Opposition Voices

Opposition voices are important, for we can never be sure of our blind spots.

For this reason, wise cultures safeguard opposition voices. One such powerful mechanism in the American government system is the “laboratory of the states” — federalism. This system allows failure on small scale (the States) and helps filter out failure on large scale (the Central Government). It allows for experimentation with the failure (dung piles) that result from such freedom. I value such freedom. Further, I like to see that freedom extended as far down the heirarchy as it can go — to the community, the family and the individual.

The trick is, when does someone else’s freedom interfere with another person’s freedom, safety and well-being? When should government step in and rightfully curtail freedom? I agree that this is a hard decision but over the years I have tended to error on the side of more freedom rather than less. Thus, though it comes with many undesired consequences (dung piles), I prefer to leave choices of child-rearing to the family: vaccines, religion, nutrition, circumcision, sleeping styles, discipline, education, TV watching and much more. I understand the downsides to this and regret them, but I see state control of these things as having potentially worse side effects.

This decision is probably far less rational than I’d like to imagine because I have made contrarian child rearing decisions throughout my parenting life.  See my post called: “Our Pseudo-Amish Family“. I am probably merely defending my temperament. But then, my desire to defend my temperament, allows others also to protect their own too.

Two years ago I did a post called “The Social Function of Vaccine Resistors“, where I outlined some of the points I made in a contrarian presentation at a national conference on Public Health.  The presentation discusses how though vaccines are a positive impact on Public Health, those who have resisted them have ironically improved vaccines.  I am pro-vaccinations (though my children had a delayed schedule) — foregoing vaccines can result in unnecessary deaths.  Likewise foregoing circumcision can have health problems. But vaccines and circumcisions can have non-negligible negative outcomes. People debate the costs and benefits.  But for me, today, I want these decisions to remain at the family level, no matter how much I personally disagree with them.

Contrary voices come in many varieties: shrill, arrogant, obsessed, deluded, brilliant, fanciful, Machiavellian, creative and insightful. In Japan, my voice occasionally caused others to refer to me as an Amanojaku.  The same tone may repulse one person and yet influence another.  There is room even for the variety of tones.  Opposition voices should be encouraged, not silenced.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

11 responses to “Opposition Voices

  1. I hate to be a yes man, but, yes, man! In a way, we have to fight against our controlling, protective natures to let freedom flourish. It seems impossible to do at times, but, when we realize the dung piles associated with any “ideals” and the benefit of contrary viewpoints, perhaps it can be made easier.

  2. Nick

    I am tempted to oppose you here just for the sake of irony. Although if the general consensus is to allow opposition voices then the opposition would have to be opposed to their own opposition thus silencing themselves, thus if the majority encourage the freedom to oppose, the minority had a dilemma that prevents them from opposing, thus making the majority position to encourage opposition the very thing that makes opposition impossible. Thus you get the tolerance paradox where a society advocating complete tolerance becomes intolerant towards intolerance. What a conundrum! But I do think opposition is good in society although I would still believe that pluralism doesn’t undermine there actually being better states or more true statements. Pluralism to me means that no one gets it exactly right, but I still think that a society can hope to actually get it right (and if Socrates is right, society can get it right through discourse with opposition).

  3. Sabio Lantz

    @ The Wise Fool,
    Being duped by idealism several times has helped me a great deal with these insights. Have you been duped by more than one?

    @ Nick,
    That was funny. I think that societies can get closer to right, but they will never get it right. Perhaps you have watched too much Star Trek ! 😉

  4. @Sabio
    …more than one “ideal,” probably not, unless you count the Republican/Democrat thing as multiples. But I have had many, many perceptions shattered by the ugly, steamy, stinky truth.

  5. Nick

    Haha! I definitely have watched too much Star Trek. But whether or not a society can actually achieve the right, all I mean to maintain is that there is a right way. It may not be feasible to achieve a perfect society, I think there are really better and potentially best states that a society should at least hope for. Somewhere I’m advocating something a lot the lines of Sam Harris’s moral landscape. And again I think that an integral part of striving for that hope is the presence and engagement of opposition.

  6. @ Nick,
    I am not really convinced that the is “a right way”, and more over, I’m not sure what that means. I know what it means for very limited domains, of course, but your project seems bigger, more vague, more absolute than I am use to working with.

    But of course I feel that it is easy to imagine better states for society. Sorry, I haven’t read Harris’ Moral Landscape writings.

    But we agree that giving room for opposition is a crucial trick for maintaining a stable, prospering culture.

  7. I see a parallel here with institutionalized religious thought. The state has a power to sanctify certain behavior, by being too much of an authority and by enforcement, whether that behavior has outlived its usefulness or not.

    Another “mechanism” I think is important is the voluntary handing over of power to those contrary voices (or, at least the show of voluntarily handing it over). It certainly isn’t perfect, but it is a step in our growing up.

    I’d like to say I love freedom more, but I don’t think I trust people enough. Not yet, at least (a cynic, but reforming). Maybe when I see some changes to education and economics.

  8. That’s why I check here and consider you a friend. A friend that continually pokes me in the eye and has me consider things I haven’t or didn’t want to. I’m with ya on this post.

  9. Hey Andrew G,
    Not sure I followed your points – sorry, too abstract for me.

    Hi Luke,
    Thanx. By the way, you don’t have to dress up when you visit my site. No need for robes!

  10. Ha! Well, if it helps, there’s nothing under them. Wait… not sure if that hurts or helps 😉

  11. Ouch, I asked for that! 🙂

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