“Where the community…”

“Where the community feels and thinks — or at least talks and acts — pretty much one way, to say or do differently means a kind of internal exile that most people find unattractive to undertake, even if it involves no legal penalty. Oh, it isn’t so bad if you have been a lifelong dissenter or radical, or a known criminal; you’re used to it. But you — you and I — you’re used to saying “Hello” to everyone and having everyone say “Hello” to you. You look every man in the eye, and, though your eyes may be empty, they are clear. You are respected in the community. Why? Because your attitudes are the same as the community’s. But are the community’s attitudes respectable? That’s not the point.
“We — you and I — want the community’s approval on the community’s basis. We don’t want the approval of criminals, but the community decides what is criminal and what isn’t. This is the trap.”

— Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: the Germans, 1933-45

There is so much in this quote to think about.  How refusing to abide by the community’s rules can turn you into a permanent outcast.  How the community may be wrong, though it may not matter to people who have known no other way of life.  How sometimes the community is wrong and the outcast is right, but sometimes this is not the case.  And how do we, as outcasts or as members of the community, gauge the difference?  How do we decide which circumstances are worth dissenting and which ones call for toeing the line?

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