Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Let's Not Have a Revolution

cross-posted from Dagblog

Dear Authorities:

I would like very much not to have a revolution. I know that you don't want one either. I prefer my change peaceful and democratic. You, I suspect, prefer any changes to be strictly top-down, decided upon by the existing power structure. But neither of us want lawless, spasmodic change. So please take my advice: leave the protestors the hell alone.

I know like the Occupy Protests seem like too much to you, that they're going on too long and spreading too far. There is a reason that you think this. You are completely out of your minds. You have lost all sense of perspective.

We have real problems in this country, problems that long since became unacceptable. And he have a power structure that declares even the most modest, common-sense solutions to those problems unacceptable. Limiting the pay of bankers whose banks were being propped up with tax dollars? Impossible! Raise the taxes of the super-wealthy by a small increment! Unthinkable! Use the Federal Reserve to reduce the unemployment rate, as the Federal Reserve is officially charged to do? Too radical! Fine. But don't tell us that being angry about these things is unacceptable, too. Something's got to give. And if you can't deal with peaceful protests, you're essentially demanding less peaceful protests somewhere down the line.

It's been nine percent unemployment for years now. The miracle is that the protests didn't start earlier. If you ignore the suffering of large groups of citizens over long periods of time, this is what happens. Now, it's obvious that Washington, Wall Street, and the mainstream media have no interest in taking the concerns of average Americans into account. At the moment, the big kerfuffle in Washington is a fight between the party that wants to pass some counter-productive budget cuts in the middle of a long recession and the party that wants to pass massive counter-productive budget cuts. And the hand-wringing is that the bipartisan "supercommittee" failed to reach a collegial consensus on how much to hurt the economy. That's madness.

Mass protests serve an important political function. They give the people in power a reality check. When angry people are in the street, it's time to figure out what's not working. A healthy and sane government tries to figure out the underlying problem and fix it, so that the anger diminishes. A rigid and unhealthy regime commits to ignoring those problems, and tries to shut down the protests so it can go back to ignoring them. That is an invitation for the public anger to grow, and for the public to give up on the regime. And that, bizarrely, is what we've seen in America over the last weeks. I never thought that I would see it in this country. And it is very disheartening to see this foolish and counter-productive police response to such manageable and reasonably-sized protests. The overreaction suggests that many of our ruling class are much more frightened, and much less practical, than I ever dreamed. It's amazing that they would draw the line this early.

It's shocking to find that America's current rulers are stupid enough to go to what is essentially the Hosni Mubarak playbook, especially when they just saw how that works out. It's even more disturbing to think that centrist American politicians have been looking at the Arab Spring and identifying with the dictators. That they've drawn exactly the wrong conclusion, trying to crack down harder on protests. Here's the lesson: you can't crack down hard enough, ever. Sooner or later, you have to give people what they want. If you don't, they'll get it without you.

America has survived because it's been flexible; the system has changed over time to keep from breaking down completely. We haven't had a revolution for the last two centuries because we've always managed to reform the system enough to maintain order; maybe not to reform it as much as we should have, but enough that we didn't completely break down.

This is one of those times that demand big changes, the kind that have seemed out of the question to the people in charge. But those changes have to come, one way or another. They are no longer out of the question. If the people in charge want to stay in charge, they need to do the reforming. It that seems impossible to them, sooner or later it will happen without them. It looks today like it will happen without them. My only hope is to get rid of those people through our existing political process, before something worse happens. Revolutions are messy and people get hurt. Bad decisions get made. I'd like to live the rest of my life without one. But if the voters' welfare doesn't matter any more, there's going to be a change. Resisting change with violence is the surest way to make that change violent. So, please, authorities: call off the cops, take a deep breath, and let's figure this out at the ballot box.

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