\\\Demonstrations & Remonstrance

by Eric Chaet

At whom is the demonstration directed?

Is it a protest, of those with less power, appealing to the conscience of those with more power? Or is it a demonstration of power in numbers?—a threat of sorts?

Or is it like social media, a swarming of those with like opinions?

Is it merely presenting oneself as one of the righteous ones, or is it a serious tactical move, an attempt to call attention to a neglected injustice, & engineer a correction?

In China, I’m told—& I’ve never been there, & make no claim to expertise—hierarchy has been, traditionally, very strict. In Confucius’s teaching, therefore, remonstrance is presented as a necessary act of courage, when one’s superior is determined to do what is wrong. With absolute respect the remonstrating government minister speaks up to the war-lord or emperor, the child speaks to the parent, the younger brother speaks to the older brother—& takes whatever punishment might come.

The series of civil rights demonstrations starting in the USA in the late 1950’s began with a few Black friends sitting at a lunch counter at which they weren’t welcome, in the Southeast. They put themselves in serious jeopardy.

The Southeast, then, more so than now, was solidly segregated: Blacks were restricted to particular venues, & there was a tradition of mob violence against any Black even suspected of attempting to break thru the restrictions.

It was an act of courage, a calling attention to an absolutely unbearable injustice. Eventually, after a great deal of imitation, it led to some, but by no means all that would have been & would be desirable, reformation of attitudes & law.

Some of the imitation was as brave or nearly as brave, & as well focused or nearly as well focused, to serve the purpose.

By the end, much of the demonstrating was a declaration of righteousness on the part of the participants.

These civil rights demonstrations were eventually imitated, also, by people with many other causes, some brave, some merely wishing to declare their righteousness, some demonstrators putting themselves in danger, some in no more danger than if they had been marching in a Christmas parade, some even in the cause of rolling back the results of the civil rights demonstrations. These counter-civil rights demonstrations are in the ascendant as I write this, in 2018.

Who is demonstrating what, to whom?

The same problem occurs whenever you wish to articulate anything about any injustice—in any way.

And is it really an injustice? Or, rather, is someone failing to do what he or she needs to do for him or her self, in order to right a situation that is wrong, but no one’s fault?

In the Bible, the prophets—there aren’t many of them, & they don’t take up many of the pages of the Bible, which is a very long book—feel called upon to correct their contemporaries, their societies—for which their contemporaries punish them, or at least ignore them, treat them as merely deranged.

There is absolutely no useful change in the attitudes or behavior of the contemporaries. Or so it seems.

Yet some of us, not even born then, not even of the same society, who have learned of their activities, have been affected by the remonstrances of the prophets of the Bible, & by Socrates’ sly remonstrances, too—& Gandhi’s—& by, for instance, the brave remonstrance of those early civil rights demonstrators—tho we are neither the rulers of the segregated South, nor the White inhabitants of the segregated South, nor the operators of that first lunch counter.

So what are we called upon to do? To remonstrate further? Remonstrate with whom, regarding which of the complex of prevailing injustices?—or against Injustice itself? And if so, how? And suggesting what instead?

Or are we called upon to do something else? What else?

Called upon by whom? Or is it sufficient & equivalent to demand remonstrating of oneself, as one demands whatever self-discipline?—remonstrating, when it is appropriate (tho it’s dangerous) being part of the duties of a person behaving as a person ought, as Confucius had it?

Surely, those perpetrating injustices are called upon to stop it—we are calling upon them to stop it, if we’re calling, if we’re remonstrating. But they are the least likely to heed the call, whether from God, or prophets, or demonstrators in North or South Carolina, Chicago, Washington, D.C., on some college campus, in Beijing or Tibet or Moscow or Gaza or Tel Aviv or Mexico City, or wherever.

So, we who heed the call of those remonstrating, who weren’t calling upon us at all—what do we do?

And what is it that we have in common—not just wanting to appear righteous to others who appear righteous to us? And are we a small minority, or a large minority, or the majority, or even most people?

And how is it that it is others, who need to be remonstrated with, who rule us, to whatever extent that they rule us, so that we can’t just engineer corrections to injustices, but must remonstrate with those with the power to do so—if they actually have such power?

If they don’t have such power, what else ought we to do, to achieve the result we hope for?


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