Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Powers That Be and the ‘R’ Word in Taiwan

Once again the authorities are accusing young activists of ‘irrationality.’ But there is nothing ‘irrational’ about the screamers 

Taiwan’s political scene is once again being shaken by young people who have decided to take direct action against the government, this time over “minor” alterations to high school curriculum guidelines. As with the other youth movements that contested the authorities’ modus operandi in recent years, the participants have shattered the traditional norms of behavior by being loud, scaling walls, and occupying space. Thus challenged, the response by the authorities, school administrators, and members of the ruling party has been to characterize the protesters as “irrational.” 

This rhetorical tool was repeatedly used during the campaign against forced evictions in 2013 and in the midst of the Sunflower Movement’s occupation of the Legislative Yuan the following year. In each instance, the government — plus a complicit media and academic sector — countered by saying that while it welcomed disagreement under democratic principles, young people should express their views “rationally.” Needless to say, by rational the powers that be meant playing by rules that were set by the government. It didn’t matter that the government itself had broken every democratic rule in how it had arrived at some of its policies, or that debating officials “rationally” was the surest ticket to defeat. The government knew best, and if society didn’t agree that was because officials hadn’t explained themselves clearly enough. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here (photo by the author).

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