Suppression of dissent
Suppression of dissent occurs when an individual or group which is more powerful than another tries to directly or indirectly censor, persecute or otherwise oppress the other party, rather than engage with and constructively respond to or accommodate the other party's arguments or viewpoint. When dissent is perceived as a threat, action may be taken to prevent continuing dissent or penalize dissidents. Government, industry or online encyclopedias may often act in this way.
Types of suppression
Types of suppression include:
- Direct action
- Indirect actions
Direct action tries to silence the dissenter via factors or influences in a forthright manner, often coercive. Indirect action tries to silence the dissenter via intervening factors or influences, but not in a forthright manner. Self-censorship occurs when individuals are concerned about risking their employment status, standing in an academic course and/or ability to live without threat. It is a social action. Some dissenters fear direct actions taken against them. Self-censorship makes direct and indirect suppression unnecessary.
Areas of suppression
Society and speech
Suppression of dissent is undesirable in society for a variety of fundamental reasons. Freedom of speech is a cardinal rule for a free society: George Orwell wrote 'if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.' Dissent is essential to allow all points of view to be given and considered. Censorship plays a central role in the control of speech and other forms of human expression, often by government intervention (through criminalization or other regulation). It is most commonly applied to acts which occur in public circumstances, and most formally involves suppression of ideas by criminalizing or regulating expression. This differs from self-censorship, though. Self-censorship is when an individual censors and/or classifies his/her own speech to avoid offending others, and without authority requiring them to do so. But, especially in some authoritarian countries, the fear of secret police organizations and possible government backlash against individuals may result in an indirect suppression of dissent via self-censorship. Sanitization (removal) and whitewashing (from whitewash) are almost interchangeable terms with censorship that refer to a particular form of censorship via omission, which seeks to "clean up" the portrayal of particular issues and facts which are already known, but which may conflict with the official point of view. In democratic countries, self-censorship is also a possible phenomenon, particularly in times of crisis.
In greater society the typical example of suppression of dissent is when a company fires a whistleblower. Cultural suppression can exhibit facets of dissenting suppression, especially when used as part of social control and the promotion of another more powerful culture over a minority's culture. The devious use of governmental power, political campaign strategy, and resources aimed at suppressing (i.e. reducing) the total vote of opposition candidacies in voter suppression is a typical governmental occurrence of suppression of dissent. Sometimes laws are enacted to suppress dissent, South Africa enacted the Suppression of Communism Act to ban organizations that supported communism (and other activities).
In academia, the peer review process is occasionally cited as suppressing dissent against "mainstream" theories (part of an overall system of "suppression of intellectual dissent"). Robert Anton Wilson, in "The New Inquisition" (New Falcon Publications, 1991), called this an inquisition of the editors and reviewers of scientific journals, of leading authorities and self-appointed "skeptics", and of corporations and governments that have a vested interest. Some sociologists of science argue that peer review makes the ability to publish susceptible to control by elites and to personal jealousy. Reviewers tend to be especially critical of conclusions that contradict their own views, and lenient towards those that accord with them. At the same time, elite scientists are more likely than less established ones to be sought out as referees, particularly by high-prestige journals or publishers. As a result, it has been argued, ideas that harmonize with the elites are more likely to see print and to appear in premier journals than are iconoclastic or revolutionary ones, which accords with Thomas Kuhn's well-known observations regarding scientific revolutions.
To express the notion of intellectual dissent suppression, a situation has these features:
- a power structure, with some vested interest groups with power and privilege.
- views or techniques, methodologies, procedures, and processes in which dissent from is possible.
- an alternative source of power (e.g., an alternative power structure)
Generally, science is presented as a "noble search" for truth, in which advancement depends on inquiring about established ideas and concepts. Reportedly, scientists do not see an occasional error as a flaw in science—they maintain that science is a self-correcting system, and that with substantial evidence, any true investigation into encountered anomalies will result in a change in basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science. But for many dissenters, this is declared as a painful myth. From various experiences, disagreement with the dominant view comes with danger or risk (personally and professionally). Some researchers and scientists refrain from looking over theories carefully which demonstrates science's undesirable or negative qualities. Often, a portion of representatives within the prevailing scientific view attack the critic's ideas that go against the dominant ruling theory. Representatives may also attack the critic personally by various methods, including (but not limited to):
- deleting parts of writing,
- obstructing publications,
- forced withdrawal of research grants,
- denying work in a particular field,
- ostracism from social circles
- dissemination of rumors.
Academic freedom is the freedom of teachers, students, and academic institutions to pursue knowledge wherever it may lead, without undue or unreasonable interference.
Describing an opponent's position as a conspiracy theory can be used to suppress dissent. This modern rhetorical tactic is equivalent to labeling someone as crazy, and is a type of name-calling and bullying.
Some examples: Free energy suppression claims that certain special interest groups, such as the oil industry, pharmaceutical companies, national governments and automakers are suppressing alternative views in science. The motive for suppression is to conserve the economic status quo, and sustain high prices for gas and drugs, as well as the current demand for them.
Responses to various acts of suppression against dissent include:
- Do not act against the suppression.
- Use unofficially recognized or controlled methods.
- Use officially recognized or controlled channels.
- Put into service relevant legislation, policies, and regulations.
- Fetch supporting organizations (such as trade unions).
- Prepare and conduct a publicity campaign.
Doing nothing against the acts of suppression often allows the state of being suppressed (and associated existing errors and fallacies) to continue. Furthermore, doing nothing does not give rise to support for the dissident views. If critics decide to "toe the mark" and "keep out of sight", the critic may be re-accepted by the opponent. This passive agreement without protest means that other dissents are likely to encounter the same difficulties.
Use of unofficially and officially recognized or controlled channels has been used as a means of alleviating the state of suppression (and associated existing errors and fallacies), such as protesting, demonstrating, striking, civil disobedience, or other similar actions to attempt to directly enact desired changes themselves. Using formal channels against decisions, using internal procedures, bringing appeals to the appropriate committee or commission, and launching legal actions has also been used to enact desired changes. Proposing legislation, policies, and regulations has been used to help alleviate the situation. If such exist, dissenters have used these to alleviate the situation, also.
- Brian Martin, "Suppression of dissent: what it is and what to do about it". Science, Technology & Society, University of Wollongong.
- R. Börner, "The Suppression of Inconvenient Facts in Physics". 2004.
- Brian Martin, C.M. Ann Baker, Clyde Manwell and Cedric Pugh (editors), Intellectual Suppression: Australian Case Histories, Analysis and Responses, Elites and suppression. (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1986), pp. 185–199.
- Brian Martin, "Stamping Out Dissent; Too often, unconventional or unpopular scientific views are simply suppressed". Newsweek, 26 April 1993, pp. 49–50
- unsafescience.com, aids
- Suppression of dissent: what it is and what to do about it
Science and academia
- John Biggs and Richard Davis, (editors) "The subversion of Australian universities". 2002.
- Brian Martin, "Suppression of Dissent in Science". Research in Social Problems and Public Policy V. 7, pp. 105–135 1999 (ed. Edited by William R. Freudenburg and Ted I. K. Youn (Stamford, CT: JAI Press, 1999))
- John Crace, "Free and fair". Guardian Unlimited, 29 May 2001.
- Robert R. Kuehn, "Suppression of Environmental Science". American Journal of Law and Medicine, 30 (2004): 333–69. Boston University School of Law, 2004.
Commentaries, essays, and books
- Wendy McElroy, "World War I and the Suppression of Dissent". 1 April 2002.
- Howard Zinn, "The Socialist Challenge". Chapter 13, People's History of the United States. Founding Convention of the IWW: IWW free speech struggles.
- Lewis H. Lapham, "Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and Stifling of Democracy". Penguin Press, ISBN 1-59420-017-3.
- Reece Walters, "The War on Terror and the Suppression of Dissent". Lecturer in Criminology, University of Stirling. (PDF)
- Brian Martin and Truda Gray, "How to make defamation threats and actions backfire". School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication, University of Wollongong. (ed. this was a paper for the Public Right to Know conference; PDF)
- William De Maria, "Whistleblowers and secrecy; Ethical Emissaries from the Public Sect[or]". Freedom of the Press Conference, 11 November 1995.
- "ACLU Releases Report on Suppression of Dissent in a Post 9/11 America". American Civil Liberties Union, 5/8/2003.
- "Freedom Under Fire: Dissent in Post-9/11 America". American Civil Liberties Union.
- Aby, S. H., & Kuhn, J. C. (2000). Academic freedom: a guide to the literature. Bibliographies and indexes in education, no. 20. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.
- Jules Boykoff, Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States, AK Press, forthcoming 2007.
- Jules Boykoff, The Suppression of Dissent: How the State and Mass Media Squelch USAmerican Social Movements, Routledge, 2006.