You see all this stuff about the kid who got tasered and arrested for asking John Kerry a few impertinent questions (or for asking a few questions impertinently, take your pick)?
- There are plenty of queues where, if you ask the wrong questions, you are likely to get dragged off in cuffs. It could happen to you in a shopping centre, or a fast food restaurant, or at the bank. You only have to know the right questions to ask.
- There are plenty of situations where there are no queues in the first place that might allow you to pose your questions. If you attempt to circumvent the conventional channels (e-mail, fax, handwritten letter with lots of underlining in red) in order to ask questions of the chief executive of a private corporation, by say, walking through the front door of a building and heading straight for his office, you are also likely to be arrested. A recurring scene in TV programmes and films is the bold hero brushing past the secretary saying ‘you can’t go in there…’. In real life, getting as far as the secretary would be quite an achievement.
- There is talk of how this has sparked a debate about free speech. In many places in the supposedly democratic societies I know about, free speech doesn’t exist. You may be ‘free’ to open your mouth and express your opinions in the sense that you are not gagged, but there are consequences. When expressing yourself freely conflicts with the objectives of the authority to which you are beholden -for, say, your pay, your security or your health- you will suffer consequences. Since most people are painfully aware of the consequences, they don’t express themselves freely.
- Many forms of authority do not take kindly to being questioned directly, especially when those questions reasonably expose the unreasonableness of authority. At this point, authority sees no need to provide an explanation: it just resorts to whatever powers it has to put an end to the discussion. See the case of this 70 year old man who was not allowed to buy a bottle of wine because he had no ID.
- In this case, it wasn’t John Kerry’s authority that was being questioned, but the authority that permitted the event in the first place on the understanding that it would take place in accordance with certain conventions. So, to question the validity of the 2004 elections, the charade of the two party system in the US, and the idea that Kerry did not get where he was by simply being a great guy, is to question the legitimacy of the authority that allows for the event to take place. In doing so, he invited the fearful footsoldiers to act. Failure on their part to act would have invited punishment from their superiors in the security hierarchy. If instead of asking those questions, he’d asked about how nice Kerry’s hair looked, how great Kerry thought American democracy was, and to what extent Kerry thought Americans were under attack from evil, the footsoldiers would have had an easy afternoon.