Effectively pursuing democratic ideals is a complex, difficult, and risky business. To truly make room for democracy, it is first necessary to circumscribe political violence. The public health model of community organizing, which grew out of my research and conversations with Paul de Armond, defines organized political violence as the suppression of free and open inquiry. Rendering ineffective those who practice political violence requires both training and structured reflective engagement.
This paper, which also serves as justification for my approach to an activist political science curriculum, relies heavily on the power of moral sanction — both in constraining violence, and in overcoming laziness, cowardice, and the desire for reassurance that leads people to accept and follow dangerous leaders. It also relies on a respect for the practice and results of research and analysis.
Moral positions, learned slowly over time through social interaction, observation, reflection, and study, are best internalized absent coercion or indoctrination. Moral lessons, conveyed by parents, pastors, teachers, and philosophers, are woven into the societal myths, laws, and codes of behavior that guide us through life. The evolution of human consciousness in defining and redefining morality, however, has encountered a formidable obstacle in the modern spectacles of consumerism and militarism, amid what I would term the perpetual carpet bombing of advertising, propaganda, and amusement. Devoting adequate attention to the discussion and consideration of moral values thus requires the creation of time, space, structures, and activities conducive to weaning and shielding people from these psychic intrusions.
The philosophy behind the public health model of community organizing is that the primary obstacles to engagement are ideological, and that the primary task in overcoming these obstacles is a communicative one. The purpose of this paper is to examine the efficacy of the public health model applied to social and political engagement, and ultimately to spark discussion of and experimentation with strategies and tactics that foster greater autonomy and accountability throughout our society.
Civil society leaders, as such, are burdened with the responsibility to plan and prepare for the eventuality of attack, consciously preparing themselves, their followers, and their allies to both endure and oppose the use of fear, hate, and revenge. Isolation of these social pathogens, inoculation of vulnerable populations, and education of those looking for certainty, comprise key elements of the public health model.
(Jay Taber — recipient of the Defender of Democracy award — is an author, columnist, and research analyst at Public Good Project.)