Robert Corr blogs a post about yesterday’s demo near federal Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock’s house. Rob effectively unpicks (I won’t say “unpacks” because of its pomo denotations) the somewhat hysterical media coverage of the event, uncovering the usual mix of exaggeration and emotive prejudicial characterisation.
Sadly, Rob brings his good work undone by including what I regard as an irresponsible and immature incitement to the Indymedia types to demonstrate outside Alexander Downer’s house. He even lists Alexander’s home address.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong supporter of the right to protest; it’s rightly constitutionally protected anyway. However, such rights may often conflict with other civil rights. The Indymedia mob’s right to exercise their free speech by demonstrating may infringe the right to privacy of Ruddock’s family (remembering that his daughter at least avowedly doesn’t support his policies) or the neighbours in his street. Whose “right” should take precedence? Is it really necessary to demonstrate outside someone’s private house? Couldn’t the point be made equally effectively by demonstrating in some more public CBD space where private homes and families wouldn’t be disrupted?
“Rights” are purely social constructs; there’s no such thing as a “natural” right, even if you can demonstrate by a thought game (like John Rawls’ “veil of ignorance”, for example) that some rights have a clear utilitarian value. In the long term, a civil right will only continue to exist and be honoured by any given society if most of the people exercising that right do so in a vaguely responsible manner that recognises that others have civil rights too.
Indymedia types making a nuisance of themselves unnecessarily in quiet suburban streets on a Sunday doesn’t strike me as even vaguely responsible, nor does Rob Corr’s incitement to do likewise to Downer. This sort of stupidity simply undermines the public consensus supporting the right to demonstrate, and provides grist to the mill of Alan Jones and demagogues of his ilk.
On the other hand, the reason why Indymedia et al dream up stunts of this sort is that widespread media coverage is only generated these days by doing something new, different and somewhat outrageous. It’s the reason why Greenpeace pulls increasingly risky stunts like chaining demonstrators to the bow of a warship in motion. Anything less radical is ignored by the media, and consequently the desired political message doesn’t get conveyed. In that sense, “pushing the envelope” might be seen as integral to effective political communication. It’s not necessarily a straightforward issue, but even if you allow the legitimacy of some such tactics Rob’s gratuitous smartarse Alexander Downer remark is still a pointless squandering of political capital and democratic legitimacy.