I am in a minority. I always was, because there’s only one of me – a fact that most people find reassuring.
Most of us find comfort in being part of a group, which is why schoolchildren seek the approval of their peers as part of growing up. That is how gangs start, as well as friendlier social groups.
Teachers – well, good teachers – try to manage this process by reassuring individuals that they can be independent, that they have value as individuals with specific talents never exactly reproduced in others. This is a liberating concept.
When we try to build communities, it is tempting to forget that they are made up of individuals. Some of the worst communities on the planet have demonstrated this.
Unfortunately it is not always easy to tell whether the community you’re forming is good or bad. It may have what you think are excellent aims, but if this means that those who disagree with those aims are ostracised, disenfranchised, expelled or worse, then your community, whether large or small, is a bad one.
This is reflected in the current tendency to think there should be only one permissible opinion on each of a wide variety of issues that face us in the 21st century. When it comes to gender, diversity, speed limits, climate change, covid, vaccinations, lockdowns, restrictions on movement, cycle paths etc etc, if there is only one acceptable view – whether it claims to be for the good of society or not – that is, in my minority view, dangerous for the society in which it occurs.
Democracy works on the principle that the views of the majority get preference. This is fine, as long as the views of the minority are permitted, and heard – and not dismissed because the consensus is different. I like the observation of Michael Crichton, who said that “historically the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled”.
Not long ago a Tory MP with views on covid vaccinations that do not accord with those of most of us expressed these views in Parliament, as he is entitled to do. I am glad he did. I would like to hear as wide a variety of views on key issues as possible. But he was immediately dumped on from a great height by people determined he should not be heard, including the Prime Minister.
He was accused of being anti-Semitic because he said the covid vaccine was “the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust”. This may not have been a wise thing to say, but it is in no way anti-Semitic. He was not denying the Holocaust. He was not belittling the Holocaust. Quite the contrary. He was trying to emphasise what he believed to be an extreme danger to people in general.
We may or may not agree with him. But the fact that senior politicians and others felt they had to misrepresent him in this way is in fact quite worrying, and would make any independent-minded person think he might have been saying something that we weren’t supposed to hear. What better way to “gag” him than to denigrate him, present him as worthless and make people feel guilty for listening to him?
This particular MP is clearly no longer part of the gang. Should we be worried? Yes, I believe we should. We could be next.