The revolutionary movements now sweeping a dozen countries may very well herald a new chapter in world history. I mean, we are seeing simultaneously a number of events that even singly would have been one of the biggest stories of the year in the preceding decades. This is pretty incredible when one thinks about it. I think it’s safe to say that before the dust settles, the post World War Two world, the world I grew up in, will be history. I know there’s a ton of commentary going on of course, and likely no matter what I say, someone else has said it better elsewhere. However, even if just to see my own thoughts on the screen and get discussion from my readers, here are some thoughts on these ongoing events.
For one thing, it’s fascinating and somewhat gratifying to me that the “know-it-all” pundits and their ilk are completely baffled by this. Events are unfolding that simply don’t fit into the stupid narratives that have dominated public discourse the past decade. And efforts to warp events into some sort of Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy or claim this is all being orchestrated from Tehran are just silly.
By the same token, anyone remember the US invasion of Iraq? Well, after it was clear to almost everyone that there had been no WMDs, the pro invasion faction went into overdrive justifying the invasion and occupation by claiming we were “spreading democracy.” And now that people all over the world are marching in the streets demanding democracy, how come they aren’t getting a chorus of support from the pundits who touted the benefits of democracy in Iraq? Can anyone say “homicidal hypocrisy?” Snort.
It seems pretty clear that these are all popular revolts. Most westerners, especially Americans, simply don’t understand the crushing poverty and repression many of the world’s people live under. Or worse, they buy into the propaganda that all these despots are “independent” and blame the people for their own situation. Nope, most of the world’s governments are more or less armed gangs financed by the west. Many westerners don’t understand or don’t want to understand that, but the people living in these countries have no doubts. They see their rulers getting fabulously wealthy while depriving them not only of the most basic political rights, they also have virtually no economic opportunities. Think about that, living in a country where you can’t vote or even form political parties, having almost no chance of getting a good job, while your leaders get fabulously wealthy plundering your country’s wealth so that westerners can live lives of ease and comfort.
No wonder they are revolting. One of the big questions is, why now? I suspect it’s a combination of factors, in fact that’s pretty much a certainty. Increasing economic disparity combined with increasing levels of education and modern communications systems is a safe bet. I’m wondering if I might have been on the mark with a meme I’ve been repeating for decades:
“By making it possible for one man to fight ten men, gunpowder ended feudalism as a viable system. By making it possible for one man to fight a hundred men, smokeless gunpowder ended colonialism as a viable system. By making it possible for one man to fight a million men, the computer will end the neocolonial era.”
My prediction may very well be coming true, though of course in only the most general way. Or in a more specific way, repressive governments maintain power mainly through fear, if they just shoot anyone who sticks their head up, everyone stays scared and keeps their head down. With cell phones and such, huge numbers of people can simultaneously stick their heads up so to speak, and the government can’t shoot them all.
Another part of this is I think we’re also seeing a growth in nationalism, especially in the Arab world. What this means is that soldiers who a few decades ago wouldn’t have hesitated to fire on crowds because they knew their clan/family members weren’t in the crowd, now think of themselves as Egyptians or Libyans, etc. And they are far more hesitant to fire on what they now see as their fellow citizens. A huge number of the world’s “countries” were simply lines on the map drawn by colonial powers, but that may be changing. Those who know history know that nationalism is a relatively new idea, and that Europe went through some pretty turbulent times as people started to primarily identify themselves as French, Italian, German, etc instead of by their state or city of origin. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that nationalism is catching on in the rest of the world, it’s certainly been encouraged for decades.
In some ways that’s one of the delicious ironies of this situation. Since World War Two (especially) the USA has touted itself as the bearer of freedom, democracy, and economic advantage in the world, and simultaneously doing exactly the opposite. Turns out people were listening, and taking things into their own hands since it’s clear to just about all of them that the USA talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. Talk about being hoist by our own petard.
Which leads to my final observation, one which I am sure many people have arrived at, though by different routes I am sure. We are exactly one stupid (intended or unintended) incident away from a wave of anti-Americanism in the Middle East like we could never have imagined. Turns people can read, and even if Americans didn’t pay much attention to Wikileaks, other people did and found out that American meddling and support of their “leaders” was well documented. They don’t hate us for their freedom, they hate us cause we’ve been screwing them for decades. I don’t want to see American Embassies burning and Americans being hunted down in the streets. That would be a terrible thing in its own right, and our government’s response would almost certainly be violent in the extreme.
So I hope that no one in Washington or the US military does anything stupid, and I hope that none of our enemies figures out a way to frame us for something stupid, or goad us into doing something stupid. We can’t afford a world war for one thing, and huge numbers of Americans would suffer and die both at home and abroad. Let’s hope cool heads prevail, and let’s hope the revolutionaries prevail and establish freedom and democracy from China to Morocco. I can handle that, so can America. It has to be a good thing if freedom and democracy become a reality for much of the world, instead of a slogan, right?
(The above painting dates from 1848 and is public domain under US copyright law. It’s: Painting of Battle at Soufflot barricades at Rue Soufflot Street on 24 June 1848. The artist was Horace Vernet. Thousands were killed in the fighting in Paris in 1848, among other revolutions in Europe. 1848 was called the Year of Revolution. Coming soon, posts on Libya, Israel, and Wisconsin. Unless something bigger happens first … kinda creepy typing that knowing it’s not a joke.)