While Americans appear mildly unsettled or perhaps “ticked off” about recent government revelations, elsewhere in the world citizens move from “unease” to “unrest” and outright “protest.”
The demonstrations that erupted recently in Turkey and then in Brazil and elsewhere are, we are told, filled with the ranks of the young, not a few of whom have noticed something: They are getting a raw deal.
Welcome to the club. We, the citizens of the modern states, whether First World or backwater, are indeed getting raw deals.
Many of the issues of protestors overseas are of the meat-and-potato variety: lack of jobs, burdensome student debts and, in Brazil, a bus-fare rate increase made ugly in the context of cost overruns in taxpayer-supported World Cup and Olympics events.
Earlier, young Turks protested, at first modestly, over planning for a park, but a harsh police crackdown led to more widespread marches, sit-ins, and demonstrations — which now often bring up questions of the current administration’s repressive anti-modernist, anti-freedom agenda.
This more inspirational theme resonates elsewhere, too.
In Bulgaria the issue most protested appears to be police brutality, along with the general spirit of repression. In Latin America, opposition to corruption has moved from old stand-by to vital question of the day.
Actually, the Brazilian protests follow a year of Argentine protests. Nevertheless, to some observers they seem to have “come out of nowhere.” But they are strong: an excess of a million people took to the streets last week, amidst calls for a “general strike” this week.
Unfortunately, no matter how legitimate complaints may be, when a mob forms, violence and looting tend to occur, especially when the mobs consist predominantly of the young.
Nineteen-ninety-nine’s infamous “battle in Seattle” anti-WTO protests provided an excuse for a contingent of “anarchists” to break windows and steal merchandise. Similarly, the Occupy sit-ins encouraged the young and the socially marginal to break laws . . . not merely as protest, but also of a more standard, run-of-the-mill crime variety: vandalism, assault and even rape.
As if to conform to a standard, violence has broken out in Brazil, as well. President Dilma Rousseff claims that her people “cannot live with this violence that shames Brazil,” calling for a crackdown on “every form of violence and vandalism.”
All the while, of course, insisting that the voices of protest must be listened to, while promising to “hold a dialogue” with movement members.
Such is the strange balancing act that governments inevitably get themselves into when protest breaks out. On the one hand, government should suppress violence of person on person: that’s what it’s there for. On the other, government is the problem, the reason for the protests and the violence in the first place.
It’s hard to maintain “clean hands” in such cases.
But then, government rarely has clean hands. As anyone who’s keeping track of the Obama Administration’s abysmal failures and precipitous decline into state crime and scandal must attest.
The sad truth of modern life is that governments provide enough cause for legitimate protest around the clock, 24/7, every month of each year. That it only bursts out at exceptional moments, and during particularly trendy crises, may be good or bad or both. Good, in that it gives us a respite to live our lives — and provides less provocation for those who would call for outright repression, totalitarianism as a way of life. Bad, because the issues raised by protestors almost never receive adequate official response, much less institutional change.
In these United States, the reasons for protest, brought up first by the almost wholly peaceful Tea Party, and then (less coherently, and fuzzed up with inane socialist demands) by the more violent (because more youthful and fashionable?) Occupier movement, never evaporated.
The movements largely have.
The Tea Party, it now appears, was suppressed by the U.S. government, perhaps in collusion with those at the highest reaches of power; the Occupiers ran out of steam, and Obama Worship continued unabated, despite all that has happened since:
- Wars on multiple fronts
- Illegal (and worse yet, immoral) warfare in the form of bombing runs in countries we are allegedly at peace with
- Massive spying on American citizens
And then there’s the enduring issues of economic depression, upper-class bailouts, social stratification, and general regulatory incompetence. Drolly, this has all been “managed” (or at least “overseen”) by folks, many of whom sport a “D” after their state’s abbreviations. With straight faces, they say they are somehow “for” the poor, against racism and classism, and demand an expansion of regulatory purview, even while perpetrating vast programs that hold back the poor, institutionalize racism, and solidify class in America.
And meanwhile, the “raw deal” that lurks over every young American — the financial insolvency of Social Security and its sister welfare state programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, etc. — lurks over most of the world’s welfare states, in similar form: what seemed like a great deal forty or fifty years ago has demonstrably and progressively become a worse deal for each succeeding generation, each new crop of entrants into the system getting less return on their “investments.” This, a tell-tale sign of a Ponzi scheme, should be eliciting shouts of denunciation by every young person affected.
But the financials are difficult to follow. The lack of jobs and the rise in student debt (also on the minds of folks in places like Turkey) are easier to grasp. And protest, if without much effect.
Unfortunately, there’s this tendency amongst protestors to misidentify the inevitable source of their perceived problems, instead demanding more government despite all evidence and common sense to the contrary. Thus protestors tend to echo that uneasy problem that government officials have in the face of protests: government, the cause of most problems, still gets labeled as the solution.
It’s hard to break out of that trap.
The saddest statement I heard was this appraisal, hailing from the BBC, of the general ideological climate: “today capitalism is becoming identified with the rule of unaccountable elites, lack of effective democratic accountability, and repressive policing.”
Well, what is identified here as “capitalism” is obviously not laissez faire capitalism. What’s failed is what’s dominant: crony capitalism. Laissez faire’s truly free markets require a rule of law, the suppression of government corruption, and effective public accountability and government transparency.
But that’s not what we live under. America itself serves, today, not as a beacon of liberty but of institutional control.
That is, of crony capitalism. And worse.
If any protest is called for, it’s protest against that: here in the U.S. as well as in Turkey, Brazil, Bulgaria, and elsewhere. Wherever states run rampant, protest should surge up in response.
Now’s as good a time as any. [ further reading]
June 23, 2013
This column first appeared on Townhall.com.