What does dissent mean to you?

Jon Weiler

Dissent is everywhere these days.  It’s in the wind. Governments are falling and people are dying with the increased number of wars. Dissent, defined by Merriam-Webster, is a difference of opinion or a political opposition to a government or its policies. We experience some dissent every day in one form or another,  at least as it is defined by the dictionary. We have differences of opinion with just about everyone we encounter.

We also disagree with policies made by our lawmakers. All of this makes us dissenters. Is it bad to be thought of as a dissenter?  Well, that depends on who you’re disagreeing with.

There are several countries, full of dissenters, who are fighting their governments. Really, the entire Middle East is in upheaval. This “Arab Spring” that we hear about on the news seems to be a good thing; the people standing up against tyrannical governments, but people are literally dying for their views.

In Syria, the military is killing its people. That seems terrible, doesn’t it? Death and destruction because of a difference of opinion? The fighting in Libya started around a difference of opinion, led to peaceful protests and morphed into revolution. A revolution backed by the United States and the UK, but that is another story.

So with all of these dissenters doing admirable and historical things in the Middle East, what about the “Western” countries? Are the Western dissenters admirable?

The UK burned for a couple of weeks in August and unrest still smolders there, almost like the fire is not quite out yet. The initial disagreement began with the shooting of a black man by the police in a predominantly black neighborhood. Dissent began with this terrible act, grew into riots and spread like a wildfire throughout much of London and the outlying towns. Many disagreed with the actions of the police, but many blamed the government’s handling of the economy and massive unemployment – especially among the youth.  It was this difference of opinion that turned into riots and looting, fires and destruction.

It seems dissent causes nothing but violence and death. It seems to carry a negative connotation because of the actions that sometimes follow it. People have a difference of opinion and choose a violent resolution rather than a peaceful one. But that is how it works, right?

Nations forged out of fire, like the phoenix reborn. All throughout history, violence has shaped the world. Even the United States, a republic unlike anything before it, came into being this way. It took a Revolutionary War to create our nation.  We waged war against what we deemed a tyrannical government and we celebrate it every year.

Does this mean dissent is violence? No, it does not, at least it shouldn’t. So why do these differences of opinion become revolutions? Is it tyranny that causes it? Is it money?

This remains difficult to answer and puts it on us, the everyday citizen, to discern the facts from fiction. We love stories where the righteous fight against the evil overlords. We pay to watch Harry Potter defeat the wicked Lord Voldemort or Luke Skywalker overthrow the evil Empire. This is our entertainment and it seems natural to support this good vs. evil paradigm. But as it reflects on us in the real world, do we champion our dissenters or are we happy to not rock the boat? Is it easier for us to accept things for how they are or are we more apt to make a change?

We are challenged on many levels these days. The economy is terrible. Joblessness reflects that of the Great Depression in the 1920’s. We seem to have a government that cannot agree how best to lead our country, destroying our global image and polarizing the nation. We are currently fighting the longest wars in the history of our nation, our government can legally spy on its citizens and the fear of another terrorist attack assaults us from every direction. The only thing missing is soldiers patrolling the streets.

Someone challenged me to remember my audience, in writing columns like this. To me it is simple; my audience is the future leaders. I put my faith in you to lead in a direction that does not cause death and destruction. How do you view the world around you? Does your opinion differ and if so, will you use your voice?

Jonathan is a non-traditional student majoring in english. Reach him at [email protected]