a duty to fall into line, and march in unison with anyone that I feel this solidarity for. If anything, the very thing that drives my sympathy and common humanity is the recognition of individual will versus the forces of conformity. Solidarity is a product of individual conscience, not collective thinking.
In many cases, the greatest act of solidarity is dissent. The most important thing is preserving the human ability to act upon personal conscience. Without personal conscience all morality and love is a sham.
Human rights are not the final end of any progressive movement. They are just a convenient approximation of what we need to preserve in order to maintain human dignity.
Human dignity, ultimately, comes from this very ability to conceive truth independently and to act upon our conscience.
Democracy is not good in and of itself, it’s good to the extent that it empowers us to act on our conscience. Human rights are not ends in themselves, they are just as close as we can get to making an institution of liberty of conscience.
The charge of contrarian is a conformist tactic. Perhaps the most insidious one. Dismissing those who insist on arriving at truth on their own terms, as being infantile, and reducing defiant conscience to a kind of adolescent tantrum, is a totalitarian reaction.
People tend to confuse dissent with mass protest. They think that it is progressive to join the march, to “unite” in crowds, show strength in numbers. Sometimes these things are good. One of the more heartening aspects of the women’s march after Trump’s inauguration was the sheer diversity of the women involved. It was just too big to be about one agenda, despite the best efforts of the lunatic organisers and desperate celebrities.
However, too often mass protest gives license to mob tactics. Collective action too easily becomes collective thinking. The many objections to the current state of the progressive Left are not always grounded in a distaste for change. Some reactionaries are jumping on the flaws of the psycho fringe, but most objections come down to a fear of purely ideological thinking.
Solidarity, or even love, does not require total compliance. It has become all to common to dismiss people as ‘alt-right’ because they have reservations about certain tactics of protest, and the way a commitment to one cause requires an automatic commitment to a range of other causes.
Too many people are being driven to the centre or the Right by the tendency for automatic thinking on the Left.
It has become too easy to dismiss progressive values now, on the basis of the mob tactics and conformist mentality of a great many protesters.
What will save the Left is dissent. Though Thomas Paine and George Orwell were excommunicated in their own time for showing dissent in the ranks, their legacy was actually to prolong the life of socialism. Without them, it is difficult to imagine what the Left would have been like after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Embracing dissent means putting individual conscience before ‘the movement’. It means placing the individual before ‘the cause’. Why? Because dissent is a far better insurance against delusion and propaganda than consensus.