Saturday, July 3, 2010

Modern Torches and Pitchforks

I was thinking the other day, what do modern torches and pitchforks look like? Are they even possible now, what with police and other security forces controlling the public?

Of course, "Torches and Pitchforks" is more of a metaphor these days. Nobody expects you to turn up with a real pitchfork. Instead, it's an image of an angry mob, armed with simple weapons, but despite this they are quite a thing to fear. Mob mentality is reduced to very simple, and often brutal, outcomes. They are often out for vengeance, they are very angry, perhaps irrationally so. They might do thinks that any single member of the mob would not do on their own.

These days though, I'm not sure these mobs will form. The problem that I see is that modern society isn't built the same way it used to be. There is not a strong community bond in this consumer based, mall centric world. It's every person for themselves, and people live next door to each other without knowing their names or wanting to know their names. This is a consequence of compressed living spaces of cities, and the mind-boggling number of people that live in them. If everyone tried to have relationships with each other, well, it just couldn't and wouldn't work. It's the way we create space when there is none.

This is in the cities, anyway, I think country people are probably a different matter. They have the space, and the time. They do get to know each other, and do help each other, and do look after each other more. They also tend to be more friendly, practical and self-sufficient, and not inconsequentially, armed. I like 'em, on the whole. I don't think they are more or less likely to form mobs either.

Anyway, getting back to the city-folk for a minute, what would it look like if they did go into a serious form of unrest? I wonder if the recent outburst in Greece against Austerity measures are examples of this. Riots. People with bandanna's on their faces throwing rocks and petrol bombs at police lines, and overturning and burning cars. Is this what it now comes to? Or perhaps it's a more passive affair, subtly subverted by a host of interested groups, such as the "tea parties". I think it might start out passively, but given time, will move on to more violent variants as the results are not forthcoming.

If this is the case, then is this likely to come wholesale to every city in the US and elsewhere, as the global crisis deepens and deepens, and livelihoods are destroyed? I wonder about Johnny six-pack, sitting on the couch, overweight, watching American Idol and eating cheese doodles. Is he going to get mad enough to start throwing rocks? What will it take, where is the breaking point? When is he going to get of his large ass, open his window and shout "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!". Will it be too late, will it matter and what will happen next?

It partly comes down to the question of what keeps society together now. Is it the mass media - drowning out any independent thought with an endless stream of happy talk drivel and fantasy? Is it the self-medication, the "take this pill and you will feel better" generation? Is it the safety net, the unemployment benefits, the food stamps, the free medical care? The isolation so everyone feels powerless? Is it simply the lack of a charismatic and inspiring leader to provide the spark for unrest?

I think the Internet may well play a part in bringing like-minded people together. This might sound like a geeky fantasy to you, and perhaps it is, but I don't see any other form of "quiet assembly" that's possible these days. I noticed an article on the SMH about the idea of an "internet kill switch" for the president of the USA. There may be more to this than first meets the eye.

It's worth pondering these tricky questions I think because it will expose a bit of how this might play out. The pressure is increasing. Who will be in that mob, and what they will be chanting about?

I think that it's a test of society cohesion (in the US at least) with the recent ending of a number of long unemployment benefit programs, the oil spill, and the threat of the double dip recession (although I believe the first dip never really ended, it was just papered over for a while).

Perhaps, and this is something some libertarians fear, the heart of the average American is truly dead and he will never get off the couch. He would rather keep taking the pill of denial until he is destitute and effectively a slave or sent off to die in a bogus war. Perhaps the controlling "powers that be" are so effective that they can do whatever they like without consequence. The bread and circuses will keep the peace.

I don't think so, or I don't want to think so. I think there is a point where things will go from smouldering to fire, and it might happen a lot faster than those powers predict or suspect. There is provision in the declaration of independence that reads "..That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it..". I wonder if this "right" to abolish is to be tested, and how well it will all go down. Discontent can happen at the polling booth, of course, but that is a slow process and it's a choice between the lesser of two evils. If the whole house of cards needs to come down, can this actually be done?

I know I have asked more questions than given answers here, but that is because my thinking on this topic (and knowledge, for sure) is incomplete. Time will provide some of the answers I am looking for I guess. Comments welcome.

ps. Just read this article, which touches on some of this points I have raised, particularly in the beginning.