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On Persuasion

A non-confrontational style is wonderful for keeping us comfortable, giving us the appearance of wisdom, and maintaining popularity.  I indulge in it quite often.

Non-confrontation makes me seem as wise as Gandalf and as loving as Ghandi.  I get to tell myself that people won’t understand if I, say, kick their Volvo or, more gnomically, their little hybrid, as it nudges its way through a crowd of pedestrians (two points, three points, respectively).  Wouldn’t it just put bad karma into the air and create misunderstanding?  What good does it do?  Isn’t it better to smile?  And who appointed me as the guardian of public morals anyhow?

But every so often I see myself thirty years from now.  The long retro gaze, like the one we direct now a century and a half later at antebellum carriage drivers in the slaveholding South, tends to focus me a bit.  We judge people in that era not by their smiles but by their frowns.  Southern politesse has an odd way of looking, a century and a half out, like complicity.

I also see myself thirty years ago, driving everywhere and as an environmentalist telling myself I didn’t know what else we could do, and I wonder where the kickers were.  And then non-confrontation doesn’t look so admirable.  It doesn’t even seem friendly.  It seems like a form of contempt.  No one gave enough of a shit about me to get in my way.  I get to own my exhaust backtrail from the Seventies, own up to it, possess it, carry it around with me till the day I die.  I had thoughts without kickers.

Now here’s the kicker, I’d like to say.  But there wasn’t one.

I’m not saying I would have understood the first kick, or any of the first concussive syllables of vigorous nonviolence directed at my actions.  Certainly writing and speech would have helped, if I’d paid attention to them.  Any form of persuasive speech might have made the case that a bit of my own willingness to hurt others, to drive around in a Chrysler Imperial and spread smoke into the atmosphere, could be bounced back in homeopathic proportions and get me thinking.

Long persuasive speech is nice.  But even the brute monosyllable of resistance—the thunk, the yell, the grimace—has a way of lingering.  One thunk, all by itself, is worth itself.  But several thunks, like their dark twin the votes of collusion in democracy, have a way of aggregating.  One thunk is justice, two is love, three is a movement.  Unlike the mob rule called democracy, direct action doesn’t need a majority to make real change.  Imagine just the tiny percentage of people who wasted their votes in the last election by ‘making a statement’ (I guess the statement was, ‘we agree with this system keeping us marginalized’), loosed upon their city as committed, persistent thunkers.

Thinking is fine, but thunking is visceral, powerful.  And thunking is just one of a legion of nonviolent wrenchings of the system upon which we can call, whereas democracy just has the single yes-grunt of the vote.  Who’d have thunk it?

Should we really be spending a lot of our time explaining to someone in a heavily subsidized Canadian Hummer that on top of invoking the American Sixth Fleet in his every urban thrash, on top of spreading cancer fumes in a splay pattern through a dozen schoolyards, on top of intimidating a hundred pedestrians in every trip to the store he was too lazy to walk to and for which cardiological malfeasance he will only too gladly put in his bills to the Ontario health system one day, that on top of all this, he hasn’t used his fucking turn signal?  His innocence, his not getting it, is a form of extravagent indulgence.  Pedestrians who think such innocence should be cherished are showing the real contempt—as if such a human being were not capable of thought.  The paradox here is that a thunk does the real think.

We urge moving forward both ways, by long, thoughtful persuasion, but also with the exclamation mark that summarizes a thought without being one.  May we on most days have the explanatory patience and equilibrium of Ghandolfi, but may we have the courage to punctuate, as well.  Punctuated equilibrium.  Let punk eek be our style.

We move with the law, and we move even if the law has lost its way.  The hook of a good opening line, but also the thunk that is beyond thought.  A good first line, but something to close with, too.  As the magician’s staff said, we’re going to do it by hook or by crook.

DAVID Ker THOMSON drives (out of the city) a couple of times a year.  Friendly, if robust, kicks to his quarter panels will be received in a spirit of gratitude. He can be reached at: dave.thomson@utoronto.ca

WORDS THAT STICK

 

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