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A Better World's In Birth (Maybe)

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opednews.com Headlined to H4 12/20/11

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If it feels to you a bit reminiscent of 1968 these days, that's because it is.

And that's a good thing.

It's starting to look like 2011 was the year of Basta!, when people finally woke up and found the voice with which to say Enough! To say that it comes in the nick of time is like saying that Rick Perry could afford to study a bit harder. In fact, this development is long overdue.

I don't see much evidence to suggest extensive linkage between the various national uprisings we're witnessing, or even much of a contagion effect -- except perhaps in the Middle East -- but nevertheless a host of countries have produced unprecedented popular dissent movements over the last year. In fairness, it's probably accurate to say that 2011 actually started in 2009 in Iran, but this year alone has seen major uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Greece, the UK, the US, and Israel, among others. Now, even Mother Russia has been added to the club, while China appears to continue along on something of a slow boil.

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Such developments often come in generational waves. The events of 1989 might be an example, though they were more regional in nature, and were the product of a singular cause, the collapse of Soviet hegemony in its neighborhood. 1968 provides the better exemplar, when France and Mexico and the US and Czechoslovakia and other countries rather spontaneously and rather separately experienced highly significant near-revolutions. Though the direct relationship between these respective events was rather tenuous, they shared a common ethos of a young generation rejecting the inheritance they were being offered by an older one whose core value system -- rooted in materialism, war, prejudice, hypocrisy and multifarious forms of planetary destruction -- was, oddly enough, increasingly found wanting.

It strikes me that we're seeing some of the very same sort of behavior today. That's no surprise. Indeed, the only shocker to me is that the response has taken so long, and that it continues to be so tame. The foolishness of our day's ruling class day is epic in its proportions. As if that isn't bad enough, foolishness is actually a far too generous diagnosis. Like, say, a Newt Gingrich or a Barack Obama, these are not stupid people, and therefore the malady which besets us is far worse than some product of world class bumbling. More than anything, ours is time characterized by greed, on a scale which can only be compared to a Hitler or a Genghis Kahn, or other great historical predators. That may seem like a ridiculous stretch, but one look at the political mechanics behind our policy indifference (on a good day) to the threat of global warming alone produces an indictment few figures in history can match. Add in the wars based on lies, the absence or dismantling of social programs in order to feed the greed of untaxed billionaires, the mortgaging of our children's futures to pay for the same, and more, and you've got a pretty grim bar tab the oligarchy has run up there.

Lucky for these agents of destruction that heaven and hell is just a myth to feed the little people they exploit so adroitly. It sure would be funny to watch what would happen if one of them actually started believing in that crap and felt compelled to do some serious truth telling, a la Bullworth. Well, funny, that is, for about five minutes, until that individual inevitably came to experience a rather inexplicable but nevertheless quite sudden and quite enduring absence of consciousness. Must have been something he ate. The Lobster Cyanide, perhaps.

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I'd feel a lot better (which is far from saying good) about what they're doing to the rest of us if I thought they were mere idiots. It's just unbearable to me to know that our demise is instead the product of a combined greed and cynicism that is all but unfathomable in its scale. These sociopathic Masters of the Universe have learned just how easy it is to animate and motivate the pathetic army of clones amongst the hoi polloi to do their bidding and hand over all manner of riches to a one-tenth of one-percent who have long ago exceeded even the capacity to spend the additional sums. What mutant DNA or childhood trauma causes a billionaire to rabidly pursue further billions at the cost of millions of people's basic livelihood and dignity? And what missing CPU chips make it so easy for those millions to exchange their modest perch in the middle class for a nice war or two against a brown-skinned dictator who only yesterday was on the CIA payroll, or the warm feelings that come from some tasty racist, sexist or homophobic discrimination closer to home? The mind fairly reels.

Ah, but here we are, nonetheless. It's quite amazing when you think about it. Just at the same moment when particle physicists are on the verge of unlocking the secrets of the Higgs Boson, you can still get tens of millions of slobbering American rednecks to dance in the streets over the prospects of murdering some poor mentally retarded SOB on death-row in Texas whose drunken lawyer slept through the trial, and whose appellate court "justices' didn't see any harm in any of that. Did I mention that the individual in question was not part of the one percent?

At the same time, however, there is some good news, which is that such idiocy seems to fast be going the way of, say, the novelty of Paris Hilton. It's yesterday's titillation, today's embarrassment. Part of that, at the risk of being crass, is owing to pure generational replacement. Older people in America -- as a generation, certainly not always as individuals -- are simply more ignorant, malevolent and backward compared to their grandchildren, which would be more problematic than it is except for the fact that they are at least decent enough to be dying off.

Meanwhile, though, what makes 2011 2011 is the growing sense that waiting for Grandpa Bucephelus to do the right thing and help heal the planet a bit by departing from it is no longer enough. Young people are staring down the business end of both barrels of a wholly bleak future right now, and -- go figure -- they're not happy about it. And, no, thank you very much, Mr. Perry, Ms. Bachmann and friends, they're not very interested in trading their quality of life for a blivet full of prejudices, phony wars, or some laughably contrary but far less laughably pernicious shuckster's moral lessons derived from the tribal skirmishes among certain Jordan river valley nomads thousands of years ago.

Yeah, imagine that. You take a bunch of twenty year-olds, load them up with debt from all the misadventures and crimes that you (adding special circumstances to your original felony) refused to even pay for, show them a future of living at home with mom and dad while fighting amongst themselves for the honor of toiling away in an unpaid internship at some soul-numbing corporate palace of predation, and -- surprise, surprise -- they get a bit rowdy in response. Like I said, the only questions are why it's taken so long and why is the response so tame?

That latter question may grow moot over time, as it did, for example in Libya. Meanwhile, though, despite the seeming spontaneous and indigenous quality of each of these various national uprisings, it seems to me that they share three things in common.

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First, the participants recognize an absence of real democracy in their governing structures. In some cases, such as Egypt's thirty year dictatorship complete with sham elections where HMFIC Mubarak would win over 90 percent of the vote, this is more obvious than in others. Like, say, for example, the American system, where sham elections instead consistently give more than 90 percent of the vote to the two wings of the same Corporate Party. Regardless of whether you have the choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum, or are merely confined to voting for Tweedle D. Dumb alone, people everywhere seem to be recognizing that they in fact have no choice, and thus no democracy, at all. If Americans, for example, ever had a one-person-one-vote system, they sure don't anymore. Now it's strictly one-dollar-one-vote. Heads, corporate America gets subsidies, deregulation and externalized production costs; tails, you pay their taxes for them. Usually, though, it's heads and tails, at the same time.

Which brings us to the second characteristic that these cases have in common. It's not an accident that real democracy is off for an extended holiday in each of these countries. It must be, in order that the kleptocracies these nations have actually become can continue to function, largely unimpeded and uninterrupted. Turn your nose up in haughty disgust at Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe if you want (and you definitely should), but I've got some bad news for you. Bad Bob's ugly regime is only different in scale and overtness from those of Egypt, Russia or the United States. To choose what is merely the most prominent example, right now the United States spends more on its military than all the other countries of the world combined -- that's nearly 200 nations, for those of you keeping score at home -- and yet has no serious enemies anywhere on the horizon. Gee, I wonder why that is. Then there's the case of global warming, which appears to merely be the greatest threat to imperil the planet since the last massive meteor hit and wiped out most life on Earth. No biggie, though. I'm sure it's all just a massive coincidence that we're doing nothing about the collective future of ten billion people and the fact that filthy rich, well-connected fossil fuel peddling corporations would lose money if we did.

All of which leads to a third commonality in each of these cases, which is that of young people surveying the landscape of their future and being a whole lot less than excited about the wreckage they see already strewn thereupon. And what's not to like? Corporate loyalty to employees and lifetime tenure in good career jobs went out with the transistor radio. Public commitment to inexpensive quality education got real quaint real fast when investor bots like Mitt Romney figured out there was money to be made there. Thirty years of tax cuts for the wealthy have to be paid for, and those folks sure as hell not going to be doing it, leaving the tab to you and me instead. The one environment on the one planet we have has been knowingly pissed away by corporate Strangeloves who have absolutely set the all-time world record for sociopathy. But, hey, so what if it's hot and stormy outside? These kids will be hunkered down in their parents' basements for the rest of their lives, anyhow, at least when they're not serving up double mocha lattes.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)

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