Saturday, 10 May 2014

"Depoliticization, Not Democratization"

Comment awaiting moderation on a J.M. Cole piece at "Thinking Taiwan"....


(It seems that "Thinking Taiwan" has yet to publish any commentary guidelines or policy, so for the time being I shall comment on the assumption that outlier views will be tolerated.)

Although this is a polemical piece directed against Mr Gou himself, what I want to say has nothing to do with him; I merely take one of his reported comments as my own opening. So what follows should not be interpreted as a defence of Mr Gou himself.

Perhaps the remark that social movements "waste resources" could be reconsidered in ways at odds to those in which Mr Gou may have intended. Are the costs of the policing operations during the recent sunflower protests really of any great long-lasting significance? Or perhaps we could ask ourselves what costs might have been incurred during and after these protests and yet remained unseen? Amid the general clamour about "fighting for democracy", I would hope that one cost that has not been incurred is the loss of a critically rational attitude toward our own premises, reasoning and conclusions. Here is a proposition which I will briefly present and account for:

Democracy is over-rated.

If that statement stings, then it should be understood that it is offered not as offence to the memories of those who sacrificed so many parts of their own lives during Taiwan's early period of democratization. I put it forward instead in the trust that there are people whose horizons are not limited by appeals to external "authorities". Perhaps the chief advantage of democracy is its' substitution of elections for warfare as the accepted means of answering the question "who should rule?" That people do not have to die in order to end an unjust law or administrative act is a value worth taking the time to weigh on scales that are rarely brought out of one's mental cupboard.

Yet democracy is over-rated. Of necessity state-centralized democratic politics operates on such a large scale as to mean that each individual vote is statistically insignificant to a general election outcome, the immediate economic implication of which is the "rationally ignorant" voter. Is it therefore any wonder that there are people who will feel "disenfranchised"? People who dismiss political parties because they have to cling to the hope that a court will rule in their favour against the government on some technicality in a law. Though democratic politicians are wont to offer "protections" to various minority pressure groups - whether these be environmentalists, labour groups or those self-identifying according to religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation - there is no market for politicians in offering protections to the smallest minority of all - the individual. What little protection democratic politicians can offer the individual human being against the various depredations of the collective tends to be scant, uncertain and untrustworthy. 

I was appalled when, in 2010, the Miaoli County government "expropriated" the land of Chu Feng Min, but I was even further appalled when, following similar cases of government theft in Miaoli last year, protesters called only for the amendment of the Land Expropriation Act rather than its outright repeal. Perhaps theft is not theft when one's preferred ends just happen to justify the means? Though certain academics will squawk about "human rights" from their citatory cages, it remains a fact that under democratic politics these "rights" can necessarily be no more than contingent privileges that may be revoked at any moment and under any old two-bit "public interest" trick.

The corollary to the claim that democracy is over-rated is that the sunflower protesters, in protesting against the government over the cross strait trade in services agreement, may yet have wasted an opportunity. An opportunity to make a bolder statement; an opportunity to argue for the radical repeal and reduction of the scope of political power. An opportunity to demand the repeal of the Land Expropriation Act.

The repeal of this act would be an apt starting point for a movement for depoliticization, rather than further democratization. Although I fear that Mr Gou's statement about "wasted resources" may yet turn out to be true, perhaps it is too early to judge just what resources have been "wasted".


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