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Freedom to Choose
Jovan suggested that I might expand and share the ideas on this topic that I proposed during his recent webinar on the early history of diplomacy. I had a nagging feeling that I had already done that. The blog post below is what I was thinking about.
The right to disagree
Is anyone else concerned about the erosion of our right to disagree, not to join, to be “different”, to say “no”? We talk quite a lot about diversity, and yet these rights, critical to the existence of “diversity”, are hardly considered. Instead we are swamped and carried away in the tsunami of insistence that we conform to the opinion and actions of the current loudest voice.
Is it that in a global population of 7 billion people we can no longer afford the luxury of diversity, but must be socially engineered to become as homogenous as possible?
The context of my questions is the current discussion on the Governance list, subject line “Facebook customer outreach on privacy policy backfires”. “Say no to Facebook” doesn’t seem to be an option.
Rights are strange things. If you lose them they drop clear off the radar. They don’t hang around waiting for you to find them again. And you must continue to claim them, like the “rights of way” in England – if no one uses the pathway it can be closed to future users. If the pathway is once closed then it would take a long hard fight to re-establish it – as a right.
In this context it may be instructive to have another closer look at the “Emerging Language of Internet Diplomacy” project http://www.diplomacy.edu/IGFLanguage Is anything happening to our right to think in different terms?
So serendipity has been at work again and brought choice, disagreement and language variation (or lack of it) together in the same topic. The language is a huge issue that I would rather think about at another time. For now though I would like to consider the relationship between choice and disagreement.
Initially choice sounds positive, disagreement negative. If you look a little more closely however the one implies the other. To have a choice there must be a yes and a no. There may in fact be several nos. And there is also the slightly tricky situation of abstaining, refusing to make a choice at all. Is that an available “choice”?
But choice in itself is something that we feel entitled to – a right. Monopolies are bad. Let “the market” decide. The basic essential condition of “the market” is choice.
And yet – over recent years I have become more and more aware of a phenomenon that I recognise as “web-herding”. It would fall within the area described as “social engineering” but I think is more specific. I see it as reflecting an activity which occurs in both the world of animals and in the world of human society, the activity of collecting those perceived as vulnerable together into large groups. The animals that we describe as predators – the wolves, the sharks, the killer whales - are honest – they herd to make it easier to kill and eat and make no attempt to disguise their motives. The human herders would say that the herding they practice is for protection from predators. However, the final intention of the human herder is exactly the same. Even the lost sheep eventually becomes somebody’s dinner. And I would argue that the herded are deprived of choice.
Animals, and human beings, also herd themselves for their own protection. In this case there is choice. No one, no animal, makes you join the herd. You do it of your own volition. Your perception is that the herd is a safer, better place to be.
My concern is that many people seem to have lost the ability to make a distinction between the two types of herding. Is the group you are joining really a voluntary association, or are you being pressured and manoeuvred into belonging? Is there really a choice?
My perception is that choice is being eroded and destroyed; that we are being herded, rather than herding ourselves. And that the killer whales, the sharks and the wolves are patiently circling us, expecting the reward of their labours.




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