As I sit back and ruminate about the world and recent events I am struck by the interconnectedness of all things. Nothing, and I mean nothing, happens in a vacuum. Everything is always acting on everything else. Seemingly disconnected events are actually small tributaries feeding the much larger river that makes up the flow of history. And maybe, if you feel that flow, you can change the river’s course. Or not. I have tremendous faith in individuals but very little in humanity as a whole.
Today I’m catching a glimpse of that river. There are four big stories over the last couple of years; the movement and consolidation of wealth from the American middle class to the wealthy, the effect of social media on the world, the loss of American civil rights, and the revolutionary wave sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East. I think I see how these events are connected, and by understanding that we may be able to have a profound influence on the future.
Let’s start with the effects of social media. By intimately connecting large groups of people in real time the world not only becomes smaller, it becomes more politically homogeneous. It’s no coincidence that oppressive regimes shut down the internet as soon as there’s unrest. They know it’s a threat, they just don’t understand that it’s already too late at that point. Social media allows personal contact across borders and the free flow of seemingly innocent information. It allows every day people to really experience the exact way people in other countries are living. No government propaganda, no hollywood idealization, just what your cousin does on Tuesdays. The exchange of all this personal information breeds unrest in a way that can’t be countered by all the propaganda in the world.
It’s pretty easy to see how this would lead to the waves of unrest in the unbelievably repressed Middle Eastern states. The west has had a straight forward and evil deal with Arab despots; keep the oil flowing, keep it cheap, don’t attack Israel, and we won’t care what you do to your people. Go ahead, steal from them, torture them, keep them stupid, poor and repressed. It’s worked well for both sides until now. We get oil, they get rich, and their people were easy to keep in line. Control the media, shut down the newspapers, preach hate in the Mosques, and kill any opposition. If you control the message you can get people to believe anything. Until Twitter ad Facebook screwed it all up. It was suddenly obvious that you were being lied to because Uncle Achmed in Michigan was telling a different story without meaning to. He was just telling you what he ate for lunch. And it all unraveled. Quickly.
But what, you ask, does that have to do with TSA sexual assaults and our shitty schools? Perhaps everything. I’ve been fussing for months about the redistribution of wealth in the good old US of A. There’s been a systematic looting of the middle class by the rich. By continually lowering the top tax brackets, eliminating inheritance taxes and loosening corporate regulation we’ve allowed most of our wealth to be concentrated in a very few hands. Those hands now control the media and most of the government. The Citizens United decision might make it impossible for true democracy. Cities and states are cutting things that were once considered essential services and no one dares point out that the real problem is that rich people aren’t taxed highly enough. Instead unions and firefighters are blamed for having pensions after they retire. The rich have managed to convince us that those wealthy teachers and nurses are at fault for our shitty schools and healthcare system. Right now they’re trying to dismantle unions in Wisconsin because unions probably represent the last hold out of middle class power. What a joke. We’re already living in something close to a third world economy with a few very rich people, a lot of poor people, and no one in between.
If you’re going to economically repress a large group of people you have to make sure they don’t get too feisty or start thinking too much. The best way to do this is through fear and humiliation. TSA anyone? Terrorists are coming to get you and we have to take your civil liberties and your sense of personal power in order to protect you. Just give us your constitutional rights and we’ll keep you safe. Throw in your right to collectively bargain too. Oh, and we need to do it for the children. There now, don’t you feel better? No, I fucking don’t. They stole our money and our way of life and now they’re stealing our rights so that we can’t fight back.
Do you see how this begins to all come together? The whole world is heading to a new political average. As Americans we like to see ourselves as the shining light of freedom. We’d like to see the Middle East as becoming free like
us, and they are. But at the same time we’re becoming less free like them. Naively we thought the new world order would be reached by getting repressive regimes to grant civil rights. In fact, it looks like we’re going to meet them somewhere in the middle. They’ll get a few more rights and their poor will get a few more services and we’ll lose a few rights and whole lot of quality of life.
This is absolutely not their fault, it’s ours. They’re heading the right way. Freedom and civil rights aren’t finite. They can have them without us losing a thing and anyone who suggests otherwise is a racist and a moron. It’s easy to see how the rich and powerful in their countries need to be reined in in order for the great masses to live a little better. They’ve figured it out. We haven’t. We have exactly the same issues but it isn’t as clear because we’re heading in the other direction.
Social media has made the world a much more intimate place. The universality of knowledge brought on by that intimacy is fueling a new political homogeneity. Our actions will determine where that new average settles in. I, for one, think we need to go back to the role of being a shining example of freedom and civil rights. Even if it means peril from terrorists. Even if means taxing the rich back to the pack. Even if it means revolution here too. Or you can settle for police state light and a better kind of poverty. The choice is ours. Via con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.