Opinionista Denis Beckett 14 January 2015

Seriously Sound Politics, and the Charlie you haven’t met yet

Charlie Hebdo changes the world, all right. Then again, there is also one way in which it horribly, conspicuously does not change the world, and that way makes it a standout reading for this first sermon in the new, unapologetic, single-minded mission my previous column warned you about.

Charlie Hebdo changes the world twice. One way delivers a net plus, I’d say, not unproblematic; the other a horrible minus. Which makes it the standout topic for this first sally of the new non-bashful campaign for Seriously Sound Politics.

I’ve warned you of the campaign but you were probably awol, so let me repeat the backstory before we turn to Charlie.

For umpty years I’ve maintained that Seriously Sound Politics is standing by, waiting for call-up and baffled that we cling to the bad politics that we put time and energy into bewailing. This mission has had an unmistakable result. It has elevated me to world rank in being dismissed as a utopian dreamer with a cranky theory.

But things move on. My grasp of Seriously Sound Politics constantly grows, my patience with the primitive politics of guns and hate and strongmen constantly shrinks, and lately I hear it shockingly alleged that I’ve been reduced to discourtesy in reply to the moron platitude “but Denis you don’t understand how the world works”.

So we herewith close the old polite approach “please, good people, humour me and look a little laterally” and open the new assertive brand: “reasonable politics is right around the corner; to spurn it because it looks unfamiliar is a less than sensible”.

What’s the essence of Seriously Sound Politics, SSP? It places the cautions of ordinary people at centre stage; it turns the vast wasted resource of “non-political” people into the source of stability; it invokes the muscle of the people who do not attend the rallies, do not chant the mantras, do not wear party colours, and can not spell idealogy.

That’s Part 1 – there is one and one only real route to cast-iron stability, on the far side of the million instant objections that have probably just turned your hackles to razor wire. That route makes the very, very, ordinary people, you and me and the washerwoman, the rulers of our leaders.

Part 2, how do you do that small thing? Surprisingly easily, it happens (and yes, with answers to all those instant expostulations of impossibility). On this I am less ram-it-down-your-throat. There might be many ways. I suggest a mechanism I’m calling demogarchy, built on people really, really, ruling, as opposed to the pretend-rule of rudimentary democracy, the democracy we know. We leave that mechanism aside, here in the introduction to Charlie. For now just know that if you explore it you will soon attach meaning to those italic reallies. The first really means that ordinary people get a good deal of what we ask of our societies. The second really is about demogarchy transcending democracy’s worst fiction, the idea that everybody has to vote.

Demogarchy frees the leaders, the go-getters, the movers and shakers, to let rip. It imposes on them an extreme incentive to actually do the things that shaky new presidents are forever mouthing to their crumpling countries, like creating freedom, creating prosperity, eradicating corruption. It just adds a small secret weapon, a ratchet ensuring that when any of our leaders make us nervous, out they go – like tomorrow or maybe the next day, not by waiting for a 2019 election.

More on that to come in this series, or you foreshorten it by googling Demogarchy on Amazon and investing $5.70.Meantime we go back to Charlie Hebdo changing the world.

Until a week ago the dominant media/Western/PC convention saw freedom of expression as a good thing and a value to be upheld as long as people did not go too far. You should be able to argue your politics without going to jail; even disparage politicians, even the ones in power. But freedom “required responsibility” in the classic weasel phrase meaning that freedom is great as long as it doesn’t offend you. More than that, freedom of expression didn’t invite you to insult religions.

Insulting religions was like insulting races; foul play. Last Tuesday, if you sent representative French persons a gift subscription to Charlie Hebdo with cartoons like God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost doing slavering three-man anal sex, or Mohammed flashing grotesque naked buttocks and penis and testicles, most of those persons would vomit, throw it away, wash their hands, maybe punch you.

Yet by Sunday the Arc de Triomphe was I am Charlie in letters five metres high. Sixty heads of state were I am Charlie. Millions were I am Charlie. That’s not saying “We like Charlie” but it is saying that freedom trumps responsibility, it is saying that religion has ceased to be royal game.

What those two brothers wrought by expressing their disapproval per bullet, is the end of an era. There could have been a century more dethroning of religion, slow accommodation to your religion being a choice like your politics, attackable and mockable, not a birth characteristic like your race. Instead, there has been a knockout blow, while we’re wondering who rang the opening bell.

Is that a good thing or bad? Religious people, not alone, may say “bad” and you can see why. I’d say it’s a step towards maturity. It has drawn an indelible line in the sand: no insult is as barbaric as murder.

Just one problem. Nineteen-year-old Iqbal, workseeking from his backstreets in a corner of Paris that tourists don’t see, might not see that message as persuasive.

Iqbal may think he is treated as a second-class citizen. He may think people look down on him. He may know of the law prohibiting Holocaust denial (Gayssot Act, 1990), he may know of the 2010 against insulting France’s flag, with an €7 500 fine. He may see the gunmen brothers as warriors for his side, and as staggeringly effective warriors at that.

In short, it seems to me as undeniable as it is unlovely that the Charlie attack invites more attacks. I don’t think you’ll argue with that very fiercely, but here now is where we will argue:

Let me ask you if there is any way you see of obviating more such attacks. You may say more police, more surveillance, more security, but even as you say those things you know they’re hollow. The pit of your gut might suspect an onrolling of more and more suicide assaults a la Charlie.

What the pit of my gut feels is that it’s time for you to wake up to Seriously Sound Politics. To bring about an actual end of radical wildmen killing people, you do not increase the power of the wildmen’s enemies, you increase the power of the wildmen’s friends.

When troubled gun-persons in troubled societies must answer not to oppressors’ laws or aliens’ fears but to their uncles and aunts and to their girlfriend and her father, all stating their case in compelling anonymity, the basis is in place for building reasonableness into that society. I’m not here going through all the reasons why that formula produces perpetual reasonableness. For the moment, let the notion on its own percolate. All political disaster arises from leader-figures with egos and ideologies slipping their leash. The simple way to no political disaster is to rig up a fail-safe leash.

There’s demogarchy. And this column is beginning to overstay. Thanks to the Maverick mense for inviting/tolerating it. Know that the columnist is now a one-trick pony, interested only in hitting you on the head (metaph) until you stop thinking of demogarchy as something naïvely eccentric. On that basis expect a bit of a flow now, until Maverick’s patience runs out. DM


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