Resisting and Dismissing Authority in a Democracy
Chapter 9: Reasoning with Defiance
To safeguard democracy the people must have a keen sense of independence, self-respect, and their oneness. Mahatma Gandhi, cited in Prabhu and Rao 1969: 339 Defiance is a complex and compelling expression of individualism that is commonly encountered and socially shared. The complexity seems to have caught us on the back foot. At a personal level, we avoid confronting defiance if possible. We either walk away, adopting a ‘live and let live’ philosophy, or we placate defiance – it is too resource-intensive to deal with otherwise (Maguire et al. 2007). Authorities respond similarly. They fail to see value in defiance. If their risk assessment indicates danger, action will be taken. Generally such action will be punitive. Authorities fear the organization of discontent for reasons of political and economic instability, mob violence, terrorism – and, sometimes, adverse publicity. If risks are low, however, authorities discount defiance as negative, emotional and counterproductive. Stigma allows authorities to get away with their disregard for defiance (Goffman 1963), and discourses are created to discredit those who question how authorities govern (Mathiesen 2004). The ‘politics of envy’ discourse, for example, sought to dampen debate over whether growing inequalities in society are harmful and require redress. The rhetoric successfully excises from individual conscience a sense of responsibility for those less fortunate. By defining the problem as the attitude of the poor, the privileged are released from feeling they have too much. A vexed issue is simplified to become a non-issue. One hundred years ago the women’s suffrage movement faced...