Thursday, October 27, 2016

Turning our Backs on Prime Ministers, the necessity of Protest. . . .

"When we revolt it's not for a particular culture. We simply revolt because, for many reasons, we can no longer breath." 

-Franz Fanon 

Years ago (so long ago that I can't even find the post anymore), I wrote about the democratic deficits of modern democracy. The argument went like this - though democracy in general, and capitalist democracy in particular, is supposed to function on certain principles of equality, it fails to live up to these because power inevitably infects the process in such a way that some people's rights are not properly appreciated, or more importantly governments becomes expressions of elite interests rather than an expression of some kind of generalized will. Democratic deficits are visibly more noticeable when governments and courts fail to live up to basic principles of equality before the law. For example, for generations Canada has failed utterly to adjudicate fairly on the rights of indigenous people. Instead of upholding the law, judges have expressed their own white privilege in the way that they have decided on land-claims, equality of funding, energy issues, etc. Similarly, for a long time, even after the Charter of Rights and freedoms was enshrined, Canadian courts and politicians failed to properly recognize rights of the LGBTQ community.

I wrote in my original post that where democratic deficits exist, I believe people have the moral right (and even obligation) to use supra-democratic strategies to make their cases heard. Perhaps the greatest example of this was the Suffragette movement. Women actively disobeyed the law in their struggle for the vote because they felt that this was the only way to make themselves heard. Men (and many women) criticized the suffragettes, saying that their antics demonstrated that they weren't fit to have the vote; that they were criminals, or idiotic, or childish. The problem is, of course, those with privilege don't usually suffer from the effects of democratic deficits so they are really in no position to judge how those who do should express their dissent. Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is in a similar position. It easy for privileged white people to say that these activist are overdoing it, are "going to far," are "trouble makers," etc. But when people are suffering from fundamental injustices, they necessarily decide for themselves the pattern of their dissent.

The kind of privilege that I am talking about doesn't only express itself in such extreme examples. As a white, well-educated, man I have access to the kind of "disinterested," rational argumentation that makes it relatively easy for me to express myself. I am part of a very long tradition of privileged white men who have access this kind of discourse. It would be easy for me to demand that other people conform to my standards of dissent and rebellion, but it isn't reasonable or revolutionary, rather it would be and expression of my privilege.

This is not to suggest that I have no "right" to comment on the strategies or actions of a dissenting or marginalized group. What it does mean is that I have to be extra sensitive to the challenges that such groups face and make sure that I don't simply condemn the actions of others because they don't fit my own notion (as a privileged white man) of what constitutes "acceptable" dissent. It is really easy, even for progressives, to fall into this kind of tacit privilege. The extreme left has been doing it for generations, particularly in the intellectual Marxist traditions.

When any group is fighting for a more socially, politically, and economically equal and just society, I try to put my privilege and biases aside as much as possible and let them define their path of dissent. Because I know that even the best democracies are deeply flawed and protest and dissent are a necessary part of progress.

Politicians, no matter how much they smile, or claim that they are in favour of dialogue, or pretend to sympathize with a marginalized or progressive group, still represent the establishment in many ways. Thus they cannot always be spared from loud, messy, sometimes gut-wrenching protest just because it might not, at this historical moment, seem "appropriate."

I, for one, will try to remember this over the next few years as I watch millennials in particular find sometimes outrageous ways to overcome the democratic deficits that seem to have become endemic in our society. Others seem to have already forgotten the lessons of history.

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