Systemic Function of Highly Unrepresentative Minorities
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 10 Dec 2018
Recognizing the Role of the “Dark Riders” of Social Change
8 Dec 2018 – Produced on the occasion of the unexpected riots of the Gilets Jaunes (“Yellow Vests”) throughout France, with images of Paris in flames, symbolically paralleled by a UN Climate Change Summit to implement the Paris Agreement.
The world, and especially France, has been witness to the spontaneous emergence of a popular movement in France — the Gilets Jaunes (“Yellow Vests”) — in reaction to a pattern of multiple financial constraints on the living conditions and purchasing power of the population, especially the more impoverished. Their name derives from the yellow security vests which all motorists in France are obliged to carry in their vehicles. A planned increase in fuel taxation was the primary trigger for the uprising — especially for those in rrual areas without access to public transport.
The measures announced by the French Government were framed as enabling an ecological transition — as envisaged by the UN Paris Agreement. Previous rebellions in France have been against the markets and globalization. The Yellow Vest rebellion can be understood as being against a change in way of life, as argued by Andrés Ortega (“Yellow Vests”: The First Rebellion Against the Ecological Transition, The Globalist, 4 December 2018).
The Gilets Jaunes, in the absence of any central organization — and “coordinated” only via the social media — undertook a variety of peaceful initiatives to block or hinder movement of traffic throughout France. This was experienced as a considerable inconvenience by many — and with considerable impact on the French economy and international image. Despite this, through opinion polls, a vast majority of the population indicated sympathy for the causes variously articulated by the movement — even after demonstrations turned violent.
Calls for major demonstrations were made for successive weekends — a well-known and accepted feature of French democracy. In addition to the variously unaffiliated, unexpectedly these demonstrations brought together people from every extreme of the political spectrum — people who seldom espoused each others causes. The demonstration on 1st December, intended as peaceful by most, proved to be a security disaster of unprecedented proportions, most notably in the centre of Paris (John Lichfield, Never before have I seen blind anger like this on the streets of Paris, The Guardian, 3 December 2018). Media coverage, in France and elsewhere, portrayed Paris in flames, with vehicles torched, use of paving stones as missiles, and destructive tagging of cherished symbols of the French Republic.
The emergence of the movement, and its destructive accompaniment, was paralleled by extensive discussion of the issues articulated by the Gilets Jaunes and the lack of the slightest meaningful response by the elected authorities of France. This was most notably symbolized by the absence of its President at a meeting of the G20 in Buenos Aires. That absence could be readily framed in terms of “Macron fiddling while Paris burns” — recalling the corresponding phrase long associated with the highly problematic Emperor Nero of Rome.
The destructive accompaniment of a peaceful movement proved to be the primary focus of the media and any commentary by representatives of the government and its supporters. The original message of the Gilets Jaunes regarding impoverishment of the population was effectively sidelined or lost — to their regret, as repeatedly articulated. The focus of official commentary has been on security issues, law and order, and to the state held to be “unreasonable” and worthy of repressive measures. A state of emergency has been envisaged.
Attention has been primarily refocused by the government on the actions of those termed the “casseurs” (“breakers“) — a very loosely organized group of people who disguised themselves among the Gilets Jaunes in order to provoke aggressive interactions with the security forces and to destroy property and enable pillaging. The police have long admitted to being unable to identify such people among the many they arrested for otherwise disrupting the peace.
The breakers are deemed to be “professionally” skilled in evading arrest. It is however the actions of that group which enable the government to frame its response to the issues raised by the hundreds of thousands of Gilets Jaunes. From the perspective of “cui bono“, cynics could readily argue that it is actually in the interests of some segments of government to encourage the actions of breakers, by whatever means, in order to discredit any movement for social change critical of government policies.
The proportion of such breakers in relation to the Gilets Jaunes can be explored more generally as typical of many other movements for social change, as previously argued (The “Dark Riders” of Social Change: a challenge for any Fellowship of the Ring, 1955). That title and subtitle derive from the theme extensively developed in The Fellowship of the Ring (2002) by J. R. R. Tolkien. As described in that iconic tale of an era, the Dark Riders (or Ring-wraiths) were nine men who succumbed to Sauron‘s power and attained immortality as wraiths, servants bound to the power of the One Ring.
The question here is how, and where, to recognize such shadowy influence in undermining otherwise admirable social change. Is there a “Big Lie” to be variously recognized (Existential Challenge of Detecting Today’s Big Lie: mysterious black hole conditioning global civilization? 2016).
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