Mon, Oct 16, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Intellectuals have small role in the `red' camp

By Chen Yi-shen 陳儀深

Intellectuals and academics play different roles in society.

An intellectual is a person who shows concern for people's lives and society and also has the ability to communicate and air his or her opinions using abstract language. Normally, only a graduate degree is necessary to take on the role of an intellectual.

An academic is a person who builds his or her career on academic research and must have a master's or doctoral degree in order to teach in universities or conduct research in research institutions. Many academics, however, hide in their ivory towers and do not care about worldly affairs, in which case they cannot be considered intellectuals. Once they leave their fields of expertise, they are no longer experts, and only ordinary people.

The campaign to oust President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) led by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) has had an impact on social order over the past month or two. Shih's aides have included lawyers, doctors, elected representatives and advertising executives.

Disregarding the politicians, this group of people can be regarded as intellectuals. They attempt to boost the campaign's legitimacy by claiming that it transcends the pan-blue versus pan-green divide and only aims to clarify right from wrong. They even say that the campaign is a "new civil movement."

But Shih only chose to launch his campaign after the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) long-standing attempts to get Chen to step down had failed, and he pledged that "he would either oust Chen or die trying."

It is difficult to differentiate Shih's stance from that of Sisy Chen (陳文茜), Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康), Lee Tao (李濤), and other biased, pro-China, television talk show hosts.

As a result, this seemingly never ending campaign has finally led to a reaction in the southern cities of Tainan, Pingtung and Kaohsiung. Chang Mao-kuei (張茂桂), a research fellow at the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica, has criticized the campaign for being characterized more by its partisan confrontation than its benefits to society at large, adding that it is far-fetched to describe it as a "new civic movement."

Shih is a politician. Looking at his background, it is not very likely that at the outset he positioned the campaign as a "new civic movement." It is more likely that this idea was proposed by the intellectuals -- or troublemakers -- that surround him.

It is difficult to say whether these intellectuals simply play a supporting role to help Shih or if they have real influence in shaping the campaign, but seeing how Shih and his team continue to revise the campaign's goals -- including non-participation in negotiations or the electoral process, and the promise to discontinue activities if the second presidential recall bid was successful -- I would rather believe that there still are voices within the campaign truly pushing for a new civic movement.

But is opposition to Chen the same as opposing corruption? If the protesters focus too intently on the issue of ousting Chen, won't that distance them further from their anti-corruption goal? Has any of Shih's top aides taken a good hard look at the different versions of the legislature's "sunshine bill?"

The ideal intellectual should possess the ability to clarify problems and face facts. It would be even more valuable if intellectuals could take a broadminded approach and create a win-win situation.

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