Alternative viewpoints are essential to freedom

Over winter break I watched a documentary called “Loose Change,” which promoted the idea that September 11th was an inside job, and not actually carried out by a slew of terrorists who were part of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda ring. Although I was not convinced that 9/11 was an inside job, I felt the documentary emphasized something essential about democracy: the freedom to express alternative viewpoints.

The expression of alternative viewpoints has been fundamental to the development of our beloved country.

Ben Franklin once said, “Nothing certainly can be more improving to a searcher into nature, than objections judiciously made to his opinions, taken up perhaps too hastily: for such objections oblige him to restudy the point, consider every circumstance carefully, compare facts, make experiments, weigh arguments, and be slow in drawing conclusions.” These words, spoken over 250 years ago, still exemplify one of the goals of dissent: encouraging governmental diligence.

Furthermore, Franklin was not the only American to express an opinion contrary to the status quo. The early colonists had alternative viewpoints about paying taxes to Great Britain, Americans in the 1920s had alternative viewpoints about limiting voting rights to men, and more recently, Americans had alternative viewpoints about segregation. Would we live in the country we live in today if people had never questioned the government’s policies?

In order to ensure our freedoms, our equality and our democracy, we must promote dissent of the government and dissent from the mainstream media. This can be done by supporting alternative sources of media.

For example, Richter Library provides newspapers from all over the United States and from different parts of the world, including periodicals from England and Israel. Reading articles by non-American citizens can provide exposure to alternative viewpoints.

Twenty-four hour news channels like CNN, FOX and MSNBC all provide coverage of many pertinent topics, but true American citizens research these topics on their own, and formulate an opinion independent of what the TV, newspapers and radio say.

After the terrorist attacks in 2001, most people were booed or silenced if they said anything anti-government because they were assumed to also be unpatriotic. Now that the war in Iraq has been unsuccessful, more and more people are speaking out against government actions. Where was this dissent a couple years ago, when hasty actions should have been prevented?

Besides, the current level of alternative expression does not compare to the level of alternative expression during tumultuous times in history when dissent brought about change. This month, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., a man who encouraged civil rights marches, sit-ins and nonviolent protests all over the United States. When we remember this great man, we should also remember that dissent from government policies brought about the changes he encouraged.

The 9/11 documentary ended with the narrator saying, “Ask questions, demand answers.” When was the last time you expressed an alternative viewpoint, or asked a question concerning the way the government is running our country?

Karyn Meshbane is a junior majoring in neuroscience. She can be contacted at