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October 4, 2011 / trajsingh

Pitchforks, terraces and freedom of speech


President Obama told the bankers in 2009 that he was all that stood between them and pitchforks on Wall Street. Well, the protestors are on Wall Street (no pitchforks sighted so far however) and are exercising their right to speak up.

Whereas there are many, many things the banking sector could do better, it seems to me that the ever-widening gap between the average (person/wage/education-level) and the top is in part to blame.

Take this weekend’s Spurs v. Arsenal match. The Arsenal fans shouted abuse at Adebayor, saying he should have died in the terrorist attack on the Togo team at the last African Cup of Nations. The Spurs fans chanted abuse at Arsene Wenger, accusing him of being a paedophile. Whichever individuals were doing this, we can safely assume they won’t do it at home, with their peers, or at the workplace. Yet, they felt free to abuse footballers. Would they have done it 50 years ago when the majority of footballers for a club came from that community, and were not paid very much?

Seemingly, the gap between us so large now that we feel little or no human connection, and so no need to consider what we are saying, and its impact?

(You see something similar on message boards and comment sections, where abuse is the first tool most commentators reach for, hiding safely behind an anonymous electronic forum.)

How one defines the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and where free speech is trumped by common decency is something far from decided.

Certainly the lack of common ground between protestors and bankers has made it hard for either party to understand the other’s actions and motivations. Can we do better? Perhaps the moral dimension suggested by Ed Miliband is a way forward? The King of Bhutan employs a “Gross National Happiness” measure. By any objective standard, it’s flawed. But, just because something is hard to track does not mean it should be ignored. David Cameron has suggested something similar for the UK. And now Miliband is using terms like “good” and “bad” businesses, and why they should be treated differently.

In this scenario, could a business possibly be “good” if it is widening the inequality of a country, or destroying the social compact between capital and labor? Interesting times ahead.

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