Falling for the Fallists

Mike Berger says our progressives are deluding themselves about the true nature of the movement

History consists, for the greater part, of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly appetites, which shake the public with the same -- ‘Troublous storms that toss/ The private state, and render life unsweet.’ These vices are the causes of those storms. Religion, morals, laws, prerogatives, privileges, liberties, rights of men, are the pretexts.Edmund Burke (emphasis in the original)

"Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years....He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: Life isn’t always fair; And maybe it was my fault... (And) adults, not children, are in charge."  Obituary in NYT

A few weeks ago I decided to conduct an experiment in satire. I would take some of the fashionable slogans dominating the academic-mass media, cast them into a narrative form and publish.

This was not intended as a serious effort and cost virtually nothing in systematic thought, personal introspection, fact-checking, gathering of evidence and due consideration of alternative perspectives. Here is an extract:

" As the recent protests have demonstrated, the black youth and women of South Africa are leading the fight against the nexus of genocidal white patriarchy, capitalism, Western colonialism and imperialism, Zionism and environmental denialism...By their heroic resistance to police brutality and the efforts of white monopoly capital and their stooges in the Universities and the media to delegitimise the struggle against oppression in its manifold guises, they have shown the way out of the dystopia created by the arrival of the colonial settlers in the sixteenth century.

South Africa is not alone in this struggle. Across the world the dispossessed and downtrodden are standing up against their oppressors. Our own "Fallist movements are part of a heroic legacy of resistance. From Martin Luther King to "blacklivesmatter", from "OccupyWallStreet" to Cuba, from ISIL to Hamas and the oppressed Palestinians, from Angela Davis to our own young Zulaikha Patel - the chain of resistance continues unbroken..."

When finished I was horrified by the overwhelming realisation that, if published as it stood, what I had intended as purest parody would be taken as gospel - as a stirring call to ideological arms. It would differ not one iota from hundreds of similar "statements" - other than, perhaps, demonstrating a higher level of literacy and coherence.

Or to put it another way, had I been a student, fresh from a week of poo- and rock-throwing, lecture hall-invading, sjambok-wielding, fire-setting and racial rhetoric-spouting protest, invited to present the student "perspective" on Richard Calland's Cape Talk programme, my intended satire would have been lauded as a fine example of the kind of thinking (and student) we need to cultivate and as an index of the admirable intent behind the regrettably somewhat rowdy nature of the protests.

Similarly, if presented to Angelo Fick, the ordained guru on the eNCA nightly programme, he would have smoothly segued into a exhortation to take these progressive ideals to our intellectual hearts and, additionally, to wholeheartedly support our very own Leigh-Ann Naidoo on the Woman's Boat to Gaza. Heralded as heroic defiance of the Israeli military on its own turf, Fick urged us to embrace the seamless indivisibility of "resistance"; the shamanistic incantation which forgives all sins.

It does not take a "rocket scientist" to figure that this is largely "kak". Indeed, all it took was a lorry-driver from the Western Cape with some commonsense.

So what to make of this? Given the on-going global mutation of a progressive but reality-grounded political orientation into an activist, aggressive, indeed quasi-religious mindset, the support for thuggish student protests coming from the "progressive" community is hardly surprising.

For their own peace of mind they desperately need to believe that the Fallist protest movement is essentially moral in nature and about one or other burning "injustice" and not, as is so clear to anyone free of the obsessions of the progressive faith, driven mainly by racism, a will to power, personal political ambition, post-adolescent restlessness and belligerence and competition for status.

This is the case whether or not, the EFF or some other "third force" is stoking the flames and whether or not actual "injustices" exist which need attention. In simpler terms, the new Progressivist religion is the mental alchemy which converts "kak" into heroic struggle.

This is only the tip of the social-political iceberg. For instance, one can support some of the values espoused by Progressivism (as I do), while vehemently rejecting its descent into religious fanaticism as a sure path to political catastrophe.

And further, in the South African context nothing said here is intended to imply that we should not be concerned about the social realities of inequality or issues of differential access to education and opportunity, the nefarious influence of racism (from any quarter) or even issues of power and culture within educational institutions.

But we cannot begin to address these effectively without first shedding the ideological dogmas standing in the way of rational discussion and, second, by absolutely insisting on the prior importance of the rule of law, the maintenance of public order, respect for the rights of others, freedom of speech and the norms and institutions of effective democratic governance. Only then can we cut through the personal and political agendas of the protesters to the deeper issues of social justice.

When the key institutions standing between a viable future for our children and a descent into chaos and anarchy, are tamely surrendered, ordinary citizens have the right and duty to be both deeply concerned and outraged.

Anything less will earn us the fate we deserve.

Mike Berger

PS. Having written this, I see UCT is still closed and "(is engaged) with key stakeholders, including the Student Representative Council and particularly the SRC candidates who are leading the protest actions on campus at present. Multiple other engagements will continue over the weekend in an attempt to heal divisions and to find possible solutions."

It is necessary to remind the Executive Committee, since it seems to have slipped their minds, that the people of South Africa and their children are also key stakeholders. Don't forget it.