Simulation Two, day two

Or: the Day When We Were Interrupted (planned, of course :-) By Radical Environmentalists. McDonald's Corporation presented first on Friday, by design; about halfway through their discussion of how wonderful franchising was as a way of promoting local development, we were set upon by four chanting protesters who interrupted the meeting demanding to speak in the name of the earth. Their leader tied herself to a chair, setting up the continuation of the semi-annual tradition of having someone carried out of the room in a chair…

The teams discussed the question of whether the environmentalists should be allowed to speak, raising issues related to representativeness (several people wanted to know who the group represented, which was deliberately unclear; transnational social movements often advance universalist claims that are not tied to any specific constituency) and feasibility (the group's spokespeople declared that we needed to put people and the planet first, to which a Pakistani representative replied that for their poor country, any jobs were better than no jobs, and a Polish representative replied that "putting the planet first" was too vague to serve as an actually workable solution to the very serious problems that the meeting had been called to address). The radicals were allowed three minutes of floor-time by a 4-2 vote of the participating teams, after which Security (ably played this year by a willing Ph.D. student wearing dark sunglasses indoors) had to escort the them from the conference.

I think that we were successful in keeping the protest a secret from the students until it actually happened.

One of the things I like best about simulations as a teaching tool for certain topics is that it allows us to dramatize the challenges faced by actors grappling with thorny issues like "development" in a way that simply talking or reading about them simply does not. Student representatives had to try to speak in character, even though I know that many of them are privately sympathetic to those environmental concerns, and had to confront the disquieting intervention of a social movement speaking in categorical terms -- which poses the "politics and morality" question in a way that people cannot possibly miss. Weber argued that politics was the slow boring of hard boards, and that political issues couldn't be settled by science or by reason or even by ethical fiat; everything in politics is therefore the selection of the lesser evil. Social movements provide a dramatic occasion for this dilemma, since they appear to speak in non-political (or supra-political) terms that brook no compromise. And it is unclear what any political representative ought to do with their claims.

We shall have to see what this interruption, which calls the whole framework of the simulated negotiations into question, does to the course of events on the simulation's final day next Tuesday. Will anyone else channel the Lorax, and will environmental concerns make it onto a priority list (the conference document) that is at the moment almost exclusively a neoliberal declaration of principles?

[Posted with ecto]

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