The fight to hear and be heard

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By Shane Dingman

Hello operator? I seem to have been disconnected…

If it were only so easy. Many times in life when we want to send a message there is no operator, no voice mail, no response, no reply, no impact. Perhaps there was static on the line, the post was intercepted, the file corrupted.

Humanity is a social animal, or so many would agree. What are we doing here on earth? There are a multitude of answers to that question, few of them right or wrong. But there is one common element, and that is communication. Our sentience, our highly advanced monkey brains, manifests themselves through the communication of complex ideas. What is knowledge, if not a communication from one generation to the next? What is speech, if not a method to communicate thought and emotion? Whether you buy elite theory or not, these days all state action is massaged and contrived to communicate messages about the motives and power of the movers and shakers.

Take Robert McNamara, Kennedy-and Johnson-era Secretary of Defence. On first hearing, his idea that each of the millions of tonnes of bombs dropped on North Vietnam was a message to the communist Viet Cong sounds ludicrous. But his bombagrams did send the message: we are in charge of this world, don’t forget it. When you step out of line we will throw lightning from the skies like a vengeful god.

Much the same way, through metaphor and action rather than flaccid speech, anti-globalization protestors are communicating to the international trade bodies they oppose. On pages 12-13 in this week’s paper the story about last weekend’s protest in Ottawa communicates another message. Not one about radical fanatics or piss-bottle wielding vandals, but citizens who feel that people all over the world can be negatively affected by the un-elected bodies of the IMF or the World Bank. The want more democracy and more say, more representation at international organizations.

By refusing to grant public access to their deliberations, these trade bodies are communicating to us all: back off, we know better than these letter writing, petition signing, marching fools. History communicates to us that general strikes are a fairly effective way of leveraging unresponsive elites into dealing with the expressed concerns of the public. But shutting down a whole city or country for a day, or a week, or months even, requires broad agreement on the issues. This level of communication to the masses seems beyond today’s brand of protesters.

Which begs the question, does the failure of the protesters to gather mass support reflect the wrongness of their message, or are the lines of communication simply not open?

It is a common tendency of those on either side of issues to believe that the other side fails to understand their position, and that’s why they don’t agree. This both invalidates the strengths of dialogue and arrogantly dismisses views different from our own as ignorant. But the knee-jerk reaction from the left is usually that more education (another form of communication) is what is required. Bull chips. The independence of world trade bodies will never be curbed by educational street protests, the only way to change the way they operate is to seize power in their benefactor states. But try communicating that to a bunch of bandana wearing geeks who need to trade in their gas masks for briefing books and the hard work of electoral success if they ever hope to change anything.

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