January 22, 2017

I have pessimistic thoughts on protests

Protesting is necessary. There are injustices in the world that won't fix themselves. It takes commitment and bravery to fight because power, the cause of most injustice, loves compliance.

Protest is also dangerous. Some of that is because power¹ loves compliance. Protest needs to remain focused and controlled. I don't want to say "non-threatening", since I don't mean a willingness to accept whatever sham of rights power is willing to concede. No, not that. But at best it will be unpleasant. People whose rights aren't violated - or who are content to have their rights violated, especially - will let you know you should like having your rights violated. They are miserable people. It will be necessary to face and ignore that nastiness.

But the danger I'm thinking of is more the danger from unleashing energy into combatting injustice. It's easy to lose the thread on the principle involved in the fight. It's inviting for anyone with a message to attach themselves to a protest and hijack it for other purposes. It isn't easy to control that, either, because it's seductive to think, "More people are joining us, we're winning!". Maybe, but maybe not.

Obviously the last couple days are on my mind. The protests from both Friday and Saturday reflect my point. Friday it was the predictable violence². It isn't inevitable with a protest with a focused message, but Friday's protests weren't focused. "Anti-Trump" is a choose-your-own-adventure opportunity for grievances. But that also means it's foolish to judge opposition to Trump on this inevitable violence.

Yesterday's protest resulted in no violence, as far as I'm aware. I think that has much to do with coherence on the message. The danger awaits, though, for what the marches hope to accomplish. I've seen many astute voices pointing out that yesterday was the beginning. That's correct. The work begins now. But I don't think that work is to keep the momentum. The work is to prevent the message from fracturing. I'm not optimistic.

The stated principle for yesterday's protest, as I understand it, was that women are human beings deserving equal rights. Great, I'm on board. But it's clear this movement has the potential for power. That focus on principle will disappear. Here, I'll pick a random example I encountered. The list has the above principle. It then expands to the LGBTQ community. I'm still on board because I think this is the same principle at its core. Human beings deserve equal rights. Third is resisting racism. Yep, still there.

Then, with numbers four, five, and six, are climate change, income inequality, and universal health care. That's a fracturing divergence. "... we must immediately address the damage we have done and continue..." I agree that climate change is real, and that humans are a reason. But there's so much room to disagree on how to address the damage. Maybe we'll agree on what to do, but there will be disagreement.

For income inequality, "Wages for working people must rise. Wages for working people must rise. A healthy and growing middle class is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It must be cultivated through sensible economic policy." I agree that a healthy and growing middle class is not a natural phenomenon. The natural human condition is dirt-scratching poverty. But what is the sensible economic policy that raises wages for working people? Is it by decreeing the minimum wage is $X? That is economic policy, but it is not sensible. Work that can't justify the minimum wage will be automated. The goal is an economy in which people can support themselves (with the understanding that no perfect economy can exist). I can't support a push for an economic policy based in feelings that will not work. But attaching "income inequality" to the push for equal rights means fracturing the movement.

And universal health care. Opposition to what other countries do is not a wish for poor and sick people to die already. That every other industrialized nation does this does not mean they do it perfectly, or that they do not get free-rider benefits from the United States because we don't do it their way. It also does not prove it can be replicated here.

It's clear a push like this expects the result of yesterday's march to be the further implementation of a progressive political platform. That just takes a message that "women's rights are human rights" and makes it explicitly - and incorrectly - political. The coherence of the demand disappears.

Some of this I already know from experience with protesting and agitating for change. I've protested in sunshine and rain, in heat and cold. I've had people yell at me and I've had respectful conversations. It's a messy process with rewards and perils throughout. Along with, "I hadn't thought of it that way," there's disagreement and the "with us or against us" mentality within the group. I've seen people be right for unbelievably wrong reasons. It's a fringe rather than universal, but the fringe gets the attention. Did you see more of the peaceful protests from Friday or the smashing windows? And when someone encounters a group protesting what they haven't thought about or don't agree with, do they remember the person trying to convince them or the lunatics? What's more effective, "May I talk with you about genital mutilation" or "May I talk with you about genital mutilation and how vaccines cause autism and the one percent"? The former is principled in science and ethics. The latter is "I have a mishmash of agenda items and you need to accept them all." Putting human equality into a mix of progressive (or conservative) political policies is no different.

Maybe I'm wrong on thinking this is putting human equality into a mix of progressive political policies. It's possible, and if it's true, do you want to convince me or condescend to me? Whether I'm right or wrong, that's your choice.

For example:

I've seen so many men today screaming about rights for Islamic women and genital mutilation. I look forward to your march re: those issues!

Or do you guys only bring those issues up to try to de-legitimize someone else's voice?

And a sample response:

@JulieDiCaro I think we both know the answer to that question.

I've marched and written extensively on the rights involved. I get laughed at for it. I get screamed at. I'm told how disrespectful I am when I emphasize the principle³ involved. There's no curiosity that I maybe know what I'm talking about from research and experience. I don't hold the right view, so my opinion should be mocked.

The same condescension is in those tweets. Maybe one/some/all of these men know? Or maybe they're all awful people merely trying to change the subject. It's probably the latter. Probably.

I composed a reply on Twitter but deleted it because 140 characters wouldn't convey the message. Ms. DiCaro is saying "Don't hijack the moment." I agree with that sentiment but not the delivery. For example, I don't jump into discussions purely about female genital mutilation to say "what about men?" unless the discussion includes crackpot opinions presented as fact or shoddy wishing masquerading as a principled defense of why girls deserve protection and boys should be happy about circumcision. But if you really want equality, "my body, my choice" applies to boys, or it can mean "my child, my choice" applies to girls. If you don't stand for principle, don't be shocked if it leads where you don't want to go.

Anyway, my point is that protests lose focus. They work against uniting a coalition on shared principle, preferring to enforce ideological rigidity. Yesterday's march and what follows can be principled. It won't be. There were speakers yesterday advocating for equal rights who also support male genital mutilation. Some rights are more equal than others, somehow, which will probably become generalized into the platform, so do not be surprised when this movement collapses into an incoherent, powerless mess without the necessary vigilance to adhere to "women are human beings deserving equal rights". Prove me wrong, please.

Post Script: Damnit, I realized I didn't talk about nazis yet. I've rambled enough, so I'm not going to work this into the above. Fucking nazis are evil scum. Don't sucker-punch evil fucking nazi scum. Because it's dumb and counter-productive and escalates into more violence. Yes, Hitler. But a street corner in Washington, DC on January 20, 2017 is not Omaha Beach. Maybe it will be if we don't challenge President Trump's administration every second until 1/20/21, 1/20/25, or his impeachment. But we're not there today. Not sucker-punching evil fucking nazis is not appeasement. Sucker-punching nazis is closer to the definition of conceding principles in favor of political expediency. That isn't righteous. That's a different form of authoritarianism. And if you want to require this fight continue until 1/20/25, sucker-punching nazis is a great way to create the lawlessness excuse Trump wants in order to make that a reality.

¹ Power expects compliance from everyone, not just women. This is why emphasis on "patriarchy" is so weird to me. I've yet to encounter an instance of someone saying "patriarchy" in which saying "power" wouldn't be more precise. I'm open to explanations and/or scenarios for why that isn't true.

² Destruction of property is violence. Someone has to clean it up. Someone has to pay for its repair or replacement. That requires work, so destroying someone's property necessarily involves forcing someone to do something they wouldn't otherwise need to do. It is force.

³ Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. All human beings are equal, with the same rights. I'm a feminist, including on that principle. But some feminists don't believe this right is equal. So sure, I'm a feminist, but the label isn't enough for me to know that we agree on human rights.

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