Interfering with each other
Tevita is enjoying the kava served up at the Festival of Democracy, but he is suspicious about the d-word and its proponents. Tevita and I have been having a protracted and bewilderingly rambling series of arguments - the meaning of democracy, the alleged failings of Tonga's Democratic Party, the extent of human sacrifice in pre-Christian Tonga, and the relative fighting abilities of New Zealand's and Tonga's armed forces are a few of the topics we've manage to disagree about - on facebook. This is my favourite passage from our debate:
Scott: I hope you don't drive as randomly as you argue, Tevita, or the traffic on Taufa'ahau Road might be at risk. I have visions of you jumping from first to third gear, doing sudden u turns, spinning your wheels in a cloud of smoke...
Tevita: I am not going to dignify your personal rancour that I may be a helter-skelter driver.
Here is the question from Tevita Motulalo that the Festival of Democracy facebook page has asked its visitors to answer:
What is the difference between pro-democracy advocacy and social engineering?
And here's the response I offered Tevita:
The poser of the question appears to think that 'social engineering' is a bad thing, and seems to believe that it would be damaging for advocates of democracy to be involved in social engineering. But in Tongan Ark, the acclaimed feature length documentary film by Paul Janman about Futa Helu and the 'Atenisi Institute, Helu uses an interview to say "The essence of democracy is interfering with other people'.
Helu was pointing out that anybody who makes an argument in favour of changing some political, economic, or cultural institution is, in a sense, 'interfering' with their fellow citizens, and trying to 'engineer' a different society. And, of course, anybody who argues against changing those same institutions is also 'interfering' and 'engineering'. Just as an ordinary engineer seeks to build objects - bridges, roads, buildings, and so on - that help us live us more effectively, so a social engineer seeks to build and rebuild institutions - parliaments, schools, and so on - that will also serve our needs. And just as different engineers will have different ideas about how to build a bridge, so different people will have different notions about how to create the best parliament, or how to run an education system effectively.
The great thing about democracy, and the reason why it has become such a powerful force over the last couple of centuries, is that it is based on the idea that we should all, as citizens of a society, be able to engage in social engineering. We should all, in other words, have the right to debate and vote on the ways our society should be structured and run. The alternative to democracy is not an absence of social engineering - it is social engineering by a powerful minority, on behalf of the majority. A dictator or absolute monarch engineers all of the institutions of the society in which his subjects are forced to live. I vote for democracy over dictatorship!
Note: the photograph at the top of this post shows 'Ite 'Uhila performing at the opening of the Festival of Democracy art exhibition last Thursday. Although he relocated from West Auckland to the Friendly Islands late last year, 'Ite has deservedly made the 2014 shortlist for the Walters Award, New Zealand's top art prize. I blogged last September about 'Ite's Stowaway, a performance dedicated to the Tongans who travelled to New Zealand in the holds of container ships in the 1970s and '80s. The festival's art show features paintings by both Niu Sila-based Tongans like Tui Emma Gillies and Tongatapuans like Tevita Latu and other members of his legendary Selaka Club.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]