Thursday, July 06, 2006

Demonstrations and drawing the line

"Where do you draw the line?", asks Gene. He means where do you draw the line when the moving and animating force behind a demonstration has aims and objectives that you might find odious but yet you find agreement on the narrow issue around which the 'demo' has been organised - like 'stopping a war'.

Anyway you slice it, the examples he uses are a non-dilemma for me. For instance, even if I had not supported the invasion of Iraq, I certainly wouldn't have joined those stupid demonstrations with their feel-good factor and their extravagant conflation of issues. Same with any future ones of that nature. One would, for example, rather hope that this Administration of all people don't get it into their heads that they're the team that should grasp the North Korean bull by the balls. But why would anyone want to go on a demonstration organised by people who think the 'real' problem here lies not in the fact that Waco has gone nuclear but in any response the Bush Administration might make?

But in general none of this creates any sort of dilemma for me because I never go on them. Is it just me? Maybe it's because I've had a bad experience. Went on CND marches to 'ban the bomb'. The bomb, as won't have escaped your attention, remains distinctly unbanned. Rather the opposite. Same with Maggie. "Out, out, out", we chanted. She declined to oblige. Perhaps this was because she kept getting elected. I'm not saying I feel silly in retrospect; I'm saying I felt silly at the time.

They are not really significant political acts, are they? Be honest. It's all about the heart on the sleeve, the public display of conscience. In a fiesta. They are not really indicative of political engagement - quite the opposite. It is not a co-incidence that while people can be mobilised in ever-increasing numbers around a single-issue or event, membership of just about every civic institution you can think of - religious institutions, charities, clubs, trades unions and political parties - are in decline. 'Tis the triumph of individualism. I've just taken it a stage further. There are only two kinds of demonstrations worth taking part in. Huge, seismic ones that are harbingers of large social eruptions. Or at the other extreme, those you go on in a minority of one - with a placard that says, "The End is Nigh". Figuratively, I mean. All this other stuff in the middle is about kidding yourself on.

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