Thursday, October 13, 2011


Even a quick look at history shows that from the dawn of civilization or earlier, there are have always been people who try to gain power over others, and then to secure and increase that power. Sometimes they use religion, sometimes armies, and sometimes just money. Combinations of these tools are also effective.

History also shows that populations are generally pretty tolerant of these power-grabbers, and will put up with a lot of abuse. Most people seem to want just to get on with their lives, raise kids, find a comfortable lifestyle, etc. As long as they’re able to do that, they accept the fact that others wield great influence and control over their lives. Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom suggests that we actually like having someone else in charge, since making decisions about everything is very challenging.

However, there’s some threshold of control beyond which a population will rise up and try to overthrow the powers that seem to be oppressing them. One way to look at this is a pendulum swinging between freedom and justice. Freedom, at its most extreme, means no government interference. People do whatever they want, which tends to lead to wealth and power getting concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

Justice, on the other hand, means there’s some government that’s trying to mitigate unfairness by making and enforcing laws, and by collecting taxes to pay for infrastructure and services that are broadly useful: roads, schools, military, etc.

There was a time a couple of centuries ago when political philosophers thought these extremes could be reconciled by having elected governments that rule with the "consent of the governed," but that myth's been largely exploded.  Elections and elected governments are still owned by big money and power.

So all this Occupy This and Occupy That activity is the result of a widespread feeling that things have swung too far in one direction, the direction of freedom and concentrated power, and it’s time to push the pendulum back towards justice. The protesters don’t seem to have a plan for pushing that pendulum, but sometimes just raising consciousness is enough of a start.

A few weeks in, this movement seems to be gaining support rather than fizzling out. Judging from history, either the movement will gain some political power, or it will lead to violence.

I wish I could think of something funny about this.

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