Monday, January 24, 2011

Over-Estimating the Distance to Tunis?

MeanMesa always finds accounts of the citizens of a country making "corrections" interesting news.  However, the reporting from the North African state of Tunisia may be a truly refreshing exception from the rule of such cases, one which might be even more exciting than usual.

You know, even more exciting that the "news reporting" media fraud might imply.

In the Tunisia case, we see not only unusual "corrections" for a predominantly Muslim country, but we also see what may well prove to be unusual results from such "corrections," refreshingly new, promising results.

Muslim countries face essentially the same oligarchic threat as the one we face here in the US.  The birth and growth of oligarchies anywhere marks a suspiciously similar thread.  The story from fetus to full grown, anti-social monster replicates itself with variations, but the essential tone of each stage remains a constant.

In the case of Tunisia, we must follow the development story of a "would-be Caliphate" rather than an over fed hedge fund manager or Koch Industry executive.  But, just as we have said the stories are similar, we must also say that the "dis-assembly" of a Caliphate may also be unsettlingly -- at least to the short sighted billionaire here at home -- also similar.

When the Caliph, as the new oligarch, is about to breathe his first breath, the conditions of the maternity ward have already been formed in a way which makes his rise to power possible.  One feature of the nursery is an environment where the distribution of wealth is, for practical purposes, roughly even.  In most cases, this means that all the players are equally poor.

During the toddler's first successes, no matter whether legitimate or the product of violence, the observing players may actually find his elevation to be reassuring, an existential exception to the previous static poverty.  Perhaps, there is a great hope that this new oligarch will replace the old one and implement policies based on better habits.  When the old oligarchy has been a brutal, extractive colonial force from a distant place, all the better.

The new "big man" will, at least, be a local boy.

There may be a period when the new oligarch finds himself co-existing with the old regime, but the competitive nature of irrational power will reveal itself soon enough.  The "toddler phase" of the Caliph will begin to attract several useful new accessories from the existing culture.

A few citizens, close friends of the little oligarch, will also see themselves advanced to unanticipated prosperity.  A few of the local "holy men" may be inclined to grant the toddler a few validating attributes from the local religion.  Ever larger portions of the security forces -- the army, a militia, judges, churches or simply thugs -- will find it necessary to defend the little fellow's new wealth.

Oligarchic adolescence may well have its own "high point."  This will occur when the wealth of the Caliph riches economic "critical mass," the point where the riches have grown so immense that they are now able to "take care of themselves" quite independently.  The security forces at this point become necessary tools rather than previously appreciated friends.

As a young adult, the Caliph-oligarch finds that all sorts of "forbidden fruits" denied him in his younger years become suddenly available without limit.  Risky investment which might add to the prosperity of his country of origin can be set aside for further indulgence in, of course, greater security forces and the exploitation of every possible avenue along which his now already formidable wealth may be increased.

It is about at this point that the rank and file of the Caliph's subjects begin to reflect.  Comparisons are made between the "new boss" and the "old boss."  However, the conclusions of those reflections, now facing a security mechanism beyond challenge, have no destiny other than to quietly simmer.  The question might surface: "How much money will it he need before he can begin to simply settle down and let us breathe?"

Of course I'll have to throw a little something together for my wife's grave (image source)
All this discussion would be academic is it could not, at some point, return to the topic of this posting. 

The final chapter in the history of our Caliph will look something like Tunisia.  The "complaints" of the common folk about the, uh, breathing problems which have been foisted upon them will materialize.  This may seem to be a rather sudden development, but, of course, it is not.  The roots, stalk and branches have been growing in the background of the Caliph for too long.

It turns out, this "gestation period" for the fledging "correction" has actually been slow but steady.  Abstract?  Alien?  Distant?  Not particularly relevant to our domestic situation?  Let's look at the new blossums flowering on the plant.

No jobs.  An extractive economic policy.  A mature, unhealthy, overly wealthy, suffocating status quo validated by myth and force in the absence of economic equality.  Oooops.  Maybe we have "over estimated" the distance to Tunis!

Our "news media fraud" has moved just a little to prepare us for what may come next.  Little snippets here and there have suggested that the neighbors of Tunis with similar situations may be moving toward "corrections" of their own.  When the local religionists have long been enjoying their own "payments" to keep the, by now, embarrassingly dissolute, Caliph on his feet, everyone gets nervous when the "corrections" are secular.

Let's look at some "Google stuff" about such corrections in general. 

When Change Is Not Enough: The Seven Steps To Revolution

Sara Robinson's picture

"Those who make peaceful evolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable."
— John F. Kennedy

(MeanMesa Note: The quoted article's author, James C. Davies,  cites another source, Crane Briton, who laid out seven "tentative uniformities" he argued were the common precursors which set the stage for modern revolutionsMeanMesa highly recommends that visitors read this entire essay by Sara Robinson here)

1. Soaring, Then Crashing

Davies notes that revolutions don't happen in traditional societies that are stable and static — where people have their place, things are as they've always been, and nobody expects any of that to change. Rather, modern revolutions — particularly the progressive-minded ones in which people emerge from the fray with greater rights and equality — happen in economically advancing societies, always at the point where a long period of rising living standards and high, hopeful expectations comes to a crashing end, leaving the citizens in an ugly and disgruntled mood.

2. They Call It A Class War

Progressive modern democracies run on mutual trust between classes and a shared vision of the common good that binds widely disparate groups together. Now, we're also about to re-learn the historical lesson that liberals like flat hierarchies, racial and religious tolerance, and easy class mobility not because we're soft-headed and soft-hearted — but because, unlike short-sighted conservatives, we understand that tight social cohesion is our most reliable and powerful bulwark against the kinds of revolutions that bring down great economies, nations and cultures.

3. Deserted Intellectuals

Mere unrest among the working and middle classes, all by itself, isn't enough. Revolutions require leaders — and those always come from the professional and intellectual classes. In most times and places, these groups (which also include military officers) usually enjoy comfortable ties to the upper classes, and access to a certain level of power. But if those connections become frayed and weak, and the disaffected intellectuals make common cause with the lower classes, revolution becomes almost inevitable.

4. Incompetent Government

As this blog has long argued, conservatives invariably govern badly because they don't really believe that government should exist at all — except, perhaps, as a way to funnel the peoples' tax money into the pockets of party insiders. This conflicted (if not outright hostile) attitude toward government can't possibly lead to any outcome other than bad management, bad policy, and eventually such horrendously bad social and economic outcomes that people are forced into the streets to hold their leaders to account.

5. Gutless Wonders in the Ruling Class

Revolution becomes necessary when the ruling classes fail in their duty to lead. Most of the major modern political revolutions occurred at moments when the world was changing rapidly — and the country's leaders dealt with it by dropping back into denial and clinging defiantly to the old, profitable, and familiar status quo. New technologies, new ideas, and new economic opportunities were emerging; and there came a time when ignoring them was no longer an option. When the leaders failed to step forward boldly to lead their people through the looming and necessary transformations, the people rebelled.

6. Fiscal Irresponsibility

As we've seen, revolutions follow in the wake of national economic reversals. Almost always, these reversals occur when inept and corrupt governments mismanage the national economy to the point of indebtedness, bankruptcy, and currency collapse.

7. Inept and Inconsistent Use of Force

The final criterion for revolution is this: The government no longer exercises force in a way that people find fair or consistent. And this can happen in all kinds of ways. 

Domestically, there's uneven sentencing, where some people get the maximum and others get cut loose without penalty — and neither outcome has any connection to the actual circumstances of the crime (though it often correlates all too closely with race, class, and the ability to afford a good lawyer). Unchecked police brutality (tasers, for example) that hardens public perception against the constabulary. Unwarranted police surveillance and legal harassment of law-abiding citizens going about their business. Different kinds of law enforcement for different neighborhoods. The use of government force to silence critics. And let's not forget the unconstitutional restriction of free speech and free assembly rights. 

Abroad, there's the misuse of military force, which forces the country to pour its blood and treasure into misadventures that offer no clear advantage for the nation. These misadventures not only reduce the country's international prestige and contribute to economic declines; they often create a class of displaced soldiers who return home with both the skills and the motivation to turn political unrest into a full-fledged shooting war.
* * *
"A revolutionary state of mind requires the continued, even habitual but dynamic expectation of greater opportunity to satisfy basic needs...but the necessary additional ingredient is a persistent, unrelenting threat to the satisfaction of those needs: not a threat which actually returns people to a state of sheer survival but which put them in the mental state where they believe they will not be able to satisfy one or more basic needs....The crucial factor is the vague or specific fear that ground gained over a long period of time will be quickly lost... [This fear] generates when the existing government suppresses or is blamed for suppressing such opportunity."
Caltech sociologist James C. Davies
American Sociological Review, 1962

And, here we can include a little map.  The "lightening arrows" have been added by MeanMesa

However, more interestingly perhaps, the "lightening arrows" have been placed on some Tunisian "neighbors," that is, "neighbors" either as a result of  simple geography or as a result of conditions of religionist and economic similarity or both.  The "distance" between Tunisia and the "neighbors" turns out to be the distance between an index finger and a "tweeting cell phone's key pad."

We have to begin to think what the Middle East will look like should a few of these tweets incite the same response on the "receiving end" as they did on the "sending end."

How many Muslim countries can be on the "Receiving End" of the Tweets?
Meanwhile, thanks to the last election, we here in the US have no time to fiddle with such irrelevant developments.  We must, instead, pay fastidious attention to the latest commands from our own oligarchs.  Nothing else is important.  We can rest very comfortably in the knowledge that none of this turmoil shall have any negative effect whatsoever on the prosperity of our own masters.

You know, it can't happen here.

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