OPINION

Understanding and Embracing the Role of the 21st-Century American Dissident.

What we are, where we are, what we need to do.

The following is an abridged version of a longer essay published in January 2021 on BrentHamachek.com.

Since the events following the 2020 election and the swearing-in of Joe Biden to the Office of the President, those of us who still believe in and embrace the ideas of our founding, those who believe that the individual and their liberty are of paramount importance and prime value, and those of us who believe that free market capitalism is the most moral and just system for organizing economic activity have increasingly come to feel as though we are American outsiders looking in.

We do not have the same voice as our ever-strengthening oppressors, and we do not have the same rights that they enjoy.

We feel that way because it is, in fact, true. While it might be possible to argue that there are just as many of us, maybe even more, than there are those who favor a more collectivist future for America, I would suggest that you should not confuse a simple headcount with total political atomic mass. The positions within society that our opponents hold and the institutions and machinery they control gives them leverage beyond simple membership numbers. Whether or not we are outnumbered, they weigh more than we do.

There is a need for the realization that, regardless of our numbers, we are no longer on equal footing with those in control. We are now dissidents! We do not have the same voice as our ever-strengthening oppressors, and we do not have the same rights that they enjoy.

As to our being cast in the role of dissidents, we have no choice. How we conduct ourselves in that role will be the difference between having a chance over the long term to ultimately prevail or having to spend a century or more under the totalitarian’s thumb. We need to understand the role we are in, the most effective course of action we can take, and above all, we must understand and accept our limitations. A failure to understand and accept limitations will only deepen and prolong our subjugation.

We are not in uncharted territory. People have had their freedom taken and have been persecuted before. True, we are not used to seeing it happen in 4K resolution or in real-time street-scene videos, but the general mechanics are all the same.

As Americans who value individual liberty and free market capitalism, what we need to understand is that our role models are not George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They can still be heroes, but for the situation in which we find ourselves, they cannot be role models. Their situation in 1776 does not truly resemble ours today. Their time is not our time.

Our role models need to be people like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, Lech Walesa, and Andrei Sakharov. These were courageous men, true dissidents, who stood up to totalitarianism during the period of Soviet domination. Their unyielding yet steady courage and resolve helped to make the world understand what true oppression felt like. People forget that in the early days of Soviet Russia, the country was considered to be a utopian model for many in the West. The efforts of dissidents like these told the world a different story. More importantly, it taught their countrymen how to resist and join the fight for freedom over time.

The good news is that we have an advantage over those in the past in counteracting collectivism because we have more tools available to us in the early stages to start the dissident process. The bad news is that the oppressors also have more tools at their disposal. The conclusion? This will be a long and trying process.

Man with American flag draped around his shoulders.
Man with American flag draped around his shoulders.

WHAT IS THE SOCIETAL STRUCTURE FACING A DISSIDENT?

Not every society that has experienced the various forms of despotism has faced the same internal structure. America’s movement toward a totalitarian state is unique. The structure we find ourselves in now is a function of the structure we built and are now leaving.

Consider a series of concentric circles, which can help us visualize how power is structured and distributed in America today. This is our current American model, and the placement of these circles is not going to change for quite some time. The only alteration will be seen in their relative size and in their increasing “rigidness.”

Diagram: Circles of power and influence in today’s America.
Diagram: Circles of power and influence in today’s America.

The diagram moves, from inside out, according to where power is most concentrated to least. Those who are opposed to tyranny are in the outermost circle, and the farthest removed from the power structure.

  • 1st: Innermost circle (core): Government (all levels, all sectors)
  • 2nd: Circle around government: Large institutional partners
  • 3rd: Circle around institutions: Citizens in “support” of suppression (actively and passively)
  • 4th: Circle around citizens supporting: Citizens against suppression (actively and passively)

Government (all levels). At the core of the diagram, we have government. It is the government—and only the government—that has the power both to set actual law and to enforce that law through criminal penalty. That places them at the center of power.

Large institutions. The circle of large institutional partners is comprised of those players who are both large enough and wealthy enough to guarantee their influence. These are also players whose leaders (board members, C-suite members, public faces, etc.) are united in the desire to suppress both individual liberty and free market capitalism.

Members of this institutional circle (which, if drawn to relative scale, would be quite large) include:

  1. Big tech companies
  2. Other large publicly traded companies, especially commercial banks
  3. Institutions that provide primary and secondary education
  4. Colleges and universities
  5. Large media organizations
  6. The entertainment industry

These institutional groups are playing a significant role in reducing freedom. There is nothing about this that is new, just accelerated: the movement to replace individual decision-making with collective control, along with the attendant assault on capitalism, has been underway on college campuses since the 1960s. The collectivist-minded graduates produced by that educational system just needed time for them to enter the workforce and take control of the various corporate and institutional cultures.

Citizens in “support” of suppression (both actively and passively). In the next circle are citizens, who act in their capacity as individuals and outside of whatever occupation or organizational affiliation they might have, and who tend to support the oppression of individual liberty and free markets. This group can be broken down into two subgroups:

  1. Those who actively and knowingly support suppression
  2. Those who passively, perhaps unwittingly, support suppression

This distinction matters, especially with regard to the activities of dissidents. While it is not possible to know the exact percentage breakdown of the two subgroups, it is important to realize that the dissident focus needs to be on members who are passively, even unwittingly, supporting the oppression. These are people who are reachable and can potentially be convinced over time to join us.

Citizens against suppression (both actively and passively). Finally, in the diagram’s outer circle, we have those who stand squarely in support of individual liberty and free markets. Like the circle inside it, the members of this group can be broken down into two subgroups:

  1. Those who are passive in their support (inner ring of outer circle)
  2. Those who are active in their support (outer ring of outer circle), i.e. dissidents

For these two outermost groups, it is vital that they do not fracture any further. This means that those who are “active” in their dissent cannot become critical or hostile towards those who are passive. To do so risks their alienation and could push them into the circle below. We need to understand that not everyone has the same tolerance for risk, nor does everyone have a set of life circumstances that enables them to actively join a dissident movement. For those of us who can join, we must join on behalf of the others.

[T]he dissident lies at the outermost ring, removed, almost completely, from the center of power.

The individuals in the third and fourth circles are also often members of the inner two circles when it comes to employment. This is not an inconsistency but rather points to a structural design flaw in the inner two circles and creates one of the opportunities for the ultimate victory by dissidents. There is no actual living organism that is named “government,” nor are there any that can be called “institutions.” Both are nothing more than compositions of individuals, individuals who also exist in those two circles furthest from the power structure, but who are involved—in fact running—those power structures as part of their normal lives.

In their day jobs, people of both the outermost circles come together in the workplace to interact. Those who are supportive of the way things are will be more likely to embrace the suppressive activities of their employers. Those in the outer circle will be less so. Daily interactions in the workplace (classroom, congregation, coffee shop, etc.) will provide an opportunity for the strategic minded dissident, over time, to cause their oppression-supporting coworkers to start to question themselves. It can eventually lead them to check their own premises.

This is the new social stratification in America, and the dissident lies at the outermost ring, removed, almost completely, from the center of power.

MAGA and Donald Trump supporters.
MAGA and Donald Trump supporters.

WHAT EXACTLY SHOULD WE DO IN OUR ROLE AS DISSIDENTS?

Here are some concrete, actionable tips for how to behave as a dissident in today’s America:

Ask questions. We need to relentlessly address two questions to the power structure and those who control it. Those two questions are why and why not? When we ask those questions of government, of academia, of industry, of the news media, we already know the answers they will give. “For your safety.” “For the greater good.” “To protect others.” And so on. We don’t need to hear the answers and the explanations; others do. Over time, the sheer weight of those answers will start to ring hollow to the supporters of oppression.

To model this behavior for us, we can break down Western Civilization into two segments, secular and religious, and ask this question: who was the most important dissident in history? For each, I believe we can come up with a clear winner: Socrates and Jesus Christ, respectively. These two great dissidents had two things in common. First, they were both killed, dramatically and tragically, as thanks for their efforts. Second, and more lastingly, they both embraced a method of teaching that caused them to last eternally and grow in influence: they asked questions.

Make the critics closest to you feel a sense of loss. One of the main objectives of being a successful dissident is to make the impersonal, generic condemnation of others into a personal condemnation of you. Those who support oppression need to know that “others” and “you” are indivisible. This is a critical element of success. If they criticize people with your beliefs on their Facebook page, let them know that they just criticized you, and treat your relationship accordingly.

Learn to dine with new “friends”—and remember they do not eat red meat. We are in the habit of mostly communicating about politics within the safety of our own ideological and philosophical circles. This is comfortable for us. We are going to need to get uncomfortable and start to engage people in the circle below ours who do not generally agree with us. That means that the kind of content we typically share and the tone that we choose (especially on social media) will not only not work but will be counterproductive. “Red meat” should only be served to those who have a taste for it. Content that is both “leaner” and “sweeter” will be more appealing to the people we need to engage and persuade.

Call yourself a dissident and wear the label with honor. The other side, the oppressors, have long been winning the battle of language. It is time for us to take some control. Let us take the word “dissident,” ignore however and whoever else might have it in use, and claim it for our own. We are the people who are dissenting from the prevailing direction of the country. We are the ones who are dissenting from limiting individual liberty and free market capitalism. Let us be united, clear, and unapologetic. Let us come under one term so we can speak with one voice and create a unified front for all other Americans to see.

Act in groups whenever possible. Remember Newton’s Second Law of Motion: Force equals Mass times Acceleration. Whenever we are able to increase the “mass” in our dissident equation, we will, by definition, increase the force of our action.

Share stories. We need to share the nature of our own persecution so that the stories are not just read or heard in the moment, but so they accumulate. It will be the collective weight of those kinds of stories that can eventually help to break the back of a totalitarian state.

Make predictions and let them be heard. We who believe in individual liberty and free market capitalism know what happens when both are strangled at the hands of the oppressive. We know what happens, but the average citizen does not. This means we can predict things that will happen and share those predictions with others. If generations of people can come to believe in horoscopes because of vague similarities between predictions and actual events, then they can certainly be made to believe in something when the predictions are specific, and the events clearly take place.

Know that there will be martyrs as we move forward; call them such and keep track of them. Martyrs are those who fall to the abusive powers of the system. We are going to have the lives and careers of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people destroyed over the upcoming years. Let us make it a point not to lose track of them. We need to create lists, memorial “walls,” if you will, that keep track of those who lose jobs, who lose scholarships, who lose their freedom, who might lose their lives. Eventually, the lists of names will have weight. Weight is a destructive force, especially when being carried by a bloated and oppressive state.

Woman waving an American flag.
Woman waving an American flag.

Work within the limits of the system. We know that we are going to have martyrs, but that doesn’t mean we have to mass-produce them. It is more important to get something done than to have yourself destroyed. Don’t waste your time trying to be heard where you will be immediately silenced. Don’t take on hopeless causes. Act as water would and follow paths of least resistance. We all know the destructive nature of a single dripping pipe in our home. Let the messages and actions flow where they can without containment.

Remember that every time we lose, we win. The most counterintuitive of all the dissident requirements. Know that each time you stand up against the system, each time you attempt to speak out against a clear injustice or abuse, even if you are unsuccessful, you have still succeeded. A relentless effort to fight tyranny has the same effect as do steady beating waves upon an embankment. Eventually, it starts to erode. Each loss is leading to an ultimate win.

Understand that your focus must be forward. Look where you are going, not where you have been. This is a warning directed to those who are obsessed with what was the clearly disturbing election process in November of 2020. It is also directed toward those who have become preoccupied with various conspiracy theories over the past several years. You are not going to convince those in the circle below us with that kind of approach. You will only convince them by having them understand what is happening now and what is likely to happen next. Leave the past and join the present.

Recruit members from our passive side into our active side. There are millions of people who will agree with us but who lack the willingness to join a dissident movement. As previously stated, we cannot force them, and we cannot reject them. We can, however, attempt to recruit them. Individually, in small groups, through our postings, we can try to get people to find the will inside themselves to join. This is our version of the “Great Commission.” We need to go forth and bring others in. Having their support is helpful; having their active assistance can be the winning edge over time.

Do not expect instant gratification—steel yourselves for a long process. We got here over a century of decline. We will not reverse this in a couple of years. Pace yourself. Find ways to enjoy this gift that is life while still acting in your role as a dissident. It does no good to abandon the joy of life while trying to improve life.

The American dissident.
The American dissident.

Things have gotten bad in our country over the past several months, but it didn’t just start, and it is only just beginning. Things are going to get worse. Said in terms familiar to fellow Game of Thrones followers: Winter is coming.

Don a warm jacket, pick up a megaphone or a keyboard, start thinking up questions, and be prepared for a good deal of darkness to precede the light.

Written By:

Brent is a professional keynote speaker and writer who has made numerous media appearances on a variety of business and political topics.