Before January’s presidential election, we saw a number of political hacks capitalizing on fear and panic. After the election, we have seen the prices of almost everything rise, as well as a Taipei City mayor with an appetite for demolition trying to justify his actions with talk of “justice.” All that these people have shown us is that they are “political superstars” through and through.
The crisis now facing Taiwan is that the act of voting is all that is left of its democracy. When leaders do not have the pressure of impending elections, they rule by populism. When those in power become corrupt, values become devoid of meaning and a more radical form of resistance becomes necessary. This resistance cannot be limited to action alone, but must be expressed in spirit and take on forms of social expression like writing, thinking and art. In essence, resistance has political connotations for city life.
Who does a city exist for? “Mainstream” ideology is a two-faced product of global capitalism in the eyes of those involved in production as it mainly serves neocolonialism and neoliberalism. The rhetoric of urban development is used to try to create an image of professionalism and individualistic, market-oriented businesses. The relationship between people and land is consequently ignored.
The Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) urban renewal project in Taipei has not only destroyed buildings, but also the spiritual legacy of families. It is only with a house that many of our memories can have a home. Memories are not an actual record of time and we cannot bring back lost time ourselves; it is only in houses that this can be done.
We have seen the tragedy caused by the forced demolition of houses: an act of coercive, authoritarian behavior. However, we can use the force of public opinion to counter the government’s paralysis and shirking of responsibility. Urban development does not have to be merely about destroying and rebuilding; taking a different, more multi-dimensional approach could help further the development of civic society.
In the same vein, the way the government has gone about setting up a “national happiness index” while remaining totally oblivious to the real problems of the public is nauseating. “Nausea” was an idea expounded by French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who believed the experience of nausea showed that a person was clearly aware of their existence as an individual and the existence of those around them. He also believed that experiencing nausea signified the rejection of the outside world and a thirst to free oneself from that state of nausea. Sartre thus believed the experience of nausea to be the first step toward freedom.
If we reflect on the truths gained from democracy and the civilization process and try to explain the policies from different levels of the public sphere, we will see that what we really need is a more multi-dimensional basis for understanding human affairs, from the planning of environmental and ecological systems to the implementation of urban development and risk prevention. What we do not need is any more strongman politics.
Lin Yaw-sheng is a professor in the Department of Psychology at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Drew Cameron