Monday, February 21, 2011

Subtle Factors of a Global Revolution: From Athens to Cairo to Madison and Beyond

As someone who has long been involved with revolutionary politics, I find the insurrectionary activities that are currently manifesting around the world to be quite heartening.  Have no doubt that the hour is getting late in terms of turning back the tides of environmental degradation, industrial warfare, and the authoritarian subjectification of populations around across globe.  Nevertheless, if only for matters of dignity, it will never be too late to take a stand against the oppressive and destructive forces which are laying waste to the world.  The intention of this article is to analyze modern revolutionary tendencies and their potential for bringing about fundamental changes to society.

If I may be so bold, so as to substantiate this current analysis, I would like to point out that my analysis written in early December accurately predicted unrest in the Middle East -- well before the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings occurred and well before any widespread tendencies for such activity was broadly acknowledged.  In particular... I pointed to Yemen and Saudi Arabia as potential focal points -- but I was generally assessing the revolutionary potential of that particular region of the world.  Take that for what it's worth, but I am not the most prolific writer and have been humbled and awed by the events manifesting in that region.  In the original draft of this article I had written facetiously of "egg on my face" because it was not Yemen or Saudi Arabia which had yet risen up -- but things have suddenly started to heat up in those locales as well, and I am truly humbled by the courageous actions of the people in that part of the world.  I make no claims as a prophet with a crystal ball, but merely as someone who has been paying attention to current events and historical context.  My analysis hardly approached the accuracy of a Nostradamus, but who else was truly, and overtly, predicting such events (roughly two months before they happened)? 

Perhaps this prefacing reminder is simple vanity, but people seem to have a short memory and often only acknowledge the work of ivory tower academics or prominent celebrity journalists -- while ignoring those of us who have been in the streets and who regularly play a part in promoting radical perspectives.  Rarely have I felt so justified in tooting my own horn.  So... I beg the forgiveness of any readers for that unbecoming indulgence while I now proceed to the current analysis.

What inspires a protest, a riot, an insurrection, or a revolution? 

The last major incident of widespread unrest in the United States was arguably the Rodney King Uprising
"...sparked on April 29, 1992, when a jury acquitted four white Los Angeles Police Department officers accused in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King following a high-speed pursuit. Thousands of people in the Los Angeles area rioted over the six days following the verdict. Widespread looting, assault, arson and murder occurred, and property damages topped roughly US$1 billion. In all, 53 people died during the riots and thousands more were injured."
The key word in that assessment is "sparked."  People across the country were not up in arms because they loved Rodney King so much that this particular injustice drove them into the streets!  Rather, it was the systemic injustice which they had all witnessed, experienced, and could relate to on a daily basis.  The excessive force applied to Rodney King was a recorded symbol of what could happen, and what had already happened, to countless others.  In this case... it turned out to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back -- cities across the U.S. experienced riots.  Symbolic sparks like this are almost always present whenever a protest, a riot, an insurrection, or a revolution occurs.

Regarding recent events in the Middle East, it must be acknowledged that the information released by Wikileaks was not the sole reason (or even a central reason) behind the recent revolutionary activity there.  Nevertheless, I think strong arguments have been made which suggest that the Cablegate documents did provide clear new insight about the corruption taking place in the region -- and Wikileaks was on the tips of tongues throughout the Mideast.  Even amongst dignified populations (as have been revealed in  Tunisia and Egypt), a revolution will need more than kindling, more than a fuse, and more than even central issues waiting to explode -- revolutions need sparks.  Such sparks are somewhat intangible, and very hard to quantify or measure, but they are necessary.  I maintain that Wikileaks created such a spark.      

Beyond sparks, the exact conditions which will cause a population to revolt are impossible to specify with perfect accuracy.  The various factors leading to an insurrection are infinite and come together in different ways, in different individuals, within different populations, at different times, in differing locales.  However, when conditions are just so, and when all the factors combine in the right way... the revolutionary force of humanity is unleashed.  The potential energy of this latent force is always present -- and at times like these it becomes obvious and undeniable. 

If revolution were a simple matter of dignity -- and if people had a more general intolerance of injustice -- most of human society would already be organized in a fundamentally different manner.  If it was simply a matter of meeting basic human needs... class warfare would already be far more noticeable and the poor would be fighting far more ferociously.  If it were simply a matter of wanting to be free... police states around the world would never have been allowed to get so out of control in the first place. 

The sad fact is... revolutions are not often brought about by the slow degradation of living conditions or the crawl of creeping fascism.  Like the proverbial boiling frog, humans are embarrassingly tolerant of slowly lowered standards of living, the slow removal of basic civil liberties, and even the destruction of their home in the biosphere.  And, even when we are burdened with these indignities at a more rapid pace... we can still be distracted by the old "bread and circuses" routine.

Have no doubt that modern rulers (leaders only by default) have a keen understanding of these principles regarding mass psychology.  Further... technologies for control and distraction are more widely dispersed and more effective than ever. 

Humans are the most domesticated of all the animals. 

Another factor, which needs much more consideration, is the fact that Homo sapiens simply did not evolve to deal with the extent of the crisis which has been forced upon us in a relatively short amount of time.  Remember that 10,000 years (the approximate amount of time which the project of civilization has been underway) is not much time at all in evolutionary terms.  And the conditions of civilization have changed more in the last 100 years than in the previous 10,000.  For most of humankind's existence we have not had to deal with traffic jams in urban populations.  We have not previously had to deal with e-waste, a surveillance state, the threats of nuclear waste & fallout, global warming, an oceanic garbage vortex, water shortages, et cetera

This is to say nothing of the sudden shift in the structure of our social arrangements.  The breakdown of the extended and, now, even the nuclear family -- for example.  The idea of sending the kids off to school while you head to the cubicle or assembly line is a fairly recent development in terms of evolutionary behavior -- and the efficacy of such behavior is far from proven to be beneficial for any involved.  Even if you believe in the myth of a stark hierarchical power difference between a primitive chieftain and the rest of the tribe... it's nothing compared to the inequality between some corporate CEOs and their employees on sweatshop assembly lines!  It's nothing compared to the difference between the inner-city cop and the inner-city youth.  It's nothing compared to the difference between the U.S. Department of Defense and the innocent civilian populations around the world who get destroyed in unnecessary imperialistic wars.  (According to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross... since the mid 20th century, modern means of warfare have killed 10 civilians for each military casualty.) 

The causes and need for revolt are relatively new in the grand scheme of things while, at the same time, generations of humans have slowly been conditioned to tolerate the increasing burdens which generally threaten their ways of life.  Homo sapiens are the most domesticated of animals -- and domestication usually implies docility and/or obedience.  However, somewhat paradoxically, it is the educated and cultured amongst us who are most likely to recognize the full extent of the threats facing humanity.  Continuing with this line of thought, but more to the point... will those who recognize the multitude of threats be able to effectively organize and fight back against those who have been trained and conditioned for violence and obedience?  That last question begs another...

Who is it that the human police dogs obey -- and how did those abusive masters gain control of their pets?!

It may seem tangential, but I feel that the human species was something of an aberration.  Their success thus far has arguably been the result of an obsessive-compulsive technological mindset and a potentially related tendency towards violence (demonstrably more violent than other species).  It has been suggested by modern anthropologists that Homo sapiens were not the most intellectually developed members of the Homo genus when they appeared on the Earth.  Rather, they may have simply had longer legs, higher levels of testosterone, and more violent tendencies than the Neanderthals (who had already been making use of advanced linguistic abilities and simple tools).  So, despite an inferior intellect, Homo sapiens, with their obsessive compulsive proclivity to make sharper spears (along with more of an inclination to rape and pillage), may have wiped the Neanderthals out.  In any event... these characteristics often appear to be prevalent in modern Homo sapiens. 

Admittedly, the speculative ideas presented in that last paragraph can be debated (or even dismissed entirely).  And since I'm not trying to make modern humanity seem irredeemable (everyone on every continent comes from the same genetic stock), the question more appropriately should become...  why do the worst among us -- the most violent and domineering -- rise to positions of power and influence?  If human society thrives on the basis of mutual aid and cooperation, how did we get to the full-spectrum crisis which we are now presented?  The answer which seems most valid to me is explained by the science of ponerology

In general terms... the idea of ponerology suggests that psychopathic tendencies are a genetic defect which appear naturally in about one percent of any given population (regardless or race, location, or social structure).  Traits of the psychopathic condition include the inability to feel empathy or to have true sympathetic concerns for others.  On the contrary, sadism is far more likely to appear in psychopaths.  But while some sadistic psychopaths are revealed in the form of serial killers (or as lesser sadists), others exist in more functional and socially influential roles.  This latter group operates in a Machiavellian manner by their very nature.  They accumulate wealth and power easily because there is nothing they won't do to achieve their goals (and some of them do get exposed).  However, because cold-blooded acts and bald-faced lies are not the social norm, it sometimes becomes inconceivably difficult for others to recognize what these individuals are doing.  Ergo... people found Ted Bundy charming and friendly while others believed that Hitler couldn't really have meant all of the things he proposed.  Along similar lines, if one looked into it, they could probably find countless examples of successful businessmen throughout history who were willing to do anything to get ahead.  And the rest of the populace trusts in these people because they are successfully discreet and effective at getting what they personally want.          
The relevance of these ideas becomes apparent when one considers any, or perhaps all, of the modern world leaders.  The depths of their corruption never seems to be fully plumbed.  Around the world it is the same story about how oppressive, cruel, and shortsighted most world leaders are.  As wars rage, and as the biosphere collapses, it's amazing that these people never seem to take a truly meaningful moral stance.  They have power... but the bombs still fall, famines continue, resources are extracted, pollution accumulates, and these people only become more wealthy and prestigious.   

Worse still is the influence which these world leaders (again, only by default) have on their populations.  When they have seized the technological podium of modern mass communications... they are effectively presented as reasonable and well-intentioned people.  And this prestigious presentation of psychopathic ideas has a psychological effect on the rest of society -- creating cognitive dissonance about their leaders and their best interests.  In the U.S., for example, we are still told that we're free despite the fact that more people in are imprisoned per-capita (and in total numbers) than in any other nation in the world.  Statistically, in per-capita numbers, police in this country kill more people than the Egyptian police did under Mubarak.  And, if you want to talk about torture, imprisonment is quite exactly that.  But the mainstream media, propped up by THE PATHOCRACY, always misdirects the local population with the idea of external threats (real or imagined) and coaxes them into continued support for further atrocities. 

Regarding the use of cutting-edge technology for such purposes... it perhaps ought to be remembered that Adolf Hitler was the first person featured in a live international television broadcast (opening the 1936 Olympics in Berlin).  This is a very obvious example of a corrupt regime using cutting edge media technology, but the same principle had already been put into place -- and has certainly been utilized to this very day. 

Beyond the media being used to legitimize wars or corrupt social regimes, modern humanity has been conditioned in far more subtle ways (that may prove to be at least as harmful).  I won't reiterate the various social changes that may have altered and manipulated the consciousness of modern humanity, but I will quote Mark Twain:  "If you ever find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause, and reflect."  I always remember this quote when confronted with the popular ideas that property is sacrosanct, agriculture is benign, and technology is neutral. 

So... after power has been centralizing for thousands of years; after a dramatic shift away from relatively sustainable human societies; after being manipulated by modern forms of media; and after another probable evolutionary shift in the last 10,000 years; why would humanity revolt?  How can humanity revolt?  Is it even possible for humanity to revolt?  Can those who recognize the modern crisis overcome the psychopaths who have seized power, the masses who unwittingly empower them, and the human attack dogs who obediently follow the orders of their psychopathic masters? 

Can a broadly comprehensive revolution occur in the modern world? 

The necessary cultural shift -- the fundamental change necessary for human survival -- is not guaranteed to occur.  However, it is the position of this article that such a revolutionary shift is possible.  The need for such a fundamental revolution is already recognized by a few and, to some extent, steps toward the shift are being taken. 

The key may be to connect seemingly disparate and widespread uprisings so that the participants can see that all of our struggles are actually connected -- despite the artificial lines (such as nationality, race, and religion) which are used to keep us apart.  And this has already been happening (to an extent) as some modern communication techniques have, at least temporarily and partially, come out from the control of the pathocrats.  I refuse to overstate how much of a role social media has played in recent events, but I can not be as dismissive as some have been.  Uprisings around the world have been connected around the world (despite language barriers) and the causes, the hopes, the dreams, and the solidarity of people everywhere has been shown. 

As Egyptians rose up, many Americans (and the international community) offered, at least, our moral support.  When the U.S. President Barack Obama initially supported the dictator Mubarak, it had to be clear to him that this was quite an unpopular action.  Simultaneously, the public interest in Egypt demanded that journalists from this country cover the events of the revolution.  Further... the people of this country would not morally condone the abuse of American journalists any more than the abuse of Egyptian journalists.  On top of that all, or underlying it, we had the social media resources to reveal much of the falsification that the mainstream corporate media tried to present to us.  When the politicians here supported the dictators there...  they were revealed for what they were -- and many of us sided, in varying tangible degrees, with the people of Egypt. 

Now... fast forward a few weeks to the largest labor protest in years taking place in Madison Wisconsin.  Although the comparison on placards was sometimes derided... the comparison between the Egyptian President Mubarak and the corrupt Governor Scott Walker was accurately made.  Of course the issues involved are not exactly the same... but both of those politicians were beholden to corporate interests and the police state.  Both politicians were behaving in as corrupt a manner as they thought they could get away with.  Both were diminishing the power and influence of regular people while promoting their own self-interests and the corrupt interests of other wealthy individuals.  In any event... the people of the Egypt became aware of the struggles of the people in Wisconsin.  And, in a watershed moment, pizza was ordered locally, from a call made in Egypt, to feed the people who were camping in the state Capitol.  Such a seemingly token act of solidarity should not be taken for granted.  It became apparent that many of us are aware, at least to some extent, of the struggles taking place around the world.  The Egyptians realized we were in solidarity with them, and they, in turn, showed some solidarity with the people in Wisconsin.       

Similarly... there have been connections made between the struggles in Greece, London, Libya, Bahrain, and beyond.  We are all being made aware that the prominent political leaders around the world are all thoroughly corrupt.  Beyond that... we're observing and learning various protest tactics from our brothers and sisters around the world.  So, for example, the people in Greece are now considering the tactic of holding a key area of Athens in much the same way that Egyptians held Tahrir Square in Cairo. 

Furthermore, we can see how key struggles are directly connected across international lines.  To give another example from Madison... it's been suggested that bringing home 151 Wisconsin soldiers from Afghanistan would more than pay for Wisconsin's supposed "budget crisis" (while ending the war altogether would save Wisconsin $1.7 billion dollars).  And how much of a threat has the Al Queda bogeyman really ever posed to Wisconsin?  And how would that justify killing Afghanistan civilians in the first place?!

Beyond international solidarity, local issues must be looked at as a collective whole.  The same government in Wisconsin which is now threatening the collective bargaining rights of unions has also presided over the creation of the most racist prison system in the United States.  More minorities are imprisoned in Wisconsin, per capita, than in any other state.  And the system which has allowed both these injustices to manifest is also the same system which allowed Madison's water supply to be contaminated by the 4th highest levels of Chromium 6 in the United States.  These may all seem like unrelated issues... but these are all realities which have been brought about by a system which has obviously not functioned well for a long time.  It is imperative that all these issues be looked at collectively -- otherwise people will only end up hacking at Thoreau's "branches of evil" while the root of the problem continues to thrive.  And, mind you, I've been writing about Madison Wisconsin -- regularly voted as one of the best places to live in the United States! 

Whose side are you on?

A lot of people promote pacifism, and a non-violent revolution would be ideal.  While I personally was once something of a firebrand, I haven't directly participated in violent or illegal protest for over a decade.  I simply don't have the stomache for it anymore and I'm not cut out for it. The vast majority of my political activities I would now consider to be wholly non-violent (and I fully expect them to continue being so).  Nevertheless... I will not condemn those who have had their lives wrecked and then choose to fight back against the system.  I wouldn't even condemn a vanguard who fought on their behalf -- because we are all in this mess together. 

So, for example, let's think about an individual in Madison Wisconsin who quite possibly may have lost a brother in Afghanistan, whose uncle was incarcerated for a trumped-up drug offense, whose father drank too much of the carcinogenic water, and whose mother might now lose her job with the state.  If such an individual smashed a window at the bank which foreclosed on his grandmother... I would not condemn them. 

First of all, I don't consider the destruction of non-sentient (or non-essential) property to be violent.  Secondly... I wouldn't condemn this individual even if they resisted arrest for their action.  The real crime is the injustice of the system and the person disrupting "business as usual" is not the villain.  On the contrary, it is the person who perpetuates and protects this corrupt order of things that is really the violent criminal.  Those who get this backward are the same individuals who perpetuate the Orwellian ideas that war=peace, freedom=slavery, and Big Brother loves you. 

On a related note, while others have had much to say on this subject, a particular phenomenon at recent protests in America should be mentioned... Some protesters have served the role of the "peace police."  They preach non-violence, and demand peaceful protest in accordance with the constraints of "their" protest (over which they feel complete ownership), but they are quick to point out to the authorities (or even help subdue) anyone else who may be engaged in any illegal protest activity.  Non-violence is only demanded of their fellow protesters and they are very quick to justify, tolerate, or even assist the violence of the police -- who are the ones overwhelmingly engaged in violent activity during recent protests.  Those people who claim to be non-violent and then assist the state with violent actions are amongst the worst types of hypocrites.  They are like lapdogs who serve their masters with barking in much the same way that the attack dogs in riot gear do.    

Also, there seems to be much cognitive dissonance about the violence of contemporary (and historical) revolutionary struggles.  For example... many people people credit the success of the civil rights movement in the United States, and the struggle for Indian independence from Britain, solely to the non-violent efforts of people like Martin Luther King & Mohandas Gandhi.  The reality is that there were widespread militant riots during both of their respective movements -- and that certainly played a part in the repressive authoritarian regimes modifying their positions.  Similarly, some people seem to believe that the recent revolutionary activity in Egypt was non-violent -- but the documented reality of events shows something very different.  The uprising in Egypt began on January 25, 2011 on a national holiday which Mubarak had instituted a couple years earlier as National Police Day.  On the 26th, police stations started to burn.  Throughout the revolt, many of the police forces in Egypt were overwhelmed by masses of protesters.  The idea that it was a non-violent revolution merely conforms to the church & state-approved methods of how a revolution should be conducted.  They want the masses to believe that non-violently is the only way for a revolution to succeed -- but the details of history paint a much different picture.  

In any event... you need to ask yourself -- whose side are you on?  Are you serving the interests of your family and community?  Are you on the side of innocent civilians around the globe?  Or, are you on the side of the psychopathic state and the corrupt system which is laying waste to everything in it's path? 

Closing Thoughts

Previously I've submitted some ideas about how I think a revolutionary community could be maintained in the United States, and I stand by those suggestions.  But at this time I'd just like to urge the general public to become slightly more involved in basic revolutionary struggles.  I realize that not everyone, including myself, can always be on the front lines of the struggle.  But we can at least try to stay abreast of developing events around the world and, at least in spirit, we can try to support contemporary revolutionaries. 

Also... my earlier statements in this article were not at all intended to be entirely dismissive of non-violent revolutionary actions.  On the contrary, I think such tactics could be highly effective, or at least pragmatically useful, if they were broadly utilized.  My major issue with the modern proponents of such tactics is that they are often inconsistent, sometimes hypocritical, and apparently not willing to make the deep sacrifices that effective ahimsa requires.  Few seem willing to do anything even as pedestrian as, say, blocking traffic -- and few things today seem to compare to the Freedom Riders or Gandhian tactics of the past.  In fact, non-violence is often conflated with legality when it should be remembered that MLK & Gandhi were both, technically, criminals (according to the state).

Finally, I would like to apologize again for any potential arrogance or presumptuousness on my part.  I realize that my perspective is not complete, my analysis sometimes has flaws, and there may even be mistakes with my grammar or spelling.  But I strongly wish to encourage discussion about the ideas presented in this article and would be more than willing to have a dialogue with people on the forums at Infoshop News, Anarchist News, and/or via Twitter.

For A Revolutionary Uprising,

Nihilo Zero