Here’s the thing about dictatorial violations (be they as outrageous as genocide or as comparably mild as yelling at a barista for wishing a “Happy Holidays!”):
They rarely have the support of the majority of the population—and certainly never start with even half the population on board. Atrocities don’t require the majority’s active participation; they just need the majority’s active acquiescence. And the majority will acquiesce even to the most terrible crimes as long as those aren’t too far outside the norm. The wider the margin between “normal” and “atrocity,” the safer we all are; a pot that’s not allowed to even simmer can never boil over.
So here’s a game plan for keeping the Melting Pot lukewarm:
- Learn these three sentences:
- An honestly curious “I’m not sure I follow you?” (Other options: “Hunh; why do you think that?”)
- A bemused: “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
- A stern: “Not OK, dude.” Not angry—never angry, because anger energizes the mob—but stern, like scolding a dog or child.
- Practice saying your sentences in a mirror. Make sure you’re getting the emotion right for each, and not getting angry.
- Use these in person—over the phone or in conversation, your voice in their ear, your eyes on theirs. This tactic doesn’t work online or in print; it’s a matter of emotional connection, and that connection is made one-on-one, person-to-person.
Use this tactic with family and friends and coworkers and guys who are sorta being dicks in the coffee shop. Use it freely and often and in good humor. Connect and connect and connect and connect with your fellow humans, always keep them a little nervous about that “off-color joke” or that “innocent” cat call or “telling it like it is.”
Note that 1.1 and 1.2 are questions—because you always want to knock people off balance, and oblige them to question their beliefs and justify them (even if only internally). 1.3 is simple, obvious, disengaged dissaproval. You wouldn’t argue with a child about running out in the street or a dog about whether or not your leg is for humping; you give a sharp “Nope!” and move on with your life. The same here. No one ever argued their way out of a genocide, but plenty of awfulness has been prevented by scolding grannies and scoffing naysayers.
Remember: If the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, then the only thing needed for evil to falter is for good folks to do something—shit, almost anything, just as long as you aren’t sitting on your hands, biting your tongues, and looking the other way. Looking the other way is exactly what the lynch mob wants you to do.