There was a demonstration in London yesterday. It was described on the local London TV news as being “against the war on terrorism”.
I don’t hate demonstrations, because demonstrations are easily ignored or got around. But I do hate demonstrating, that is, taking part in the damned things. Occasionally someone sends me an e-mail begging me to be somewhere at such-and-such a time on behalf of this or that. Such e-mails usually involve the European Union. But I never go. And I don’t think I’m the only one. Many others with political opinions like mine are, I think, equally reluctant to demonstrate.
I hate the idea that instead of expressing the exact opinion that is my own, I must instead attach myself to a collectively expressed opinion which isn’t exactly my own. I see no virtue in collective agreement for its own sake.
I hate that demonstrations are, in addition to being an intellectual pretence of unanimity, also an emotional pretence. Demonstrations are not events. They are pseudo-events. Their purpose is to create the appearance of a spontaneous outburst of mass anger or enthusiasm, by planning this spontaneous outburst weeks or even months in advance.
Demonstrators are like movie extras. I wouldn’t mind being a real movie extra. That’s honest pretence, for which you are even paid a bob or two if you’re lucky. Neither the makers of movies with big crowd scenes in them nor the viewers of them are under any illusions about the illusions they are dealing in. But political demonstrations aren’t like that. They are dishonestly dishonest, really dishonest. The idea is to suggest that all those contrived emotions – all those frenzied emotional states that the demonstrators work themselves into – are the real thing.
I hate that the meaning of a demonstration will be decided not be those organising it, but by the news media. Take yesterday’s demonstration “against the war on terrorism”. How many of the demonstrators thought that this was what they were saying? Some maybe. But others were merely trying to say that declaring war on entire countries isn’t the right way to chase after terrorists, and that chasing after terrorists should be done differently and better. (Personally I think that chasing terrorists by declaring wars on entire countries makes a lot of sense, but that’s not my point here.) In my case, if I attended a demonstration against some aspect of the European Union, then in the unlikely event that the media deigned to notice it at all, I would almost certainly find myself described as “anti-European”, which I’m not.
Demonstrations can only enact melodramas that are already established in the minds of the news media and their customers. They don’t change thinking. They only take sides between thoughts that have already become established.
What interests me is changing how people think. For that, there is no substitute for my own exactly chosen words, words that I’ve thought about, words that I’ve written. Then, if they want to, media people can read these words and invite me to participate in indoor discussions about the exact rights and wrongs of it all, in conversation and in further writings. In these discussions I speak with my own individual voice.
Political partisanship used to be measured by the willingness to demonstrate. But the conventional political radar kits underestimated the size and strength of the libertarian movement. Like I say, I’m not the only one. I believe that libertarians in general are, because of and as an inseparable part of being libertarians, reluctant to demonstrate in great massed gobs of collectivised dishonesty.
But now the internet is registering what the TV news cameras missed, because the internet allows us each to speak with our own voice. That’s what we want. That’s a crowd we are willing to join, because we can each join it on our own exact terms.