Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Politicians abuse role of discourse

By Ku Er-teh 顧爾德

The most moving political action following the shooting attack on President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) on March 19 is this: young politicians from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) plan to propose a New Culture discourse aimed at resolving ethnic confrontation in Taiwan. This has been one of the few construc-tive things that politicians have wanted to do in this atmosphere of political and ethnic hatred. But how effective will it be? I have my doubts.

I don't doubt the importance of a new discourse. "Discourse" seems to be such a powerful academic word, yet it is something we all engage in in our daily lives. It's a way of communicating and engaging in rational debate in order to arrive at some degree of consensus on a certain issue. Although rationality is not the only component of human society, society would not function if we denied the possibility of rational consensuses and norms.

Nor do I doubt the sincerity and good intentions of the pan-blue and pan-green politicians involved in the construction of this new discourse. Their capacity for rationality is above that of the average politician. The New Society Declaration, for example, drafted 15 or 16 years ago by one of the participants in the New Culture discourse, Julian Kuo (郭正亮), became the focus of debate for students and social activists of the day.

What I do doubt, however, is whether many people will accept having politicians direct the formation of a discourse.

Quite a number of important new discourses have appeared over the past dozen years -- the Rising People discourse, the New Central Plains Culture discourse, the New Taiwanese discourse, the state-to-state discourse, the Alien Regime discourse, and so on. Some of these discourses have been more reminiscent of slogans, but many are the result of rational argumentation. Most of them have been proposed by advisors to politicians, and have then trickled down through society via politics.

All of these discourses were at one stage or another given wide coverage by the media, and they were once on the lips of every politician and common man. They have influenced the way people think. The state-to-state model, for example, created an uproar when it was first proposed, but in the past two or three years many people have come to accept the idea of one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait.

But why did former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良), who proposed the Rising People discourse from a DPP point of view, end up in direct opposition to Chen during the recent presidential election? And why does Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who relied on former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) New Taiwanese discourse to win his election, no longer seem to live in the same country as Lee? Because politicians don't care about the process of a discourse. All they ask is whether a discourse meets their political interests. If it does, they use it. The majority of the public are even less engaged in the discourse process, and are only aware of a discourse's results.

It is very difficult to imagine a cultural discourse emerging from the political arena. But how about the world outside politics? It has been said that religion is good medicine in times of chaos, so how about Taiwan's religious leaders? After March 19, when they have been most needed by society, they have only been willing to issue uncontroversial press releases.

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