Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

Irregular verbs: protest, civil disobedience, breaking the law, terrorism

Among the myriad reasons why I love Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister were the irregular verbs.
I have an independent mind; you are an eccentric; he is round the twist

and my all-time favourite
I give confidential press briefings; you leak; he's being charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act.

There seem to be a lot of irregular verbs around at the moment, between the protests against student loans and fees, the polite chocolate-bearing VAT evasion protesters and the backlash against companies that stopped dealing with WikiLeaks (and the intimate patdown thing with the TSA).

I'm all in favour of protest; I think we need a participatory democracy as well as a representative one. My life would have been immeasurably poorer if I hadn't gone to university but if I'd been faced with going into debt to do it I probably never would have (and certainly not Oxford; after having upgraded to private schools with scholarships and bursaries, I'd have picked where I could afford to go - not where I would benefit most from studying and while I was good enough to get into Oxford I wasn't a scholar and I didn't take a first so I don't think I'd have got an assisted place). My degree taught me to research, to assemble my arguments, to present and defend them - and to think. If I hadn't been able to get a grant to do my Masters in what was supposed to be computing science conversion but that I parlayed into the subset of AI known as intelligent knowledge-based systems in what I tend to think of as my first act of journalism (talking your way into the interview you need), I would either have gone to a cheaper, closer college with a less interesting degree or taken the first job offered. The job on the original licence of PC Magazine I ceased to pursue to do that degree went to Mick Andon who went on to the heady heights of publisher, but without a decent technical grounding I don't know how much I could have achieved and I don't think I'd have the same grasp of what's actually involved in technology. Which is a long-winded way of saying I have every sympathy with student protesters - especially the ones who are staging teach-ins rather than sit-ins and doing their best to get attention without disrupting other students who want to concentrate on getting their education while they can afford it.

Ditto the UK Uncut protesters; having been on Oxford Street recently I have sympathy with anyone who wanted to go into Top Shop while it was closed by the sit-in (although I'm snobbish enough to not have that much sympathy for anyone going into Top Shop who isn't dragged there by their kids). But the way businesses avoid paying taxes makes society unbalanced. Google pays no tax in the UK and very little in Ireland - ditto Apple and Microsoft and the rest. If Ireland made foreign companies pay up, would they need the bailout? Probably - they'd all go somewhere else, but I'm not sure jobs bought by tax breaks are a long-term economic solution. And having the owner of a company like Arcadia pay so little tax and be an adviser to the government on efficiency and austerity underlines that it may be the same law for rich and poor but it's a lot easier to fall under the helpful clauses if you're rich enough to have an advisor...

So shouldn't I be all in favour of sticking it to whichever man has let down WikiLeaks most recently? Especially when the man is Sarah Palin? (Schadenfreude is such a lovely word) Is taking down Visa or Mastercard or PayPal any different to occupying Top Shop or a college? Should we condemn companies that end business relationships with WikiLeaks because Homeland Security asks them to, because the espionage act might apply? I don't know - and I suspect what you think of whistleblowers and Assange and Operation Payback depends on what you sit and what you do. I think WikiLeaks has handled releasing the information to news organisations that have the skills and resources to dig through and understand the stories reasonably responsibly. I think Assange's personal life has little to do with what WikiLeaks does. I think targetting the Swedish women and their lawyer is despicable. And I have rather less sympathy for WikiLeaks getting kicked off AWS after Assange said "Since 2007 we have been deliberately placing some of our servers in jurisdictions that we suspected suffered a free speech deficit in order to separate rhetoric from reality. Amazon was one of these cases."

Deliberately setting up a company to look bad for something they have very little choice about doing? To me, that does cross a line.

I didn't just throw terrorism in the title because of the TSA thing, which I have patted past rather than down. I don't think that killing is anything like carrying a placard or leaking a diplomatic cable. Terrorism is about causing so much fear that you distort your enemy into a parody of themselves and disrupt their life so much that (you hope) they give you what you want. But non-violent protest and campaigns of harassment against occupying troops fall in the spectrum of how you get someone powerful who isn't listening to pay attention to you. If governing is about more than 'might means right', if it's about both benefiting and furthering the aims of an enlightened society, there are going to need to be ways of making voices heard. I think we judge those ways of making yourself heard by what you're saying, who's saying it, how you're saying it and how much collateral damage is involved. But we always judge it from our own perspective - and that makes a lot of the labels we put on these things irregular verbs.

1 protest, civil disobedience et al are nouns; I know this ;-) I use 'irregular verb' as a concept rather than a grammatical definition.

2 The writers didn't just know politics; they knew journalism too.
"an editor isn't like a general commanding an army; he's just the ringmaster of a circus. I mean I can book the acts, but I can't tell the acrobats which way to jump!"
Tags: grammar, personal, politics, rant

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