Who opposes the dictator - Veterinary Practice
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Who opposes the dictator

THE last week has been fascinating and by the time you read this there will have been even more to get stuck into.

As I write, virtually the whole country is waiting for the spectacle of the Murdoch family appearing before a Parliamentary select committee to answer questions on the phone-tapping scandal.

The News of the World has closed; MPs are lining up in the Commons to denounce the Murdochs and News International in general; and in the USA the FBI has been asked to investigate News Corps’ activities. And it has all happened so fast.

Just a few weeks ago you could count on one hand the number of MPs prepared to publicly condemn the Murdoch Empire. O

ne or two were brave enough and one, Vince Cable, paid the price for inadvertently letting slip his views on the man at the top. Now there has been a sea change in attitudes with all and sundry wanting to stick the knife in and give it a twist.

I personally shed no tears for the loss of the News of the World. It was a titillating read for a teenager when my mates and I referred to it as “The News of the Screws” or “The Screws of the World”. But I have not opened a copy for 30 years because I have matured a little and now like to have to think a bit about what it is I’m reading.

I have pretty much the same opinion of The Sun, and I think The Times too has deteriorated beyond belief in the last two decades.

The ‘pack’ mentality

What I find most interesting though about the whole sordid affair is the way it illustrates the “pack” mentality of human nature.

Now that the tide has turned on Rupert Murdoch, everyone wants to be seen swimming in the opposite direction (to the one they were all swimming in just a few weeks ago!).

I heard Mr Cable interviewed on the radio the other day and take my hat off to him that he was not more triumphalist when describing the recent events as “the end of a dictatorship when everybody suddenly discovers they were against the dictator”.

Coincidentally, and not entirely unrelated, I also heard on the radio a repeat of the first of this year’s Reith lectures given by the leader of the Burmese opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi. Ms Kyi is an inspirational figure. One of the most moving lines from her lecture was that dissidents “pretend to be unafraid as they go about their duties and pretend not to see that their comrades are also pretending”.

Not an easy option

It brought home to me that to dissent is not an easy option. To dissent from mainstream opinion can leave one exposed either to ridicule, approbation or, in Ms Kyi’s case, the risk of real physical harm.

It is for this reason that the Murdoch Empire has been so free of criticism for so long. Dissenters (with few exceptions) were afraid to dissent for fear of the personal career consequences (denunciation in the press) they might have to endure. Most did not have the courage to stand up and be counted and perhaps suffer a career cut short.

In countries or organisations run by dictators it is generally accepted that dissent, though dangerous, is the only way to bring about real change.

What is perhaps less understood is that dissent is also fundamental to the preservation of human rights and probity in mature democracies.

Because without dissent the status quo can readily become too cosy and unchallenged. Without dissent, those in charge can start to believe their own hype and rhetoric and start to believe that there is no other way than theirs.

Reluctance on the part of most people to dissent does not just apply to dissent against government. It applies to all walks of life because dissenting is usually a harder path to follow than if one simply goes with the flow, with the mainstream.

Troublemakers shunned

Dissenters are rarely popular in the first instance and are frequently seen as troublemakers to be shunned in case their dissent is contagious.

Well, let me state here and now, that I like dissenters. They are generally more interesting and courageous than others and their dissent at least shows that they have formed an opinion on something, an opinion that they are prepared to stand up for.

I believe it is good that there are dissenters in the veterinary profession too. It would be all too easy to believe everything that our political masters tell us, be they in the government, the RCVS, or any one of a number of veterinary organisations.

But those at the head of the mainstream tend to play things with a straight bat; to rub along with the status quo and not to challenge what for many is received wisdom.

Host of issues

But there are a host of controversial issues out there that need to be flagged up by dissenters in order that the profession does not stagnate in its views or become too cosy with the accepted establishment.

We all know what some of those issues are: animal experimentation; intensive livestock production; many abnormal pedigree dogs and cats; over-treatment of animals (particularly geriatric ones); fees for treating insured animals; artificial breeding; to name just a few.

Yes, we can bury our heads in the sand and, to borrow but slightly alter
the words of Ms Kyi, “pretend not to see as we go about our duties and pretend not to see that our comrades are also pretending”. It is certainly the simplest and, in the short term, least troublesome route to follow.

Little comfort

In the long term, though, this approach means we will eventually be forced by others with interests in the veterinary or animal welfare field to confront our own Rupert Murdoch moment. It will be little comfort to me at the end of a dictatorship to suddenly discover that everyone was against the dictator.

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