Is There a Political 'Use it or Lose it' Principle?
Civil courage and prudence are competing virtues. At times competition becomes collision.
If you want to maintain your physical fitness, you must exercise regularly. Use it or lose it! Not so long ago I thought that the same principle had a political application: if you want to maintain your freedoms, you must exercise them. Use 'em or lose 'em! But times have changed. And when times change, the wise re-evaluate. I'll give two examples.
In the present political climate, if I exercise my right to free speech I may lose the right. Use it and lose it. This is because vast numbers nowadays do not recognize any such right. For these people, dissent is hate; so if your speech is dissenting speech it is hate speech, which cannot be tolerated. Dissent is hate, and hate is violence, and violence is racism! Of course, dissent is not hate, and hate is not violence, and violence is not racism; but these truths are irrelevant in an age of groupthink and mass delusion. Truth is passé in the Age of Feeling. So if you speak your mind calmly, reasonably, and with attention to facts, but sail against the prevailing winds, you may find yourself de-platformed, 'cancelled,' and put on a watch list of dissidents, and perhaps a 'no fly' list. After all, conservatives are 'potential terrorists.' And white conservatives are of course 'white supremacists.' And if you foolishly trespass onto Federal property, you may be tarred as an ‘insurrectionist.’
So here is my thought: The exercise of a right in a society in which that right is no longer widely recognized but is instead perceived as hurtful, hateful, 'racist,' etc. has no tendency to secure that right; on the contrary, the exercise of the right endangers both the right and the exerciser thereof. The same goes for the mere invocation or mention of the right.
Here we may have the makings of an argument against speaking out. But we will have to think about this some more. Civil courage is a beautiful virtue but it is sometimes trumped by that of prudence.
My second example is the right to keep and bear arms, an individual right, one that is protected and secured, but not conferred, by the Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. To exercise this right openly, as by 'open carry,' is inadvisable. You may think that you are standing on your rights, and by exercising them securing them, but in a society dominated by group-thinking leftists, your constitutionally-guaranteed rights are not respected or even acknowledged. You are arguably undermining your rights and their exercise. You are reinforcing their mindless fears and fantasies. After all, prominent progressive politicians view the National Rifle Association as a domestic terrorist organization! What then will they think of you if they see you packing heat? It would be best to conceal both your weapons and your views.
The practice of ketman is advisable. Rod Dreher:
Ketman is the strategy that everyone in our society who isn’t a true believer in “social justice” and identity politics has to adopt to stay out of trouble. On Sunday, I heard about a professor in a large state university in a state that yesterday went for Trump, who is filled with constant anxiety. He believes that his interactions with colleagues and students are filled with the potential to destroy his career. Why? Because all it takes is an accusation of racism, sexism, or some other form of bigotry to wreck a lifetime of work. This is the world that the identity politics left has created for us.
You will have to decide for yourself how prudent is the open display of civil courage.