08/04/2012 11:07 am ET Updated Oct 04, 2012

The Sound of Silence

Among many constitutionally protected rights, two stand out and they are contradictory: freedom of speech; and the right to remain silent. No one can prevent you from speaking. No one can force you to speak. There is a constant chorus respecting the freedom of speech. Little is heard respecting the right to remain silent. But many more Americans remain silent than speak.

There are more reasons than we can count for the decision to remain silent. Nobody cares what I think. I don't really understand the issues. I'm confused by all the noise. I'm not smart enough. I'm too busy. And so it goes. All of which is fine, except silence conveys assent. Assent for the status quo. Assent for the majority opinion. Assent for the loudest voices and largest megaphones. Silent people are either happy people, or people who don't care, or people so angry they can't form a statement.

Richard Nixon's political strategy focused on something he called "the silent majority." Most people were silent and his assumption was they were silent because they agreed with him and didn't care to let anyone know it. Why they had strong Nixonian opinions and didn't voice them was never clear.

Sometimes people are silent because they know their opinions would meet with disapproval from those whose opinions are respected.

In the political arena, the most vocal groups and causes get the attention from media and politicians alike. A few journalists still knock on doors and conduct their own polls in silent living rooms. But these are rare, random, and anecdotal. They rarely crack the code of the silent majority.

And then there are those who have very strong opinions that they do not express because they can't make the pieces fit together. They want lower taxes, less government spending and balanced budgets. But they also want the government programs that benefit them to remain untouched. And when challenged to work out the numbers, they can't go beyond the simplistic slogans. So they are happy to let the media figures who say what they want to hear speak for them.

Americans fight and die for principles such as freedom of speech. Few of them think of dying for the right to remain silent.

"And in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more,

People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. People writing songs that voices never share.

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence."