Election Reflections: Call to (Non)Violence

Nigeria Decides 2015

It seems commonsense to count on political aspirants to keep their supporters calm from violent uprisings. Experience has shown that political aspirants are able to incite violent uprisings by the instruments of their supporters. A logic is derived from this experience: if they can instigate violence, then they should be able to calm it down. The sustained assumption is that inciting violence takes the same or similar abilities as is required to douse an uprising; or at least it takes similar political status and privilege to make it happen. We have seen a number of calls for peace prior and after the Nigerian 2015 Elections by the “leaders”.

On closer examination, the abilities we confer on these “leaders” can be seen to be based on a faulty assumption because everyday experience shows that those who are easy to bring about disturbance are often far from being endowed with restoring calm; or vice versa. It appears these are two different skills. Unless one assumes that all speeches from people of political status is more or less the same, and that the only thing that matters is the content. Surely this may be true about bureaucratic documents but hardly believable for social interactions like public speeches. Nonetheless, let us assume it is so. The implication then becomes political “leaders” control the mass of voters. This may be true in experience, but this is also where the contradiction lies; with regards to democratic ideals.

Democracy aims to provide structure where voters control their leaders, and even decide who becomes the leader. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, a democratic leader is not one you have submitted to, or have faith in to handle your affairs. She/He is someone you are comfortable enough with to handle your affairs but whom you have under your observation; to be held accountable. That is why there are several feedback mechanisms to communicate to this leader(s) on the decision of the masses, from simple letters to petitions to threats and protests directed at the leader. Such a leader can avoid the wrath of her/his constituency by giving into their demands; at least if they are a substantial percentage. Therefore it is safe to say that in democracy, it is the people who control the political leaders, not vice versa.

It then requires an assumption that is a contradiction to democratic ideals to have a politically elected/aspiring officer calling for non-violence, for instance. It is less of a contradiction when entertainment celebrities take this role because they have no obligation to serve their audience, or be controlled by their audience, unlike the democratically bound politically elected/aspiring officer.

It could be argued that political leaders are called upon to douse uprisings not by their capability to positively calm it down through any of their abilities, but because having them denounce violence, then we are assured that they won’t be calling for violence. In other words we want political leaders to commit to non-violence so that if they were to attempt to incite violence, they would run into contradiction! Interesting use of contradiction. The issue then becomes one of calling for violence vs NOT calling for violence, rather than calling for violence vs calling for peace. We could say this is what it means for a political leader to call for non-violence but you and I know that is not what is implied, or at least that there is a problem in accepting that. Again (as in previous posts on this series), Wittgenstein comes to save us. Meaning should be sought in its usage. We can all agree that the usage of calling for non-violence is really under the belief that the leaders have an ability to calm violence down. In other words, we believe (and perpetrate the belief that) those leaders control the will of their constituency rather than serve it. But Democracy would have these leaders serve the Demo i.e. the people. Thus the contradiction!

Next time you find a democratically elected leader calling for non violence, consider the contradiction at play.

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