Whatever became of nuance in politics and protest?


Over the past week, I’ve discovered why I’ve always felt a concerningly conservative aversion to protests. It seems to me that people appear to be frighteningly convinced of whatever issue they are protesting. This may seem a funny sort of personal concern to have, but I fear that this issue can lead to dangerous places – blind ideology.

 Finding myself (somewhat) dragged to the protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice during Julian Assange’s appeal hearing, I found my general concern about a lack of any form of nuance in the mind of those who are politically active worryingly validated. 

Chatting to the usual people that one would expect to find at such a protest – radical septugenarians, pro-Palestine activists, and the floggers of Socalist newspapers – there appeared to be a complete absence of any willingness to discuss nuance. 

This, I was reassured by my more-convinced companion, was because it was a protest; people who had taken the effort to be there were already convinced, and therefore it would be absurd to ask them to consider new angles in the issue. 

This struck me as a profoundly frightening suggestion. The idea that, once someone had committed to carrying a banner calling for the “destruction of the American world order”, there was no point in trying to discuss, convince, or add complexity, seemed to me to be dangerous. 

The logical effect of this argument, it seems, is that those who are so personally committed, to these undoubtably important issues, become blind to the internal hypocrisies and naturally shift further to the extreme – whatever that may be. 

For example, using the example of Assange, most of the protesters I chatted to were totally convinced that the two women who had accused Assange of sexual assault in 2010 were part of a grand American scheme to extradite Assange to the USA, where he could be ‘dealt’ with over his part in Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning’s leak of classified military documents.

My companion, whom I had discussed the era of #MeToo and #BelieveWomen, and knew her to be a strong believer in listening to women’s allegations and taking them seriously – as they should be – dismissed the allegations against Assage as a conspiracy and fake, and practically scoffed when I brought them up. 

There appeared, to her, to be no contradiction in demanding we take women’s allegations seriously, and in dismissing Assange’s accusers as US plants and as utterly laughable. 

Furthermore, when I raised this issue with other protesters, I was met with a similar reaction. I would go as far as to say that there appeared to be a deeply misogynistic hatred of these women for their accusations in some quarters. 

There was no ability, as far as I saw, for these protesters to see this issue with an element of nuance. It is perfectly possible, I believe, that Julian Assange is both of vital importance to the freedom of the press, and could also possibly have been guilty of sexual assault. They were too convinced he was their saviour to see an undeniably contentious issue with the complexity that it clearly deserves. 

I was struck by a similar sort of cognitive dissonance with discussing the recent Iranian strikes on Israel with pro-Palestinian protesters. Some of these activists seem to revel in the Iranian action against Israel, promising their support to the regime. They seemed to forget that, less than a year ago, they were also up in arms over the brutal treatment of women by the theocratic Iranian regime. 

They had decided their enemy was Israel, and anyone who was against Israel was their friend. It was impossible, apparently, for them to decry both governments actions. 

Sitting in a coffee shop opposite the statue of Gladstone, gazing at the protesters chanting, I felt genuine concern and fear for the future of discussion – if people cannot understand nuance and complexity, it is impossible to mediate and find the vital centre ground. 

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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