Dissent on Trial: The Grand Inquisitor. The Silence of the Lambs
Citizen Smith Jones stands before a judge in the US Federal Court for Crimes against the State.
Mr. Jones, are you aware that paranoia is a serious offense?
What? I’m not suffering from paranoia, sir.
You espouse wild theories that could only come from a disordered mind. A mind that believes others are out to get him.
I merely disagreed with the State, when I wrote that—
NO. DON’T mention what you wrote. That is no part of this proceeding.
We are here for one purpose. To confirm you have criticized edicts of the government and the press.
But we need to examine what I claimed, to see whether it was factual.
We are NOT permitted to publicize the particulars of dissent in this court, because we would then be giving them EXPOSURE. We must be silent about the content of your posts and attempted tweets.
You admit you disagreed with the State?
Then you stand guilty as charged.
Again, Your Honor, suppose what I wrote is true?
It can’t be true.
Because all statements are normative.
I don’t know what that means. I’m reluctant to ask.
All statements imply an ethical position, which in turn suggests behavior. I sit here to decide whether that behavior would benefit or harm the State.
Are you a Sophist?
I taught medical ethics at Johns Hopkins for 25 years. Upon retirement, I was appointed to this position. I gauge whether defendants want to help or harm the State. Whether their motives are pure or tainted.
What about my motives?
You’re a reasonable paranoid. That combination is difficult to cure. You’re a traditionalist. You believe we should examine dissent for truth or falsity. That’s a very old idea. It’s already been tossed in the dustbin of history. You’re not aware of this.
Who owns the dustbin?
In this court, I do.
Again, Your Honor, suppose what I’ve written is true? And if it’s false, what about the First Amendment?
You’re fixated on this issue, Mr. Jones. Why should the State care about what is true or false? Our power comes from EDICT, which is law.
Why shouldn’t I be able to express dissent?
Obviously, because one drop of opposition becomes two, and then they multiply like germs. You should express your opinion through your vote.
But if the voting process itself is—
SILENCE. Don’t finish that sentence. The content of dissent is not permitted in this court.
Then I automatically have no defense.
Mr. Jones, my colleagues and I are trampling on the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. We’re ending anger directed at the government and its media partners. Don’t you realize that? We’re trimming hedges of expression to achieve conformity and uniformity.
I stick out from the crowd so you’re chopping me down.
Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say you’re selling a substance you claim will heal disease. You’re brought into court. You tell the judge you want to present evidence that your product is effective and safe. The judge will simply determine whether the FDA has approved the product for sale. If not, you’re guilty. You won’t be given the chance to describe one iota of your evidence.
I could be healing the sick, but I’m guilty.
Exactly. We keep things simple. You want to publish thoughts which are departing from government edicts? You’ve committed a crime. It doesn’t matter what those thoughts are. Am I getting through to you, Mr. Jones?
You want the silence of the lambs.
You want to make it seem that non-silence is provocation of some kind. If I publish my thoughts, I’m—
Make it seem? There is no seem. There is only is.
Then it doesn’t matter whether my expression of thought is actually provocative or incendiary. It might be. It might not be. The expression is the crime.
In a nutshell, yes.
My clarity on this issue is improving. Have you considered an edict that would demand a pledge of silence?
We have. It would be voluntary. Those wh
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