Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Conflict, conciliation, and how group disputes are resolved in politics

Suppose that there is a minority group that is being persecuted in some way by the majority group.  What can the minority group do to eliminate the persecution?

There are basically two categories of approaches.  The first is conciliatory.  The minority can end the oppressive treatment by convincing the majority to stop the oppression.  Notable examples of this approach include the non-violent movements led by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

The second approach is antagonistic.  The minority can end persecution by engaging in some form of conflict and winning.  There are plenty of examples of this approach.  Any war that is labeled a "revolution" is an example of the antagonistic approach.

The distinction here isn't binary though.  Instead, the two approaches lie at polar ends of a spectrum with hybrid or alternative approaches occupying points along this spectrum.

This is a helpful distinction when we talk and think about politics.  Here are two points that I want to make here regarding this distinction.

First, there's a lot of confusion regarding this distinction.  Oftentimes people claim to be taking one approach, when their actions indicate otherwise.  Here are two examples going in both directions.  First, there's this band called Rage Against The Machine.  They're a 90s rock band that I was (and still am) a big fan of.  They are unabashedly political, leaning heavily towards left-wing politics.  Much of the band's songs contain lyrics that prescribe an antagonistic approach to social change; you hear a lot of songs where Zack de la Rocha is telling us to burn shit and to start riots.  However, the band's approach to social change in real life has been decidedly conciliatory (as far as I know).  Their involvement has been almost exclusively through non-violent protests and grass roots democratic organization.

The second type of example seems much more prevalent to me, especially in identity politics.  Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, women, ethnic minorities, and the LGBT community have been working hard for their rights as participants in a democracy, possessing equal standing with straight white men.  Much of this work has been done via the conciliatory approach, but with the advent of the internet, we've witnessed a movement towards antagonistic approaches.  This sort of antagonism isn't physically violent, but by means of shaming, insults, and other forms of verbal abuse, it threatens the possibility of cooperation between oppressor and oppressed.  This cooperation is essential to the conciliatory approach.

That last example leads me to my next observation.  What counts as conciliation, and what counts as antagonism.  As I stated above, most approaches may be a hybrid of the two.  It is important to think this through, because I think that the second example is basically a type of hypocrisy.  The idea is that the conciliatory approach is considered the moral high road, and so everyone of course will claim to be conciliatory.  However, they end up being antagonistic in all sorts of sneaky and backhanded ways.  This is troublesome, to say the least.  Therefore it is important to have a clear understanding of what conciliation is all about in order to protect that standard from hypocrisy and conceptual erosion.

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