From The Browser:
How do you define dissent? What sets it apart from simple anger?
It’s a good question. I think the difference is that dissent accepts that there are rival articulations of the world. To be a dissenter you have to understand the articulation of your enemy, of society around you, of the regime. You have to accept its reality and have your own articulate defence of something else, whatever that might be – of an alternative society, an alternative future, or yourself as you would like to be. It depends on recognising an intellectually crystalised reality outside you, and having an intellectually crystalised counter-reality inside you.
So it has to offer both a precise target and a precise alternative. And what of more vague dissent against circumstances that aren’t politically well defined, for instance the Occupy movement?
I’m forced here to make a distinction between dissent and dissidence. Of course, dissent can simply be an object noun. Clearly the Occupiers are dissenting, although it’s not entirely clear either what they’re dissenting from or what their alternative is. And I think those two go together – you can’t have an alternative unless you know precisely what you’re dissenting from. Whereas the Eastern European dissidents who I’m talking about here did, in general, stand for precise alternatives. It was insufficient for them just to say, “I’m standing apart”.
Although in the case of Václav Havel all he was really doing was to say, “We have the right to stand apart”. That was required in an awful lot of argumentation given the communist society that was around him. Dissidents recognise that you’re all on the same school bench but you have to sit somewhere else on that school bench, saying something different.