Dissent is glorified. “Herd mentality”, “following the crowd” are derogatory terms, and “thinking out of the box” is often praised and admired. People who confront authority and stand for justice are often considered to be heroes.
In the Bible, dissent is commended, unless it is dissent against God or his faithful servants. Moses confronted the Pharaoh in Exodus and saved the Israelites from slavery. Mordecai saved his tribe disobeying the king and refusing to kneel before Haman in the book of Esther. Numerous prophets spat the truth into the eyes of corrupt kings. Finally, Jesus himself turned over merchant’s tables in the temple, broke oppressive rules, and said “woe to you, hypocrites” to the religious authorities of the time. The meme that religion espouses blind obedience to authority and condones slavery is debatable.
Perseverance is considered a virtue. Dissidents have to endure pressure, threats, and persecution to succeed. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the book of Daniel were thrown into a blazing oven for refusing to bow to an idol. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den for praying to God in spite of the ban. We all know what happened to Jesus.
“I won’t back down!” — sings Tom Petty. “Do not bend under the ever changing world! Let the world bend under us!” — sings a famous Russian songwriter Andrei Makarevich who is known as a dissident since Soviet times. Makarevich is still a dissident in Russia. He opposes Putin’s war in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. But he is no longer admired by the majority as the majority in Russia now admires Vladimir Putin. Makarevich is scorned and called a “national traitor”. But that quite fits his image of a persecuted dissident.
But consider the character of Vladimir Putin himself. Majority of Russians admire Putin for standing up to “corrupt and hypocritical” America who “tries to lord over the whole world”. He is also admired for “perseverance” — continuing his policies despite economic sanctions imposed by most developed countries on Russia for aggression in Ukraine. Putin is also “persecuted” through sanctions and sharp criticism from the West. So, Putin himself, in a sense, fits the definition of a dissident. Moreover, both Makarevich and Putin, are sure that their position is right, that they both stand for justice, and perseverance is worthwhile.
This raises a question, are dissent and perseverance always good? Stubborn persistence in one’s error is not the type of perseverance praised in motivational posters. But there seems to be no reliable way to tell perseverance from stubbornness.
The founding document of the United States, Declaration of Independence, openly declares the right of the people to fight an oppressive government. It was considered right in 1776 to fight the rule of the British king. People who did that are heroes in the U.S. But when in 1861 southern states considered the rule of the Union to be oppressive, they were not allowed to secede. Today, perhaps, it would be a very bad idea to use the Second Amendment right to fight the “unjust government” in the U.S. Armed confrontation with government forces is no longer a heroism in this country. But the U.S. often supports such activities in other countries.
Some folks believe that removing creationism from secular school curricula is an offense on their rights and they must “persevere”. Some are determined to “persevere” “the war on Christmas” raging in their heads.
It seems to me that dissent and perseverance are not always desirable. “Conformity” can be also called “adaptation” — ability to correct one’s views, beliefs, and opinoins. When everyone drives in the wrong direction, chances are that you are driving on the wrong side. Dissent and perseverance must be treated and interpreted with extreme caution.