Mollie Hemingway reflects here about the implications of Brendan Eich’s ouster from Mozilla, and makes some very interesting observations about freedom of speech and how oppression can best be undermined. It’s a good read. I recommend it.
The way a totalitarian system operates is to quash dissent with a combination of bullying tactics, group think and peer pressure. People are frightened to step out of line not only because they may be punished in some way, but also because of the power of group psychology and the pressure from others to conform and fit in.
The dynamic of this is very frightening to witness. In any situation where a bully is in charge (and remember the most effective form of intimidation is by being nice–or even better–by seeming holy) the leader will gather the willing devotees and they will rally around a particular cause or social group. To make themselves feel good and right they will begin blaming others. This makes them feel good for a time. It gives them a rush of confidence and false joy.
This then becomes like a drug. They need more of that confidence and joy so they continue to blame someone else. The outsider is often blamed, but the one who is most mistrusted is the insider who doesn’t quite conform sufficiently. The insider threat is always more dangerous to them than the outside threat. They blame and scapegoating continues and increases–just like any addiction. Like any addiction the addict needs more of the same to accomplish the false high.
Consequently the persecution goes from gossip to blame and from blame to isolation and from isolation to ostracizing and from ostracizing to destruction. The enemy must finally be destroyed in some sort of violence.
Hemingway muses on how the lone dissenter is often the one who shows up what is happening. They are willing to buck the tide, stand up for what is right and pay the price. Brendan Eich did not give in and would not apologize. He lost his job.
This is where it gets interesting, because they persecutors rejoice in a seeming victory, but they have begun to dig their own grave. Once they start making martyrs their cause is ultimately lost. This is the message of history time and time again. Once a religion or a political system or a dictator starts making martyrs the martyrs win.