Language, whether spoken or written or sung, is the most defining characteristic of humanity. It is not the ability to walk upright or solve complex problems or make incredible leaps forward in science and culture, but the simple act of communication upon which we build our society. Words have established commerce, expressed love and friendship, started wars and made peace. Language is the truest expression of human emotion and thought, without which, we would have failed as a species long ago. But, when we grow complacent and fail to practice language through continuous study, we fail to protect it and allow others to manipulate it for their own purposes. Humanity’s gift becomes a weapon of choice for the state.
To be a dissident
Words can be ugly, make no mistake, but words are only ugly in certain contexts. It is when a word is considered always ugly that we should take pause. In truth, these titles can be worn with pride, with full acknowledgement of their meaning and the weight that they carry. I speak, of course, of the word “dissident”. To be a dissident is to offer a counter-perspective, an alternate or dissenting opinion, or to even oppose a system or idea entirely, most often in a political sense. This would seemingly make everyone out to be a dissident, with chaos raining down upon society’s head, but this is not the reality. Dissent has become such a natural part of society that we are able to function with incredible ease, so long as dissent is not discouraged or policed. Unfortunately, the word has been made ugly by various states and media outlets. Governments would wish you to fear the word while simultaneously putting your faith back into the state for protection. This misuse of language is a clear manipulation with the intent of changing the meaning to suit the purposes of those in power.
By applying various words and phrases to those who would dissent, the state is able to sway public opinion away from these supposed “anarchists”, another word which has suffered great abuse, whose sole purpose is to disrupt the very fabric of humanity. England is no stranger to dissidence, as members of the Church of England broke off to form their own congregations, citing corruption as their main reason for leaving. The English state, fearing this exodus as an affront to the monarch, who is the head of the Church, condemned them as “dissidents”. Many were forced to flee the resulting religious oppression for more accepting homes. The Soviet Union would suppress dissidents, those who opposed the Communist Party, in an attempt to keep the public focused on the Party as a source of leadership and safety. Soviet dissenters were often arrested and imprisoned for expressing an alternate viewpoint on society. Even today, a “free Russia” often uses the media and police brutality to silence its critics, though Vladimir Putin seems content with this example of a free society.
Abuse of Language
Northern Ireland, perhaps, is one of the greatest examples of such abuse of language. Irish Republicans are quickly called dissidents in the media and are often tied to violence. “Violent dissidents” is a phrase intended to target Republicans as a whole, while being used as a synonym for the Irish Republican Army and related groups. Dissidents are not always violent and the association with such a word immediately changes the term best used. We must call violent political groups what they are; call them “terrorists”. The word “dissident” is often avoided when referring to the Ulster Volunteer Force or Ulster Defense Association, who are quickly called “gangs”, but there is no denying that they have acted for decades as terrorist groups. The British state is also quite familiar with political violence; whether or not there was paperwork does not change the word necessary to describe their actions. Should someone be an outspoken Republican or simply be opposed to the British government, Parliament, the monarchy, or the Assembly, the lingering question will be whether or not they are capable of or actively plotting violence, painting a negative image in society’s mind and making dialogue an impossibility. A teenager may throw an object at an officer of the state in protest, which is a crime, but to hold them in the same breath as a terrorist organization is a disservice to the community.
In the United States, we build monuments of our greatest dissidents and take holidays in their names. Our nation was founded on and has been preserved through dissidence. We nationally recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who opposed racial inequality and systemic bigotry. We celebrate our founding fathers, who threw off a tyrannical government, with multiple holidays, monuments, and even their likeness on our currency. We cheer for Abraham Lincoln, who opposed the longstanding institution of slavery in the United States and rising Southern Nationalism, bringing an inhumane practice to an end.
But, while we hold these celebrations, America has lost its ability to stomach any form of dissent without significant discouragement from politicians, media, and other citizens. With such a horribly polarized political climate, offering dissent of any kind no longer creates room for debate and discussion, but rather ridicule and scathing attacks on both public and personal life. Most recently, a teacher in Louisiana spoke at a public forum and criticized the school board for its intention to approve a nearly $40,000 raise for the superintendent. The school board approved the raise. The teacher was forcibly removed and arrested. “Question Authority” has simply become a bumper sticker in America. We quickly seek to discredit those who offer an opposing point-of-view or even, and especially, a third opinion.
Libertarians, Classic Liberals, Minarchists, and Anarcho-Capitalists are quickly put down as being members of the alt-right, nationalists, and various forms of the word “supremacist”. While the majority of Libertarians and their political kin find those groups who advocate for racist, xenophobic, and self-destructive ideologies to be abhorrent, a large portion of the American population cannot distinguish the two; they are conditioned to see the two groups as one and the same, without consideration of opinion or any effort of research. My current home of Arizona recently made it harder for Libertarians to get on the ballot for state elections, with prejudice. A third option for voters, one that can often pull votes from both major parties, must be stifled in order for the status quo to be maintained.
This dissidence must be more than saluted
Recently, the world watched massive civil protests in Iran, as thousands of demonstrators have gathered to voice their opposition to the current government and its theocratic practices. These protestors have since faced heavy police action, resulting in numerous deaths, including at least one while in police custody, and thousands of arrests. While the rest of the world was rapt with attention for the first week, focus has seemed to have waned, as it often does. But this dissidence must be more than saluted by the rest of the world. It must be encouraged and supported. Dissidents are not gladiators to cheer for until after the first battle, but intellectual warriors who must be lionized so long as they draw breath and long after they pass. It is the way things have been done for much of humanity’s history and must continue.
Dissidence is not something to be feared, nor is it something to be manipulated for the purposes of the state. The government does not get to dictate the use of language; only society may do such through constant use and experience. To that end, to blatantly change the meaning of a word so that it may be used against political opponents and activists without an outright accusation and proof of criminality is a failure of government and flagrant linguistic social conditioning. Language is not the tool of the state, but the tool of the people, to be used as needed to advance their lives. Unfortunately, that which is most taken for granted is most often manipulated. Dissidence should be embraced by everyone, as it is something that everyone will eventually, even daily, encounter and practice on their own. It is not an ugly word. Dissidence is beautiful.