Tyranny, Oppression, Dystopia. All these words are words we cringe away from, words that represent things we fear. While different people see different things as oppressing, dystopian, or tyrannical, most of the things we think about are from the government and its actions. While fear of an oppressive government is completely valid, there is another tyranny we need to fight against.

The tyranny of society. This is the tyranny spoken of by the man who came up with the word dystopia: John Stuart Mill. Says JS Mill, “Society can and does execute its own mandates:” similar to governmental mandates, but different in that “if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.”

JS Mill considered this to “likely soon to make itself recognized as the vital question of the future.” This was in 1859. Now today, in what people on both the Left and the Right are calling the “Pink Police State” where the enforcers are not governmental agents but social justice warriors on social media and the internet, it seems as if Mill was not only right, but prescient in ways he couldn’t imagine.  

Those who have the most control over this, who are trendsetters in society, according to JS Mill, often “inquir[e] what things society ought to like or dislike, [rather than] questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals.” I see this everywhere today: instead of people trying to determine if their thinking is always true, they try to compel everyone to follow it. Conversely, I also see people finding out what their opinion is by what others tell them, and not through their own reason.  “[A]n opinion on a point of conduct, not supported by reasons, can only count as one person’s preference; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt by other people, it is still only many people’s liking instead of one.”

So what can we do? We can do what we always do to fight tyranny.  GK Chesterton recommends crying out -now. “The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt; especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. it is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists.” We can form an opinion based off of reason, after studying both sides. We can be kind on- and offline. We can stand with those who stand against societies unjust mandates. It is by creating a reasoning, receptive society, that we can counter the wrong and unwarranted mandates of our current society.