Be bold and go against the grain. Just say no. But don't go rushing all at once

Obedience is a trance and when a strong people are entranced, humanity beware

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Non. Nee. No. Music to my ears. Never mind what Europeans are saying non and nee to, the simple fact that they are saying it is reason enough to throw a party. A Say Yes to No party. My place. You're all invited. But I will be unimpressed if any of you turn up. The whole point of being invited to a Say Yes to No party is that you say no to it.

Non. Nee. No. Music to my ears. Never mind what Europeans are saying non and nee to, the simple fact that they are saying it is reason enough to throw a party. A Say Yes to No party. My place. You're all invited. But I will be unimpressed if any of you turn up. The whole point of being invited to a Say Yes to No party is that you say no to it.

Just Say No. It's what we tell alcoholics, smokers, drug-takers, binge-eaters, underage girls who do not understand why they keep falling pregnant, adults who cannot stop themselves from reading novels written for their children. Just Say No.

Whatever the attractions of yes, no is better. You will be sorry sometimes that you said no. But it's not irrevocable. A no can usually be repaired with a yes. Indeed, a yes with a lingering memory of no in it is often the best yes of all. But a yes can seldom be repaired with a no. Yesses are final. There is no taking them back. Say yes and you're buggered.

Once upon a time we could look to the devil to say no for us. That was why he existed: to refute the wonders of God's creation. "And the devil saw everything that God had made, and, behold, it was not good."

Subtle theologians explained that the devil too was the work of God, for God understood the importance of negation. But we don't believe in God any more, which means we don't believe in the devil either. So the burden of saying no passes to us. And never has there been so much to say no to. No, I won't accept what you tell me. No, I won't follow. No, I won't buy. No, I won't watch. No, I won't listen. In a yes society no is not merely an existential luxury, it is the last remaining expression of our freedom.

But we have to be on our guard. Marching against an unpopular war orchestrated by unpopular politicians might look like a resounding no, but the minute we start saying no in concert we are saying yes to one another. This is the great delusion of the march.

Or the dance, as Milan Kundera calls it. "All her life Madame Raphael looked for people she could hold hands with and dance with in a ring. First she looked for them in the Methodist Church ... then in the Communist Party, then among the Trotskyites, then in the anti-abortion movement ... then in the pro-abortion movement ... she looked for them among the Marxists, the psychoanalysts and the structuralists; she looked for them in Lenin, Zen Buddhism, Mao Tse-Tung, yogis, the nouveau roman, Brechtian theatre, the theatre of panic ..."

The intoxication of becoming a single body, dancing or marching to a single beat. Every soul in joyous unison, the way they were when we believed in God. Do it, if you will, but do not call it saying no.

The great hero of the no position in literature - except it must never harden into a position, because a position implies a yes - is Herman Melville's Bartleby, the "incurably forlorn" scrivener in a Wall Street legal office who one day just says no. At first, Bartleby is the very model of industry. "As if long famishing for something to copy, he seemed to gorge himself" on whatever documents were put before him. But on the third day of his employ, when he is called upon to do a further small task, he refuses. "I would prefer not to," he says.

It is one of the most thrillingly upsetting moments in literature - Kafkaesque before Kafka, Dickens with metaphysics. "I would prefer not to" - the expression of an obstinacy for which there is no accounting; an insubordination for which, from his employer's point of view, there is neither justification nor excuse; an act of intransigence which even Bartleby himself seems to understand can lead nowhere and achieve nothing.

And yet, precisely because it is uncalculated and involuntary, the voice of a reserved, solitary, unintentioned man, it speaks to something irreducible in our humanity. "I would prefer not to." No rudeness, no violence, no revolutionary zeal or rabble-rousing, no dancing in a circle or marching in a line, just the "strangely disarming", inscrutable voicing of an eternal, isolated demur - "I would prefer not to".

Although it doesn't quite put it in these terms, one of the conclusions of the film Downfall, charting Hitler's final days in the bunker, is that a few German Bartlebys would not have gone astray. Every newsreel of a Nuremberg rally tells you that, of course. Obedience is a trance and when a strong people are entranced, humanity beware.

We have all learned that lesson by now. But what was fascinating about the final bunker days when the lunacy was there for everyone to see, and all fantasies of glory and domination had fled, was the tenacity of Hitler's inner circle's loyalty. Even when they could have left the sinking ship, even when it was finally possible to just say no, they didn't.

They had joined the dance and could not break out of it. The erotic pull was too strong. Bound in love, they would die together. In such a place, the idea of anyone saying "I prefer not to" was inconceivable. The humanity out of which Bartleby's forlorn resistance spoke no longer existed.

Non. Nee. No. Our only defence against fanaticism, sameness and inanity. A no might not always save a life, but it doesn't knowingly take one. Nor does a no make anybody stupid. Say no to books and you might possibly miss out on wisdom; say yes to Harry Potter and you certainly will.

We sentimentalise affirmation. Molly Bloom's "yes I said yes I will Yes" is very attractive when you're 16 and up for anything. But in life we'd be treating her for chlamydia, crabs, genital warts, depression and vaginitis. May I propose another ending to Ulysses? "No I said no I won't No."

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