Political violence

The elite’s hand-wringing over a rash of physical engagements between public and politicians is a symptom of the very problem that causes people to lash out: a desire to order politics so real people don’t participate.

A typically awesome column by Bryce Edwards this week covered both sides of the debate.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the media and society elite rush to condemn the threat to their order. Despite all their rhetoric urging  public engagement with politics, they are discomforted when the masses get involved.

The general consensus is that we want civility in New Zealand. A fair advancement of that view was given by Geoffrey Miller in his blog.  I totally agree – and roughly speaking, I think the recent ‘violence’ was just within that scope.

Politics is about how people with incompatible ideas
manage living together. The further politics attempts to control our lives, the more likely some will resent the control.

I’m comfortable with disorder. Ordered politics is what happens when there’s nothing much to argue
about. Ordered politics is just another means by which the elite retain
their privilege. 

I think a reasonable citizen is entitled to action proportionate to the emotions stirred and threat posed to what that citizen values.

The elite has not give due weight to the nature of these violent engagements. The normally sensible Tim Fookes asked ‘what if these people had thrown something else?’.

The fact that they did not throw other things, or use weapons, is exactly why people can be trusted with physical encounters.

The guy who threw brown muck on Gerry Brownlee had lost a teenage son in the Christchurch earthquake. He is an ordinary guy. He has suffered. He finds it hard to put that into words. Who can or has listened to him? What has this buckled down, process-orientated, celebrity and cerebral society done for him?

He has endured something I cannot conceive. It was not the fault of Brownlee but of the earthquake. It was not Brownlee, or even the Government, that generated the built environment that caused deaths, or failed to help recovery afterwards. It was the amorphous mass of organised ambivalence, where no one takes responsibility.

The guy did not pull out a weapon. He concocted a cocoa-based mix of foodstuffs, stepped up to Brownlee, there to go through the organised formalities of commemoration, and tipped it on him. When measured against his life experience, it was a demonstrative act against the only target that was willing to present itself.

Some writers correctly worry that these incidents may shrink New Zealand’s level of intimate and open politics. But what is the point of this sort of politics if it is always civil and passive?

What is the point of openness if we can’t get close to politicians, look them in the eyes and tell them, or even show them, what we think?

If you value openness then you must value disorder.

I say we demand that politicians come out and face us.

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