Wednesday, 1 April 2009

A zombie reflects on the riots

I've heard a lot lately about how the police have been pepper-spraying themselves in the foot, so to speak, with their heavy-handedness, their beggars-belief distortions of the meaning of "terrorism," and their choice of tactics which indiscriminately punish, intimidate and often physically hurt criminal and non-criminal protestors alike. I think all this risks missing the point.

What is the point, Lara? Oh my evaginated purple dole! Let me look in my points bag. The point is not that the police make it more difficult for themselves to distinguish legal from criminal protest. It is not that they indirectly cause criminality (with provocation hovering on the edge of entrapment), for nebulous payoffs. It is not even that they stray into criminality (a kind of "salami slicing" grevious bodily harm throughout the day).

, it is vital to protect the conditions for peaceful protest! But for the suffragettes, the point was suffrage, not the right to protest about it. And the point for the demonstrators this week has been global social and ecological justice.

Global social and ecological justice, of course, has broad appeal. We can all agree about it, just as we can all agree (more or less, eventually) that riot police should have better guidelines, training, forward information and purer hearts, so as to not kick and club people so much (I am probably being too soft on them. Ladies and policemen have long been natural allies, and try on each other's hats).

I think that superimposed upon the various political divisions in Europe -- progressive vs. conservative, Left vs. Right, etc. -- there is a division between what you might call the "constitutionalists" and the "essentialists" (I need better terms! -- dammit my jargon team are all in Strasbourg this week).
  • Constitutionalists tend to attribute a lot of explanatory power to systemic influence. They tend to believe that the significance of human freedom can be programmed, to some extent, through careful design of the contexts in which they exist.
  • Essentialists tend to prefer making moral judgements and exemplifying moral virtues within stable horizons, not analysing systemic causality, not trying to adjust the hem of the horizon. These are habits of thought, rather than ideological affiliations, though I suspect one is more comfortable on the Left as a constitutionalist and on the Right as an essentialist.

I think I am a constitutionalist.

Constitutionalists must beware of the cheap solidarity -- and the infectious fun! -- of agreeing with everyone else that Sir Fred Goodwin's pension is outrageous, or that riot police need to up their game. These are positions which can quite easily be held by essentialists who nevertheless do not question the laws, and other systems, which will inevitably and periodically generate atrocities about which we all can agree! A false consensus, in other words.

If Sir Fred were a constitutionalist, he'd make a perfect spokesperson for the anti-Capitalists (or at least for the not-so-sure-about-Capitalismists). He could make the case that it really is unfair to single him out from the many equally underserving hyperrich, just because he wandered into some limelight whilst justice was on the agenda.

Instead, gallant Sir Fred would say, we should work together and concertedly for the laws which abolish the hyperrich altogether, so we can concentrate on what's really important: love, laughter, sex, beauty, adrenaline, and ploading our consciousnesses onto needles of dense computronium shanking at near-light-speed towards the stars which I do not hesitate to characterise as motherfucking.

I am a very interesting blogger!


ninni said...

Yes juu are,

Lara Buckerton said...

THANK YOU!!! It means a LOT to me, although hmm, I wonder what you meant by "juu." Sort of "you" and "Jew" and "muu muu" and things, isn't it.

There should be a better way of putting it than constitutionalist / essentialist though. I sort of like the way "constitutionalist" alludes to constitutionalism, i.e. liberal system of checks and balances etc. but with a vague fragrance of civic virtue and generally more substantive normativity. But essentialist is frankly terrible, it makes it sound like it has something to do with postmodernism! Oh dear!

I think the recent Habermas has a similar distinction, really (bless him have you heard he got a prize?), in the way he thinks about liberalism / republicanism, which in turn is based on his distinction between systems-integrated action and socially-integrated action. Maybe what I'm calling constitutionalists are more comfortable thinking in systems integration than social integration, vis-a-vis what I'm calling essentialists! Also maybe "water cannoning themselves in the foot"??