13 February 2011

Kicking Off, Kicking Over

Well sure, there's a little too much truth in this little snarky item, but let's be fair...you pretty much needed the internet to get any decent discussion of what was going on in Egypt. Or at least you did in the U.S., with broadcast media being what it is. That latter sort of coverage mostly amounting to little more than skipping from points A to P without taking any time to analyze or discuss any of the nuances or context-specific intricacies. Point A being unreflective jubilance at seeing democracy usurp tyranny, and P being the fear-mongering about the Muslim Brotherhood. The former was the usual self-congratulatory end-of-history triumphalist rigmarole; the latter being the standard cynical ploy for racking up viewership by playing the alarmist/paranoia card, irrespective of actual socio-historic fact (such as: the peculiar role that the military plays in Egyptian society, and the fact the MB has its own credibility issues with much of the populace).

But the most annoying cliche of the week-plus had to be all the incessant and wildly hyperbolic banter about the role of social media in all of this. As if it was the prime catalyst, the overarching means to this end. To which one can only roll their eyes and say: Oh, pleeeease.

At any rate, in the face of all that, it was refreshing to read Paul Mason's bit at the BBC, "Twenty Reason Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere." As Mason warns, his list is quite off-the-cuff and generalized. Still, it's one the most sensible and salient things I've read on the matter so far. Of course, it doesn't only pertain to what's transpired in Egypt, but also elsewhere, including Greece and the UK. And there's perhaps some devils lurking in the details which might be pertinent to other major countries, as well. Take, for example, the following items....

1. At the heart if it all is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future.

[. . .]

9. The specifics of economic failure: the rise of mass access to university-level education is a given. Maybe soon even 50% in higher education will be not enough. In most of the world this is being funded by personal indebtedess - so people are making a rational judgement to go into debt so they will be better paid later. However the prospect of ten years of fiscal retrenchment in some countries means they now know they will be poorer than their parents. And the effect has been like throwing a light switch; the prosperity story is replaced with the doom story, even if for individuals reality will be more complex, and not as bad as they expect.

10. This evaporation of a promise is compounded in the more repressive societies and emerging markets because - even where you get rapid economic growth - it cannot absorb the demographic bulge of young people fast enough to deliver rising living standards for enough of them.

11. To amplify: I can't find the quote but one of the historians of the French Revolution of 1789 wrote that it was not the product of poor people but of poor lawyers. You can have political/economic setups that disappoint the poor for generations - but if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection.


Consider the numbers of the newly DIS-employed we've seen these past couple years. And not much being done about it, despite all the talk. So: what was done to the working classes for decades has lately been done to the American middle classes -- and lately many of the latter have been shocked to discover that they too are expendable, only so much surplus human capital in the global free-market economy. But this situation brings -- or eventually will bring -- certain issues to the table in a big way. Because as goes the middle class, so goes a huge potion of the nation's tax base; as well the largest demographic block of voters. At which point, some giant mutant chickens are going to come home to roost. Because let's face it: If there's been one thing that has proven most disruptive to the neoliberalist narrative in recent years, it's been how China has proven that -- contrary to all previous presumptions and known formulae -- yes, there is and can be such a thing as authoritarian state capitalism. At which point certain folk may have to divest themselves of certain notions and ruses, certain illusions. The end result being that maybe the U.S. will retire the last and the largest of its self-defining myths to the proverbial dustbin, and take a few pages from China's book.

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