Location: Round Rock, Texas, United States

I maintain: a good sense of humor; a belief in hard work; and eclectic tastes in food, art, and politics.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Social Change and Violence

Election day in November 2005 presents an opportunity to examine how our society attempts to make changes in social contracts. Some states in the U. S. Do not permit easy changes to state constitutions, reasoning that the laws already incorporated should not be changed with every social fad or political season. Other states permit easy changes and place voters in the position of change agents, although social and political activists are usually responsible for the changes proposed. In Texas this year, there are nine (9) constitutional amendments on the ballot. Most are of minor status and could have been handled without amending the state constitution, but some are more significant or at least controversial in their intentions. The law of unintended consequences will determine to what extent the voters will live to regret their votes on some of these issues after their implementation. Of course, the most controversial one in Texas is an amendment that defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman, and the amendment has been named the "anti-gay marriage amendment." The Klu Klux Klan held a rally in Austin prior to the vote and the anti KKK numbers were much greater than the KKK group. The KKK members were demonstrating in favor of the amendment, which could have caused a backlash against passage of the amendment. Early results show that Austin voters went against the amendment by at least 60-40%, while it seems to be passing statewide by an even larger margin. Threats of violence between the KKK and other groups never materialized, partly because the local authorities placed a high priority on a substantial police presence. For better or worse, the ballot box has been used again to defuse a potentially explosive issue, although one should note that this issue may now be subject to the law of unintended consequences. Future disruptions may flow from the actions that may flow from this vote.
Compare the social change that is expected to occur as a result of the voting today with the violent protests sweeping France over the past two weeks. While it is true that the pressures for change are not identical in either country, and it is also true that the U. S. Does have violent protests, it nevertheless remains true that the French seem to have a proclivity for violent social change demonstrations. Some of the French populace would no doubt feel superior to other cultures because of their traditions of liberty, fraternity, and equality. Some trends may be easy to explain. The French revolution was a violent upheaval, and one that removed one regime by the most brutal means. Many other French citizens were also killed during the revolution. Furthermore, consider the famous novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and its chief characters, Jean Valjean and Policeman Javert. To some extent, modern France is still imbued with some the same instincts. There are policemen in France who are tough and there are some who might be Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers). Yet, because of having suffered through two world wars in the twentieth century, France has been trying to both regain its past glory of the empire and also trying to live out their pretentions of being the ideal democracy with justice for all groups. No one should criticize the French for their attempt at social justice, but the instances of violent social change during the past decades shows that their leaders are perceived as weak when facing challenges that require the use of force. Maintaining order is one of the first and most important requirements of democratic societies, and attempting to provide social justice in some utopian compromise between violent activists and law-abiding virtuous citizens often proves to be beyond merely difficult.
The French seem to be finally using force to reduce the violence, and one hopes they succeed without further damage to the social contract which most French citizens continue to desire. The U. S. Society is not in a position to lecture the French, not is the converse true. Still, the U. S. Despite its occasional protest with some violence, usually manages to achieve social changes without extreme disruptive activity. Is the picture really that clear in the U. S.? Could the peaceful activities become more violent in the U. S.? Only the law of unintended consequences can answer that question, and for now, the law is not talking to us.