As per my last few posts, I have been really enjoying Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast series. For me, the penultimate episode, Generous Orthodoxy, really resonated with the discussions around #FeesMustFall and for that matter some of the wider discussions in South Africa around land, BEE, and wider discussions around the world regarding refugees and #BlackLivesMatter.
Similar to the #RhodesMustFall movement, there has been a lesser reported movement in the US across a number of universities regarding buildings named after racist benefactors and slave owners. But unlike the success at University of Cape Town, and much like the discussions at Oxford, these movements have had very little success.
In Generous Orthodoxy, Malcolm Gladwell, argues that it is incredibly difficult to make arguments around just cause, when the balance of power and years of ingrained orthodoxy commits to keeping the status quo. The key argument Gladwell postulates is - that the arguments made for the just cause, despite being logical, coherent and articulate; are made to people who are ingrained in their orthodoxy; and arguments from the protesters do not take a position to actually acknowledge the orthodox institution's position's power and place in the world. And in that positioning, Gladwell argues the protesters come across as over bearing and entitled; and thus their arguments are not heard. Instead Gladwell argues the key success criteria for any such movement to proceed would be to show that, yes the prestige of the institution does matter and to save the very prestige of the institution, the courageous and right act is to actually to abandon the institution instead of arguing with the powers directly on logical choices.
In the podcast, Gladwell contrasts the effectiveness of two protesters - to remove the name of US President Wilson from Princeton's School of Governance (because he instituted racist policies that enforced segregation) and another by a highly decorated clergyman who decides to leave the clergy after 60 years because of his church's position on gay marriage. Gladwell argues, that the Princeton movement didn't get the results it warranted because it came across as over bearing and entitled; while the protest over gay marriage, while not yet resolved, has resulted in far more dialogue and changing in internal positions.
There are two direct parallels in South Africa today. In #FeesMustFall, many universities have proposed that academic activities should carry on instead of actually addressing the very real issues surrounding the affordability of higher education. Burying the head in the sand, stating that protests cannot disrupt academic activities; fundamentally does not acknowledge the very real problems highlighted by #FeesMustFall. This does not mean that I support destruction of property - but I very much support the notion that university education must be accessible to all that academically qualify for it.
The second parallel is off course in the ANC. I recall Gov. Mboweni talking about changing the organisation from the inside rather than the outside a number of years ago; but I think it is now very clear that it is actually external forces such as the EFF, that seem to be pushing change. But I would rather not get more into the machinations.
Of all the podcasts in the series, Generous Orthodoxy, gave me the most food for thought. As Galdwell states in the last episode, ultimately change requires courage and sacrifice.