Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.
Democracy is founded on the view that the majority is “right”. Inherent to this, is the presence of opposing viewpoints – the minority is heard, acknowledged, and compromised with – but the majority wins out. The key to democracy with these opposing views, is allowing for disagreement – which can further progress and change through compromise between differing views – but not allowing disagreement to fester into dissent, where there is an irrevocable separation of views and an unwillingness to compromise on opposing ideals, putting discussion and progress at an impasse; creating a minority unwilling to concede to the majority, a view inherently against democracy. This distinction between disagreement and dissent can be seen throughout American history, and has further implications in modern political discourse.
This distinction can be seen throughout American history; take for example, the discussion of slavery throughout early American history. Originally, slavery incited disagreements between states, on both its legality and on slave representation, but disagreements can still foster an environment of peace and encourage democracy, as compromises can be made. Compromises such as the 3/5ths compromise which brokered peace between the Northern and Southern states concerning slave population representation – in that for every 5 slaves, 3 would be added to the state’s population count, increasing the number of votes in the House of Representatives – and The Missouri Compromise, which certified slavery legal in the south and illegal in the north – by establishing all territory and states south of the 36’ parallel open to slavery, and all territory north closed to slavery. Each of these compromises appeased the citizens and politician for a time, allowing other legislature to be focused on, furthering industry, commerce, and other governmental powers. Compromises such as these allowed for society and the country to progress economically, politically and socially despite disagreement, as progress should as interstate commerce and railroads became possible. Disagreements can foster democracy. However, as the growing tensions of slavery were ignored from the 1820’s to 1840’s, disagreements began to brew into dissent. Fighting broke out, manifesting as both pseudo-war in “Bleeding Kansas” – a skirmish between pro- and anti- slavery groups looking to claim the Kansas territory as a future slave or free state in their favor, leading directly up to the Civil War – and in a public caning in congress, legislature could not be passed, it was too late to make a compromise, Southern states seceded, and The Civil War broke out. By the time the country had split, and southern politicians had defected to form their own government, neither compromise nor peace was possible. Dissent pervaded quickly, nearly tore the nation apart, and for several years, democracy and the entire country were in jeopardy. While disagreement over slavery could build a nation despite it, dissent destroyed said nation.
After The Civil War, dissent atrophied back into disagreement. Southern states were brought back to the Union, eliminating the key element of total separation common for dissent, in order to come back to, rather than dissent, a state of disagreement. Things weren’t perfect, but even a state of extreme prejudice and disagreement enabled great changes and progress. Throughout this time, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were able to be passed – granting rights to African Americans, such as the end of slavery, citizenship with its full protections, and the right to vote. While this may not have been unanimously agreed on, the state of disagreement still functioned in society, evening allowing for reconstruction to take place in the South, building up industry and infrastructure. The overall progress able to be achieved in disagreement is seen cumulatively in the Civil Rights Act. The nation was divided on issues of segregation and civil liberties for people of color, compromises made for the induction of the south back to the union nearly 100 years prior. Had groups allowed themselves to stay separated, had further sequestered themselves politically, not rights would have been accomplished in such dissent, but in disagreement, there is an inherent fight to reach an agreement, and that agreement eventually was The Civil Rights Act of the 1960’s. The key is, that despite continued racial tensions and presence of the same opposing views as before The Civil War, the country was no longer in a state where all communication between viewpoints has broken down into dissention. Disagreements can still allow for a healthy society and progress, but dissention can kill it.
Even today, political discourse is common. Disagreements, especially the heartier ones, may not be enjoyable, but they are preferable to complete dissent. Disagreements, major or minor, are still reconcilable by nature. It is when disagreements are allowed to fester, and views allowed to polarize, to the extent of dissent, that there is an issue, because once a point of dissent is reached, it is very difficult to reign it in, and reach a state of peace once more, as normal methods of problem solving are rendered useless, and compromise inviable. Dissent is a progression of disagreement, left to an untamable extreme. While contention is never favorable, democracy can thrive in disagreement, its “life-blood” (per. Daniel Boorstin), but is choked off in dissent. When disagreements are left unchecked, or ignored, they may segue into dissent, where either side may become so entrenched in their ideal, that any original willingness to compromise may fade, leading to dissent and halting progress, breaking down the avenue by which democracy functions: compromise.