In the current AIG bonus outrage, a face has finally been given to an amorphous economic mess. People are angry, and now they have a target (justified or not) for the vitriol being directed toward our current national circumstances. Radical social change, in the form of revolution, has been spawned from much less.
Earlier today, I posted a link to a New York Times article on the heat that AIG executives are currently feeling. Needless to say, I’m not particularly sympathetic. While I don’t think anyone in the progressive blogosphere is overtly calling for a Marie Antoinette-style social accounting, there’s a certain visceral satisfaction in knowing that the AIG bonus kerfluffle is causing a bit of angst among the upper crust.
The NY Times article implies that AIG execs are scared for their families and children due to anonymous / unsourced “death threats”. That’s completely understandable, if true. However, I find it odd that according to the same article, none of the unidentified execs who’ve expressed this concern have actually contacted their local authorities. Wouldn’t it make sense that if someone were receiving such threats, that they’d be getting on the phone to their local constabulary and demanding that someone in law enforcement investigate the threats? Or that they’d at least be packing for a quick getaway to the house in Aruba for a week or two until the current shitstorm passes?
One other thing that’s caught my interest over the past few days is a variety of comments I’ve read regarding the potential for a populist uprising – AIG bonuses only having been the straw that broke the camel’s back. While some of the comments seem supportive, many of them work a variation on an old Beatles theme: “You say you want a revolution; we’d all like to see the plan.”
The funny thing is, the lyrics to the song, Revolution can be viewed as Lennon and McCartney’s parody answer to the concern trolls of their day. Or not. Pick your interpretation.
In the late 1960′s, at the height of the Vietnam war, The Beatles were trying to tell us something:
You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world…
You say you got a real solution
Well you know
We’d all love to see the plan…
Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were visionaries. We can argue all day (and probably a college semester worth of academic analysis) over the meaning of the lyrics. But if you view the lyrics in terms of current day discourse in internet forums, the words make a lot of sense as applied to the online “want a plan” concern trolls.
There has been no revolution in the course of history, including America’s own revolution in the 18th century, that really had a plan, per se. Revolution, peaceful or otherwise, has always been the spawn of perceived social injustice.
True social change happens because we, the people finally hit a breaking point. Revolutionary incidents just happen – there aren’t flow charts, power point presentations, war gaming, etc. – just a critical mass of pissed off people of regular means who have finally gotten tired of the status quo.
Revolution tends to be preceded by attempts to change the system internally. When those attempts are co-opted from the inside, or fail due to brutal oppression, people start to try to force the desired social change from the margins of society. Incident by incident, the margins start to push toward the center, and if / when momentum for change builds to a rolling boil, either the lid flies off the pot (violent revolution) or cooler heads from both sides reach for the heat controls and turn down the flame via accommodation of grievances.
But let’s be clear: revolution never starts with a plan. It begins with true anger (and disparate incidents) that eventually coalesce into a larger action. When that larger action grows sufficiently to become self-sustaining, change finally happens – and then the power point slides can be developed to map out a path forward.
Revolution is messy and untidy, by lack of an inherent plan or design. Lennon and McCartney parrot today’s concern trolls:
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know you can count me out
Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright…
It’s hard to believe that anyone in a civilized society in 2009 would actually view violent civil unrest as a desirable outcome of social injustice, and we can all hope that it will never come to such a conclusion. But many years ago, long before the Beatles pressed their first vinyl, Thomas Jefferson expressed a “natural law” that even Clarence Thomas could get behind:
…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government…
We’ve reached a point of national self-examination where it’s time to truly reconsider the direction we’re heading, and America’s contribution to global society.
Barack Obama was elected president on a platform of step-change, not incremental improvements. The 2006 congressional tidal wave that carried over to 2008 was born from the same desire. I opined many months ago that to affect real change, Obama had to be willing to be a one term president, and totally dismantle the status quo, no matter how loud the howls from the right wing oligarchs.
That’s the first stage of revolution described above: where attempts need to be made to work from the inside. And that’s OK, as far as it goes. If Obama is not willing to take the chances, and is not willing to be a one term president, then it’s easy to imagine that the margins will start to push on the outside of the envelope. That’s when it gets ugly.
We can all hope and pray that the need for such a radical social overhaul will never become so black and white, because there will always be charismatic (and less desirable) potential leaders ready to fill the void from the margins. The end result could be truly less desirable. Unfortunately, that is exactly the outcome that our government and its corporate benefactors seem to be courting.
Some days, it’s almost like they’re daring us.