From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A dissident, broadly defined, is a person who actively opposes an established opinion, policy, or structure. The term can be used to refer to a number of types of dissidents, including political, social, and militant dissidents.
The term is most often used to refer to political dissidents, usually against authoritarian regimes or established constitutional order (although there are rare uses of the phrase philosophical dissident. Political dissidents use non-violent means of political dissent, including voicing criticism of the government or dominating ideology, or protesting individual actions by the authorities.
The term was introduced to describe intellectual opposition to non-capitalist regimes, conducted without plans or capability for a regime change, coup, or uprising. Dissidents may sometimes attempt to passively displace or overthrow the established government by achieving popular support and sparking a revolution or rebellion. In totalitarian regimes these dissidents are often punished with lengthy prison sentences, execution, or economic deprivation.
Term dissident was used in the Soviet Union during the period of 1965-1985, including Brezhnev stagnation, for citizens who criticized the dictature of the Communist party. The people who used to write, tear and who distributed non-censored non-conformist litetature samizdat were criticized in the newspapers. It was common to criticize an author in newspapers without publishing any of his works. Then, many people accepted the term dissident with respect to themselves. This radically changed the meaning of the term: instead of criminal, who opposes the society, the term got meaning of non-conformist, who insists on the officially published laws, including the international agreements, signed by the Soviet government Important part of activity of dissidents was informing the society (Both inside the Soviet Union and in foreign countries) about violation of laws and human rights; see Chronicle of Current Events (samizdat) and Moscow Helsinki Group. See the special article about Soviet dissidents.
Social dissidents openly oppose dominant social attitudes. In western democratic societies political and social dissidents are widely claimed to be free from government pressure, but there have been notable instances of persecution, such as during the Palmer Raids.
Among them there are scientists, academicians and politicians like Timothy Leary, Michael Gazzaniga, Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan, Noam Chomsky, Lester Grinspoon, Jocelyn Elders, and both David D. Friedman and his father, Milton Friedman.
Drug war dissidents
Drugs dissidents advocate for less punishment under the current Prohibition and may include opposers to the prohibition itself. (see Legalization) These people could be and have been prosecuted in many countries for the sole expression of their point of view, under the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1988.
AIDS dissidents are people who question the connection between HIV and AIDS.