Bearing Witness: Hemmed in by police and sneered at by an unsympathetic news media as “the usual left-wing suspects”, the viaduct protesters view of themselves as a prophetic minority bearing witness against a corrupt and violent world will undoubtedly be reinforced. Their hearts and minds will remain pure.
DOES THIS MORNING’S PROTEST* outside the Viaduct Events Centre advance or retard the progressive cause in New Zealand? Some would say that bearing witness against the horrors of war and calling to account arms manufacturers is, unquestionably, a good thing to do. Others would argue that this is a quasi-religious position which takes no account of public opinion and is, therefore, both apolitical and unhelpful.
At the heart of the debate lie two very different assessments of what politics is about. The first views society as both corrupt and irredeemable: ruined by humanity’s predisposition towards greed and violence. That being the case, it behoves every individual strong enough to resist these twin evils to encourage as many others as possible to do likewise. In other words: politics is not about you changing the world; it’s about striving to prevent the world from changing you.
It’s a view of politics which encourages its adherents to divide humanity into those who “get” how corrupted the world has become, and those who don’t. And because the latter almost always outnumber the former, the ability of democracy to deliver meaningful change is questioned. In a world where greed and violence are accepted as the prime drivers of human affairs, isn’t it more likely that democracy will end up entrenching, rather than eradicating, these evils? And if that’s true (and doesn’t the election of Donald Trump prove it?) then attempting to influence public opinion is a waste of time.
Opposing this view are those who see humanity as being neither wholly corrupt, not wholly irredeemable. Yes, greed and violence occupy a distressingly prominent place in the conduct of human affairs, but they are very far from being the only impulses that drive us. Human-beings are also motivated by generosity, solidarity and compassion. The history of human civilisation is, essentially, a record of the struggle between our worst impulses and our best.
The key arbiter in this endless struggle between selfishness and altruism, violence and compassion, is human reason. Without a belief in humanity’s capacity to be moved by rational argument, politics – especially democratic and progressive politics – makes absolutely no sense.
Which is why, faced with poll results indicating that a very substantial majority of New Zealanders are positive about the rapprochement between their country and the United States, reasonable progressives would have been disinclined to organise a protest against the participation of a US destroyer in the New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations.
That disinclination would have been vindicated entirely by the events of the past few days. Far from being seen as a symbol of American imperialism, the USS Sampson – now on its way to assist earthquake victims stranded in Kaikoura – is being welcomed by the vast majority of New Zealanders as a symbol of American friendship and solidarity.
Those same New Zealanders are unlikely to look with any sympathy upon this morning’s protest action on the Auckland waterfront, and the core messages of the protesters themselves are unlikely to be received. Indeed, they are almost certain to be misinterpreted and/or disregarded.
Hemmed in by police and sneered at by an unsympathetic news media as “the usual left-wing suspects”, the viaduct protesters view of themselves as a prophetic minority bearing witness against a corrupt and violent world will undoubtedly be reinforced. Their hearts and minds will remain pure.
Unfortunately, the hearts and minds of the rest of us will remain unwon.
* Wednesday, 16 November 2016.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 16 November 2016.
NO it is not the right time for protest.
The Americans are assisting in the relief of our brethren in the earthquake disaster.
We must thank them not protest them.
AntiCapitalists against Trump- Michael Treen Nadia Filistin Line Lux and Joe Carolan discuss the Trump Presidential victory and what it means for politics in America and elsewhere, on this month's Workers Voice radio show. http://www.planetaudio.org.nz/workersvoice/player Listen and enjoy- Please Share
An American tourist was angry it was taking so long to get them out of Kaikoura. He must have compared our military with the US. Our military effort is showing we will do nothing in the face of adversity (make peace), therefore we don't have much to get them out?
It might be wise to not be simple about this. What is in it for the
Americans? Why are all these warships in our area all together? What are the government and defence/attack personnel up to? What are they planning against China, our main trade partner, if anything?
But no worries the cavalry will come to our aid if the Indians fire arrows.
But then we need to go to the aid of the Indians, see Standing Rock etc.
Damn nothing is straight forward in the post truth post fact age.
We must not forget that it takes time to organise and when it is all
arranged and everyone is geared up for it it is almost impossible to reach everyone to call it off. They have all had to put aside usual routines, and got psyched up to do the protest. Give them credit for doing something other than pleasing themselves, the great NZ pasttime.
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