The Voice of Protest

Christo-Rei. Photo by: Alicia López ÅkerblomLocated on a cliff 133 meters above the sea overlooking the city of Lisbon stands the ‘Christ the King’ statue, or as the Portuguese say ChristoRei.  Inaugurated in 1959, the 80 metre tall statue was not only erected to symbolise the thankfulness for Portugal’s exclusion from the Second World War, it is also a giant testimony to the Catholic dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. In turn the Sacred Heart represents  ”(the) unmitigated love, compassion, and long-suffering of the heart of Christ towards humanity.” Opinions on religion aside, the shrine remains an imposing architectural representation of the broadly Christian norms and values that have dominated Portuguese and in a wider sense European generations for centuries.

Religions of all sorts have to a great extent always determined behavioural rules within various societies, deciding what is correct and what is not. This does not mean societal behaviour is solely determined by religion, but rather through a wide variety of factors. Despite the mercurial nature of behaviour,  members of any society are still confined to the norms and thus rules projected by key actors. Therefore, any noticed behaviour that sufficiently violates these norms will often face consequences. Sociologists have defined this violation as deviance and point out that its form is bound by time and place, meaning it is to be viewed as a trend. Moreover, it is not exclusive to a fixed number of people and can therefore  be found within various layers of society.

Joel Stein, a regular contributor to the Time Magazine well known for the controversial and humorous nature of his articles, wrote about the me generation‘ back in May. Using a combination of surveys, comments from behavioural scientists and personal observations he characterises the people born between 1980 and 2000, ”The Millennials”, as overflowing with ambition and assertiveness resulting in them becoming egoistic narcissists . One of his arguments refers to the Industrial Revolution, as it made the upper class more powerful, because they could move to a city, start a business, read and form organisations. This notion was already shared a long time ago by one of the founding fathers of sociology, E. Durkheim, who argued that the Industrial Revolution caused people to seek egoistic ends rather than those of the community, consequently breaking bonds between the individual and the community. In turn this was later adopted by R. K. Merton in the theory of deviance.

The theory of deviance explains current movements and revolutions that appear across the globe, by referring to the relation between institutions and societal goals. In a nutshell, conformity to the institutions will remain as long as it provides individuals the means to attain their goals. Whenever it fails to do so it may result in deviance which in turn can spark into rebellion. The most recent example being the demolition of a park which sparked major rebellion within Turkey. History has taught us that institutions can change and regimes toppled. However, current movements and revolutions suggest otherwise.

To what extent does rebellion cause politcal change? – Photo by: tranZland

The Occupy movement is an example of deviance resulting in rebellion. The movement has received global media coverage through support from protestors and lasted for more than 2 years . Resulting in a rise in awareness of the decadent ways of the rich 1% among the 99% and ”the failure of our political system. However, despite the acknowledgment from politicians and other actors, real political changes hardly followed. Analysts such as Anthony Barnett  argue that defiance towards the political game is only the first step towards change, the next step should be to consider how to continue further. This is where the Occupy movement fails to deliver an alternative vision. Gene Sharp, expert on non-violent struggles, advised the protestors to ”study how they can actually change the things they don’t like, because simply sitting or staying in a certain place will not change or improve the economic or political system.” Besides Occupy, the Pussy Riot protests also fail to deliver an alternative political vision, as no one really knows what they are fighting for besides getting more ‘likes’. The narrative should transform from ‘I’ into a political perspective, creating a foundation from which further action may commence.

Major technological advances have made the world connected unlike ever before, making outcries of discontent easier to channel towards the broader public. However one needs leaders with a strong political view that can turn angry sentiments into a viable political perspective. Nelson Mandela, Vladimir Lenin and many others were able to do so. One of the strongest protest leaders of all time, Martin Luther King jr. could not have said it more clearly: ”A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus.” Regardless whether future generations will bring us moulders or not, the statue of Christo-Rei will remain standing.


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