About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Democrazies

If you would ask an average citizen of a Western-style democracy to define the pillars of their government, the answers you'd most likely get are (1) rule of law, (2) separation of powers, (3) freedom of expression, (4) government by and of the people and (5) separation of religion and state.

Ever since Karl Popper wrote his 'The open society and its enemies' in 1922, democracies have had an uneasy relationship with 'enemies within', movements that seek to end one or all of those five pillars. The irony is that these movements demand protection under the banner of freedom of expression, so a democracy finds itself in a bind: to ban movements that, say, advocate a second Holocaust, anarchy or the establishment of a ruthless theocracy, a democracy would have to violate its own principles, thus changing in nature and inching closer to the goals of what they want to rid society of.

'Freedom of expression' is a thorny and misunderstood term. It's the ultimate refuge for people who refuse to face facts ("I have the right to say global warming doesn't exist!") and really, there's no country where such freedom is unlimited. For example, the Hitler salute is banned in many Western European countries, and a lot of countries have hate speech laws.

The question remains, what can a society do against fascist parties or religious fundamentalists of all stripe that make sure they don't cross the line into hate speech territory? I personally believe there's no simple recipe. Rather, there's several things a society can do:
  1. Examine and expose. Don't pretend they don't exist. For example: a Belgian pact to keep out the far-right from all governmental levels only served to make it stronger throughour the '90s and '00s until its role was usurped by a new right-wing party that is worryingly growing very similar the one it's now absorbing.
  2. Ridicule. Extremist movements are often completely prepostrous in their end goals. For example: by treating scientifically unsound theories like creatonism as serious contenders, the media legitimise it. Note that humour or ridicule should use sound logic themselves, not just 'funny because because'.
  3. Address root causes. Why do these movements arise? While their ideology may be repulsive, their anger and resentment probably has a real cause. For example: the rise of movements like the UKIP is tied to the scathingly anti-European, populist anger addiction of right-wing tabloids that thrive on sensationalist headlines to sell more copies.
  4. Educate. True democracy starts at home and in schools. It's necessary to explain to people time and again why a democracy is a good idea, why it is not always what people think it is and why it is important to develop critical thinking. For example: the influence of corporate-owned media and the poor quality of education has deluded millions of Americans to vote Republican, against their own interests.

On a last note, extremist movements are very adept at adopting emancipatory rhetoric from feminist, gay or other minority groups. They paint themselves as martyrs or victims. However, there is a big difference: traditional emancipatory movements fight for inclusion in a larger whole. Extremist movements want to exclude everybody else.