'Silence is Violence' is Moral Blackmail

‘Silence is violence’ is a sanctimonious tool used to beat people into submission by preying on their guilt, ignorance and cowardice.

‘Silence is violence’ reminds me of an old adage from school: if you see bullying and don’t say anything - you’re just as bad as the bully. Is it just me, or was this line of reasoning not very convincing? Yes, bullying is bad and should be condemned (do I really have to state this?), however if I see bullying and don’t say anything, am I really as bad as the bully? Of course not. I’m not doing anything. The bully is the worst person in the situation. It may unethical of me to not stand up, but it is not as bad as participating in the abuse. Possibly, it’s just a method to try reduce harassment in schools, but it never made sense to me. So in the same way that you are not as bad as the bully, you are also not committing an act of violence by staying silent (side note: see how much in recent years the term ‘violence’ has been misappropriated).

‘Silence is violence’ is a somewhat inapt comparison though. There is no moral ambiguity in school bullying. It’s easy to see who is in the wrong. However, the topics where the phrase ‘silence is violence’ is used are never that simple. People fail to grasp nuance and easily fall victim to misinformation. This is used to some activists’ advantage, who can wield this proverb against those who are uninformed and conflict adverse, as it is much easier to go along with the crowd than it is to question it. Situations are complex. More complex than we can imagine. Even to those who think they are well informed, some situations are truly incomprehensible.

Their assigned opinion

“Look,” they’ll say, “this is all you need to know”, then what they’ll proceed to give is a carefully curated opinion. But not their own, no. Instead an opinion that has been assigned to them by some other entity. An entity that needs the public on their side - for political purposes. This opinion will be highly simplistic, usually crunching the issue down to a single phrase. Once you know these few words, you know the issue in its entirety and where you should stand on it.

Or so they would have you believe.

If they are unfortunate enough to come across someone who knows what they’re talking about and makes a point that can cause them to doubt their world view, they will be thrown into cognitive dissonance - much to the pleasure of everyone watching. To save themselves from embarrassment, however, they will shout louder and become more aggressive with what they say. Conviction is convincing, isn’t it? You do not want to be one of these people. It’s perfectly fine to say that you’re unsure where you fall on a certain issue because you haven’t looked into it. Ignorance is not a crime, and you are not a bad person for not blindly following a movement.

“There are kids are in cages”. If you heard this phrase and made your decision based on it, you have fallen for propaganda. I don’t blame you either, this is very good propaganda: It’s quick and catchy, there are powerful images to go along with it, and the victims are the most innocent - kids. Worst of all, it’s somewhat true. But it’s false in the fact that there is specific context that is purposefully left out which makes the situation not as simple as it seems on the surface. Chances are, you won’t be told this by the people who are trying to convince you.

It’s a numbers game

It’s not that politicised issues need numbers for things to happen. What’s needed is the appearance of numbers. Those who support an issue don’t need to understand it in any manner of depth, just so long as they’re marching, reiterating the phrases and resharing the posts on social media. If they’re bowing to the mob, that’s all the mob needs. It’s easy to get swept away in social media trends.

“I’ll just reshare this.”

“I’ll just post a black square in solidarity.”

You cannot give these people an inch. You are not doing this because you’ve looked into the situation and poured through the data yourself. You are doing this because someone has told you to. Because you want to fit in.

It’s easy to go along with the mob, easy to comply with the people who are screaming. They’re loud and passionate, which seems to give them some credibility. But it doesn’t. When they come up to you and demand that you take their side in a complicated issue and say “silence is violence” - they’re morally blackmailing you. “Agree with me, or you’re evil” is essentially what is said. I don’t doubt that they are genuine with their beliefs. But what I do doubt is that they are completely free from propaganda and misinformation. There is no need to attach yourself to an ideology or a side, when you’re unsure of what you believe. Remember, you should be professing your own beliefs, not theirs.

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Be comfortable with your ignorance

Many will disagree when I say this, but I think it’s okay to be ignorant and not take a stand. Ignorance is the norm when it comes to humans, it just means you don’t know something and that’s perfectly alright. If you think you don’t know enough about an issue, there is no need to have an opinion on it. Many people, including myself, make this mistake. Just say, “I don’t know enough about the situation”. If they try to push you, they are the morally corrupt ones.

Now I’m not saying that those who repeat the axiom ‘silence is violence’ are automatically wrong. You could end up 100% agreeing with their position. But wouldn’t you rather KNOW that to be true? It’s a fundamental aspect of critical thinking to know something for yourself rather than than being told it. In the age of information, there is no reason why you can’t find this out for yourself. If you feel that this is something to look into and are able to inoculate yourself against fake news and confirmation bias, then look into it.

Parting advice

To convince others that their point of view is wrong, you must first be able to understand and explain their own views back to them. It’s good to know the arguments on both sides, you’ll come off as more genuine and you’ll have a better chance at changing someone’s minds. Telling people that they are committing acts of violence by not agreeing with them is something an individual who is not confident in their opinions would say. Although things can seem unambiguous, there’s going to be complications and those that blackmail you will not be willing to share these complications.

Silence is violence preys on the ignorant, the weak and those who are too scared to stand up to the mob. There may be comfort with the majority. However… Well, I’ll just let Mark Twain finish this off:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”.


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