This week’s post on Everything From Here to there talks about the different shades of dissent:
The Spectrum of Dissent
All of these posts about anger on the site lately have me thinking about the issues I care about, and what is or is not being done about them, like the ongoing struggle to legalize gay marriage. It’s something I feel very strongly about as a fundamental human rights issue, and I felt really angry when Prop 8 went down and powerless because I was living in Germany at the time. So I moved back to LA thinking I’d get all activist-y and help stir some @!#% up, freak out some squares and so on, expecting that when I started talking to people here about the issue, they would be bursting with rage. So far, they aren’t.
I had a conversation with a gay man last week about Prop 8 and the state of the rainbow these days, and his coolness towards the subject really surprised me. He basically said that he wished people would be a bit more patient and give those who are afraid of homosexuals and gay marriage more time to adjust as these “alternate lifestyles” become more and more accepted into the mainstream. He appreciated when people didn’t cram their beliefs down his throat, so he didn’t believe in doing it to someone else.
While I completely agree with the idea of patience and acceptance of others’ beliefs, part of me still wondered whether anything would change without those who stand up, flail their arms and scream at the top of their lungs. I thought about that for a while, then after reading through the good ideas in the Anger 1-5 posts, I’ve tried to form some chain of causality in my head that results in large scale social change.
If we all picked sides, then sat back and didn’t do any down-throat-cramming of our perspectives, we’d all live in a state of passive discord. At some point, someone is taken over by passion for their point of view, stands up and starts shouting, and that’s where dissent gets tricky. One person shouting equals man on a soapbox—news pundits, for example—while everyone shouting equals a riot, like the Iranian election riots. Since everything has an equal and opposite reaction, you can anticipate that the more people are shouting about something, the greater the reaction will be from the side they are shouting against.
So what if something happens that affects a lot of people very deeply, but only one man gets up and shouts about it? What if only the Iranian pundit-du-jour made a fuss over the elections, and everyone who agreed with him sat back quietly and nodded, saying, “Oh, he’s right, but we just have to be patient.” If there hadn’t been such a large public outcry, they wouldn’t have gotten the rest of the world’s attention. Regardless of the outcome of those awful and tragic riots, there are a lot more people paying attention to the issues in Iran now.
But what if people rioted in the streets every time there was a social disagreement? If we were constantly screaming at each other, throwing rocks, and burning cars over every issue without any other course of action, we’d either burn out our passion so quickly that the fight would fizzle, or we’d create such a strong opposition against us that there would be no chance of what we’re actually saying ever being heard, and we’d just be fighting for fighting’s sake—look at Israel and Palestine and how hard it has been for them to back up and just have a discussion. When discord reaches that level, the opposing sides seem to be pushing harder and harder on opposite sides of a wall, and all of their effort goes toward holding the wall in place.
Social evolution needs the entire spectrum of dissent. We need everyone, from the big screaming crowds to the more reserved supporters, to move issues along, and the reason is that we don’t all identify with the same kind of passion. Some of us are really turned off by fanaticism, but still want to express some kind of support. Some of us find anything less than full out demonstration to be an insult to The Cause, whatever it may be. Personally, I identify with the passion of individuals on the ground, and can’t stand the soapboxery of pundits and speechwriters, but some people feel better hearing about the issues they support while staying out of view.
The important thing is that we support what we believe in, however that feels right to us. We must all find where we belong on the spectrum, and not assume that dissent is one-size-fits-all.