The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
- John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty" (1859)
Some of my own ideas that were raised by the quote:
A fatal and all too common mistake in is to presuppose that others have access to the same information as we have. We all too often have the illusion that they will base their views on similar facts and ideas as we are.
Unfortunately, this process can happen quite automatically as we will look at others through our own mind. The main yardstick that we use to evaluate other people and their ideas are our own ideas.
However, this situation will often lead to the idea that other people are acting as they are because of some kind of willful distortion of the facts. However, all too often the real reason is that other people have been learning a different set of facts.
A very human tendency to self-censure things that one does say or write about the ideas of one’s friends will create dangerous echo-chambers for ideas. The real danger is that discussions that lack all dissent will amplify ideas until they become absurd or even dangerous.
It is a natural tendency of all humans to enjoy consensus and see it as a normal situation. A person who disturbs consensus is all too easily seen as a nuisance. However, most things in life can be seen from different angles and in a different light. Dissident is, in fact, one of the most important assets that an open society and democracy in general need to survive in the long run.
Even the most benevolent and useful ideas can turn into monsters if they are left to grow for a too long time in an echo-chamber that totally lacks any dissenting voices. The phenomena is most prevalent among the totalitarian ideologies. However, any idea or ideology can grow to grotesque forms if its followers do not allow any kind of critical voices to be heard.
(This piece was refurbished at 17th of December, 2012)
John Stuart Mill is in Facebook at:
"John Stuart Mill, FRSE (20 May 1806 – 8 May 1873) was a British philosopher, political economist and civil servant. He was an influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy. He has been called "the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century".