Friday, November 25, 2011

Revolution watch

Recently, I've been reading The Degradation of the Academic Dogma by Robert Nisbet. Therein, he argues that the academic dogma--that knowledge is important--has been degraded by a slew of changes to the university system between 1945 and 1970. The former date marks the moment at which universities began to accept large amounts of grant money for research from Federal and even State governments; the latter encompasses the student revolutions, which started at Berkley in 1964.

Today, I don't think that many would challenge the notion that the academic dogma has been swept aside in favor of other dogmas. As I've written before, modern universities are, with very few exceptions, at best, glorified trade schools. At their worst, they allow enfeebled middle class minds to hobnob about for half a decade in quasi resorts, without bestowing more than a modicum of knowledge upon the students.

What concerns me here, however, is not the death of the universities, but the prospects for revolution. For Nisbet offers ten criteria by which one may know whether or not a revolution may be imminent. We can use these criteria to apply the test to America as the year 2011 draws to a close.

I should not have to explain that such an examination has nothing to do with whether or not I desire a revolution. Being a hopelessly reactionary, on the whole, I think revolutions do much more harm than good. However, if a system is corrupt and unjust, and makes no motion to better itself, history testifies that if it is not satisfactorily reformed, at some point, it will be overthrown.

1) First, there must be a preceding period of sharp, almost convulsive changes in society, especially in the economic and social spheres.

Check. The Greatest Depression shows no signs of abating. This time, there are no soup lines because, unless one cashiers at a grocery store, it is not apparent which Americans are using welfare money to feed their families. Suffice it to say that these numbers are not insignificant.

The real crisis is still to come, however. By forcing down interest rates, Bernanke encouraged retirees to speculate in the stock market. When the stock market plunges, pension and 401Ks will lose value; those depending on them will be in for a rough ride.

2) Second, there must be a strong feeling of the breakdown of established authority.

Check. For all their infantile ignorance of, well, most things, the Occupy Wall Street protestors are right about this. In Washington, the rules are being changed almost weekly. Whether it was allowing investment banks like Goldman Sachs to act as commercial banks to receive money from the Federal Reserve, or whether it is the refusal to investigate fraud by the banks, in the economic realm, certainly, there is no authority. But the problem is not so much that banks police themselves as that they make bets with taxpayer money, paying executives nice bonuses if the bets work out, and coming to the taxpayer for more money if they do not.

The Republican Party Presidential debates further reinforce this breakdown in authority. With President Obama owned outright by the banks, a Republican candidate could capitalize by insisting that, as President, he would investigate all serious allegations of fraud. Instead, the candidates are telling the hippies to get jobs, which is utterly beside the point.

3) Third, there must be a considerable degree of affluence.

Not yet. This is a paradoxical point: one assumes that the poor would rise up in a revolution, but it is always someone with comparative affluence who leads them. Many of the Founders were merchants; Robespierre and Marat weren't exactly impoverished.

The candidates here are the recently unemployed finance workers. While much of the middle class is faced with the prospect of making due with less money, or else postponing retirement, finance workers--the best and brightest; follow the money--are being forced to come to terms with the fact that they went into the wrong field. You can bet your Goldman stock that those who have been booted off the gravy train are none too pleased about it. My suspicion is that the leaders of the revolution will come from the displaced finance sector.

4) Fourth, there must be a substantial measure of liberalization achieved during the period before the revolution.

Not yet. If anything, the police state has been trying to assert itself all the more readily as of late. And the War on Drugs continues apace. Yes, the Internet has provided a liberalization of sorts--which is why the Congress is hoping to impose a Great Firewall. Still, Nisbet demands that this take place "in political and legal as well as customary terms." So I would say we have a ways to go.

5) Fifth, there must be a striking politicization already going on.

Check. I would say that the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement have demonstrated that pretty well everything is heavily politicized. That the former has been co-opted by the Republicans, and that the latter will almost assuredly become co-opted by the Democrats is, I think, beside the point.

6) Sixth, there must be power-sensitive, power-eager, intellectual elites.

Unsure. Does a civilization which is degraded as ours produce elites anymore? Comparatively, perhaps. Again, I think the displaced finance workers are the group to watch. For decades now, the sharpest and most well-connected students went to Ivy League schools after which they proceeded into finance. If the establishment can't find a way to place these recently unemployed, there are going to be some very bright people, who--and this is important--know the system very well. So far, the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street has been unimpressive. But if the former-bankers get involved, the criticisms of Wall Street will become much more pointed.

7) Seventh, there must be some precipitating incident or event, one that, while in no way necessarily related to internal conditions, succeeds in bringing passions to ever greater boil and, with this, potential mobilization of numbers.

Not yet. It is tempting to claim that police brutality against peaceful protestors has helped mobilize the Occupy Wall Street movement. And this is true to some extent. But it remains a fringe movement, for the time being. I suspect that this event lies somewhere in the not too distant future.

I should note, too, that some of these protestors have turned violent. So not all of the police violence has been unprovoked. But there is no excuse for shooting people in the head with rubber bullets or pepper-spraying innocents. The police are losing the PR battle, which is why I suspect that an over-reaction by the men in blue will facilitate a much more significant uprising.

8) Eighth, the moral issues must somehow be made appealing to substantial numbers.

Not yet. The right remains oblivious to the wrongs done by the banks; the left remains equally oblivious as to the role played by the government in facilitating theft by the banks. Someone will need to connect the dots so that the outdated left-right divide can be thrown out in favor of a dichotomy that makes sense. There are those who try to do right by serving one another without compulsion, and there are those who become rich through government force. That is the real division. Too few realize this--as yet.

9) Ninth, it must be easy to contrast an existing scene of declared corruption, hypocrisy, and insensitivity to human rights with a utopia summoned up either from the romanticized past, some primordial Garden, or from the imaginary future.

Not yet. The continued economic contraction should make this more plausible. When the rationing begins--for the people of course, not the elites--making the case for utopia will be trivial. Before then, it will require a bit more imagination.

10) Tenth, there must be a certain reservoir of guilt in the Establishment of a social order or institution if revolt is to be gotten off to a good start.

No. The elites don't seem to care one bit. Obama has expressed some sympathy with the protestors, but this has been mere rhetoric. Likewise, the entire Republican field, as well as most of Congress, expresses no guilt for what has been done to the people. More importantly, nothing has been done to show that Washington is not run by the bankers. In fact, Obama wishes to give the banks a get out of jail free card in exchange for a fine. That's just not going to be acceptable to the masses--once they figure out what has transpired.

Thus stands the revolution. We shall continue to watch carefully in the months and years to come.

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