onsdag 9 november 2011

Limits of democracy

Occupy Brighton camp
Occupy Brighton camp
Occupy Brighton camp

This is the protest camp that has sprung up in Brighton, in Victoria Gardens. It seems to be dominated by the local anarchists. I have a certain sympathy with their anger as they are the generation that is paying for the decades of mismanagement of the economy.

However, a brazier was burning under a large and very old tree, which cannot have been good for it. I suggested that they might like to move it to where there were no tree branches above. I mentioned this to someone there, and she said she accepted the point and would put it to everyone at the meeting. It seems as if there is a democratic structure in which everyone has an equal voice. Perfect democracy, one might say.

Except this. It is worrying that nobody had the sense to realise that fires should not be lit under trees. But in situations like this, there are those who know and those who do not, and giving everyone an equal voice could have a bad outcome. It is like trying to run a ship with a committee made up of the entire crew, and giving them an equal say, when there are some who know about sails or engines, some about cooking, some about navigation, some about radio, some who are normally content to shift heavy stuff around, and so on. You cannot leave technical decisions in the hands of people who are not versed in the relevant discipline.

The Brighton occupation raises another point. Most of the campers seem to be middle class, affecting a working class accent. They have the resources to equip themselves with comfortable, weathertight accommodation. But also in Brighton is a hard core of genuinely homeless people, with nowhere to go, who are living in the streets and sleeping in shop doorways.

I wonder if it has occurred to these concerned anarchists to engage with their neighbours who have fallen through all the safety nets? How would they feel about sharing their well-found accommodation with those much worse-off than themselves?

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