Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Help, help, I’m being repressed.

This Magazine Staff

And just to prove that blogging is not all about the US election today, here is part two of the ongoing blogsideration of The Rebel Sell, by THIS Magazine writer Andrew Potter and U of T philosophy prof. Joseph Heath.

Chapter 3: Being Normal

Potter and Heath use a series of analogies to express their arguments about society. In this chapter alone, we have the dating rulebook, the gay bathhouse, the terrible roommate, the prisoner’s dilemma, standing in line, the arms race, the sexual revolution, etc. many of them leading to an important distinction between everyday deviance and actual dissent.

At one point they present the following “simple test” for discerning between deviance and dissent. The “What if everyone did that? – would it make the world a better place to live?” test (page 81). I wonder just how simple this test actually is, since the answer to the second question might be entirely subjective.

For example – watching the Republican National Convention earlier this year, I drew a mental parallel between the images of protesters being hauled out of Madison Square Gardens for holding up signs, or revealing anti-Bush t-shirts, and the images I remember very well from the cold war, when insanely courageous Russian citizens would occasionally hold up dissenting signs during the May Day parade in Moscow, only to have their signs destroyed and their persons dragged away. Few people would deny that both of these instances are cases of genuine dissent, yet in the case of the RNC, and even the DNC for that matter, what if everyone staged an interruptive protest every time they disagreed with a politician’s stance on this or that? What if the American political system could not get through a single stump speech, televised debate or major rally without a huge disruptive protest, on par with what Republican party officials staged during the 2000 recounts in Florida, and without the protesters being dragged out of the arena like criminals? Would there be a workable democracy in the US? I think there would be, but it would be far messier and far more difficult, and for some that would mean it would NOT make the world a better place to live.

Yet, I think a messy democracy is the route to a better world. There’s a paradox here that cannot be resolved by the simple “what if everyone did that” test, which makes me wonder how valuable a test it is in any instance.

Oh, and by the way, what’s with the running Monty Python gag all through the book? Here we see the violence inherent in the system.

Show Comments