The struggle over the threatened demolition of four houses in Dapu Borough (大埔) in Miaoli County’s Jhunan Township (竹南) is growing ever fiercer. In the midst of this controversy, it is not hard to see how reactionary rhetoric is being presented in deceptively persuasive terms, while mudslinging is obstructing the possibility of constructive discussion.
For example, Miaoli County Council Speaker Yu Chung-tien (游忠鈿) last week blasted people who have come out in support of the farmers, saying they are basically the same group of people who have been involved in opposing the construction of wind turbines near farmers’ homes in Yuanli Township (苑裡) and supporting the Hualon Corp textile factory strikers. Yu called the activists professional protesters and said that he suspected they were being manipulated by political parties.
Another example is elementary-school principal Chen Zao-zi (陳招池), who, in a commentary signed with her pen name Hanxiake (寒夏客), called on the house owners to make sacrifices for the sake of the locality’s development.
In the council speaker’s case, what he said was only half true. The activists who have come out in support of the various issues may indeed be largely the same group of people, but that does not mean that they are “professionals” or that they are being manipulated by political parties. Rather, it shows how very few people are willing to stand up and show their concern for public affairs and to support people who are facing hardships — so few that, despite the series of controversial issues that have emerged over the years, one still sees the same old familiar faces traveling from one dispute to another.
When looking at news images, I often recognize friends from groups like the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, National Yang-Ming University’s You Yisi Society and National Taiwan University’s Dalawasao Club. They are regularly going off to support disadvantaged people in various areas, and they do so of their own accord and at their own expense, so they can hardly be called professional protesters.
Compare that with the way the Miaoli County Government recently mobilized close to 1,000 people for an indoor rally, with the council speaker saying that they were going to hire buses and hold a counterprotest at the Ministry of the Interior in Taipei; this looked a whole lot more like organized manipulation by a political party, does it not?
As to the opinion piece submitted by the school principal, in which she asks how the four farmers’ families who are resisting forced removal can live with peace of mind when they are only looking after their own narrow interests and do not care about their community’s development and prosperity, her argument is even more tragicomic. Even though a principle of democracy is that things are decided by majority vote, a still more important condition is that one must not break the law or violate human rights. The principle of proportionality embodied in Article 23 of the Republic of China Constitution makes this quite clear. The land owned by the four households is not vital to the development plan; neither do their houses obstruct the passage of large vehicles, as the local government claimed, so the Miaoli County Government’s stubborn stance clearly does not pass the test of the principle of proportionality. The only possible justification is that not demolishing the houses might harm the “overall interest,” but that would only be interests of the county government and commercial developers — not of the general public. It is, therefore, quite reprehensible for the writer to cite this as a reason why the four families should sacrifice their own interests.
Each of the above examples of reactionary rhetoric has its own features. The first example maligns the speaker’s opponents in an attempt to undermine their justification for speaking out, while the second dresses up the private interests of a minority as public interest, while actually seeking to justify the violation of minority interests by a purported majority. These are the kind of reactionary arguments that is often seen when someone is trying to stop society from engaging in rational debate. It is sad to hear such rhetoric from the lips of a politician, who is supposed to speak for the public, and read it from the pen of a teacher, who is traditionally respected as a paragon of virtue and learning.
Chen Tzu-yu is a freelancer.
Translated by Julian Clegg