An incident in real life Britain, I think it was, in which riots broke out over a sudden increase in the cost of education, triggered a dream about a protest of college students that suddenly turned violent. What happened was that a charismatic leader arose spontaneously and suddenly the protestor’s pent-up resentment for government boiled over.
The role of the volunteer leader was crucial, but the bigger role lay with the demonstrators. Like the first soldier that threw down his gun and turned to walk away from the Russian front in 1917, the first grunt that stands up isn’t what counts. It’s the next soldier, and the next, and all that follow their lead, that count. They are what changed a single act of desertion into one of the greatest revolutions of modern times.
Yet the world is most fortunate that this act of rebellion-the British student protest-wasn’t a revolution. Revolutions never go where they’re supposed to, and what control there is lies with the professional agitators, never with the ideals of the volunteers. Which makes sense, I guess, since all that was on the mind of the first disgusted Russian soldier was probably no more profound than “I’m madder than hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
But “madder than hell” isn’t the basis for good government.
It’s the basis for ideologues to exploit the weaknesses of the governments that do exist and then to seize power. That’s how Lenin became a dictator. And it’s very likely to be how the plutocracy is about to seize ultimate power in America. Seize it again, following the eras of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush/Cheney–and seize it even more firmly.
The means, if the plutocrats succeed in 2012, will be the Tea Bag Party. That’s the group that’s “madder than hell” right now. Deluded by hate radio and hate “news”/commentary on Fox TV, they’re today’s biggest, and most dangerous, set of dupes. Dupes of the rich who gleefully finance their gatherings. Dupes of the corporations that, operating with the power that comes with the recent pretense that they are people, replete with all the rights but none of the obligations that come with that designation, write and propagate the most hateful and slanderous ads they can put together. All aimed at frightening people into their “harbor.”
There is a critical mass of people coalescing around the Tea Bag Party that is about ready to explode. That is the nature of culture, I suspect, but it’s emphasized in a democracy. If ours is to survive, the public must prepare itself for the ignition. When the flashpoint comes everything will ignite all at once. That’s our best hope of having some control over the direction and ferocity of the blast. Everyone will be involved. Being ready for it will make all the difference in the outcome, but only if we have gathered sufficiently large numbers.
As an example of how preparation can make a difference, note that the British response to the riotous behavior of the few uncontrolled demonstrators was firm, but measured. The police were ready for the unexpected. Their professionalism may well have been the difference between a spark in the neighborhood of the tinderbox and the explosion of a revolution–although I doubt Britain is anywhere near being ready for a revolution. But give the recession and global warming a few more years, and who’s to say? Give them a few more years in the U.S. and who’s to say?
Fortunately, the greatest strength of democracy is its ability to change peacefully. When I think back on my generation’s fight with our government over Vietnam, I’m angered by the way the right wing has succeeded in distorting history. Fewer than 100 of our people were killed by our government before it relented and withdrew from that evil, evil, war. But young people today think “we lost the Vietnam war.” That’s the kind of bullshit that makes people feel powerless.
We–the people–forced them–the cretins who ran our government then and who’ve run it most of its life–to withdraw. We won. They lost. But they’ve rewritten the story so that our children think it was us who failed. Quite the contrary is true. And therein lies the greatest hope for us now, as our government tortures human beings and imprisons them forever, no matter whether courts find them guilty of crimes or not. It may be hard for most people to remember, but that was totally inconceivable to my generation. “They” have trampled the constitution–all the while speaking as if they were defending it. Their only interest is extending their power.
Make no mistake, revolution is war, and as such it’s death and destruction. It is a horrible experience–one that no one wants, and one my generation came dangerously close to seeing. Thank god we didn’t.
Besides, since revolutions never go as they should anyway, evolution is the far better way to change government. Margaret Mead once pointed out that every significant movement begins with the devotion to purpose of a few dedicated individuals. The role of the volunteers outweighs the role of the greatest leader. Faith in the masses is inherent in faith in democracy, and we, in America, have hope because we still have faith in democracy.
But that faith won’t last unless we, the volunteers, exercise our role responsibly. We, the people, have to challenge the B.S. and the hate. It’s time we start shouting back at the hate mongers. They’ve been unchallenged by those who count most, the average Joe, for far too long.
BTW: Don’t underestimate the role of fiction in preparing us to ignite with purpose rather than chaos. I’ve recently come across an author I highly recommend in that regard: Octavia E Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, and it’s sequel, The Parable of the Talents are excellent novels conveying one view of the future as it may play out under the pressures we see today. It also lays the groundwork for forming a new religion/philosophy/view of reality that will, almost certainly, be needed to influence the changes that are already upon us.
Of course, for a philosophical basis from which to direct the force of the impending explosion, there’s no better source than Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. And, for those too young to have participated in the popularity of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, let’s give it a shout-out as well. We are definitely at a “cusp.”
Dreams are like good fiction. Their essence is always in truth. Teasing it out is the hard part. That and getting it down on paper and then published to the audience. Publishing is easier now that the internet has changed everything. But building an audience requires participation of the readers. Tell your friends if you like this blog.