I have often caught myself worrying about What the others will think of me in seemingly inappropriate situations. Besides I can not help running into bunches of How to ignore the others’ opinion self-help books and blogs around me. Actually public opinion, this paralysing yet encouraging force, is an elaborate device to control society as conceived by John Mill in On Liberty.
Although everybody agrees that one should be allowed to take actions according to their own conviction, deeds are not urged to be as free as ideas. In order to stop the stronger characters from infringing other citizens’ rights, society must be based on strict rules of justice.
Nowadays, the major harm of legal penalties is the shameful public stigma. Opinion is as effective as law from this point of view. Criminals can be jailed or deprived of salary. For people with secure financial background and in lack of carrier aspirations, there is no real deterrence impeding the open declaration of their eccentric views. However, being „ill-thought of” or „ill-spoken of” requires a very strong character to endure.
The tyranny of custom rules all aspects of life „as justice and right mean conformity to custom”. The rule of opinion is so powerful that it makes unconventionality a mistake. Our society’s intolerance makes citizens hide their unorthodox beliefs and it deters them from any radical proclamation. Opinion itself is able to control the citizens’s behaviour without any capital punishment or official ban on free speach. Avoiding the disagreeable action of fine imposing or incarcerating, prevailing views can be kept safe from public counter-advice.
However, this kind of „intellectual pacification” unfortunately results in the impaired bravery of our intellect. The rule of custom has always been a barrier to human development.
Information source: John Stuart Mill On Liberty