Are we losing the right to dissent?

Most of us have been in the position where we wanted to ask a stupid question â?? but did not ask it for fear of being seen to be stupid. We practice the noble art of silence. That this is common can be seen when someone else asks the stupid question and immediately a group of people in the audience gratefully acknowledge the importance of the question. Fear of standing out from the group is a powerful force of censorship.

The main problem with consensus is that anyone who disagrees is in the unfortunate position of being abnormal. The group is the norm â?? therefore disagreement with the group is abnormal. This is why censorship is dangerous. It creates the impression that anyone with a dissenting voice is abnormal. Fear of being considered outside the group leads most people to conform with the group and practice self-censorship â?? which in turn reinforces the illusion of consensus and the oddity of the dissenter.

Therefore to ensure that social discussions are not limited or quashed voicing dissent is important since it may encourage others to think and participate. Naturally the object of criticism would prefer not to be criticised and may work to prevent the voicing of criticism. This is, in most cases, not taken to extremes. But in the recent years the limitation of dissent has become a legitimate form of government activity.

Since government has a legitimate interesting in protecting all citizens it can be forced to prevent the actions of some citizens to ensure the safety of all. But this principle is being perverted. By identifying themselves as the nation, politicians are beginning to protect themselves from open criticism. Through the use of the extended public defence argument politicians now argue that it is wrong to criticise them since they are acting in the best interests of the nation.

In 2003 Stephen Downs was arrested for wearing a T-shirt with the text â??Give Peace a Chanceâ??.

In 2004 Nicole and Jeff Rank were removed from the event at the West Virginia Capitol in handcuffs after revealing T-shirts with President Bushâ??s name crossed out on the front. Nicole Rankâ??s shirt had the words â??Love America, Hate Bushâ?? on the back and Jeff Rankâ??s said â??Regime change starts at home.â??

In 2005 Charlotte Denis was arrested for wearing a T-shirt with the text â??Bollocks to Blairâ??.

In 2006 Cindy Sheehan was arrested for wearing a T-shirt with the text â??2,245 Dead. How many more?â??

In 2006 Mike Ferner was arrested for drinking coffee while wearing a T-shirt with the text â??Veterans for Peaceâ??.

Another example is the UK law that prevents ANY demonstrations within a mile radius of parliament. This has led demonstrators to meet and conduct an extremely civilised form of protest â?? a tea party at the Winston Churchill statue. On occasion police arrest these demonstrators.