Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Guardian on Authoritarian Regimes

If there's one silver lining in the shadow of authoritarian capitalism now faling over the entire globe (a trans-national elite running governments, monopoly corporations, the banking & monetary system, the military and the media for their benefit rather than in the interests of their respective societies), it's the fact that such systems have a short shelf-life. That is, short in the scheme of history; relative to a human life-spand such regimes often last for an unbearably long time before they are overthrown. This past year we saw people stand up to the Mubarak and Gaddafi regimes after some forty years of servitude. Twenty years ago, we saw the dissolution of Communism in Eastern Europe. We've seen unrest everywhere on earth against the new authoritarian austerity capitalism being imposed by elites, but with relatively litle success. When the riots in the Middle East broke out, I was struck by the similarities to Europe's year of revolutions - 1848. In a recent interview, the eminent historian Eric Hobsbawn said the same thing.

Regarding authoritarian regimes, they are ruled by fear. Not only fear, but belief in the system. When those fade, the regime collapses. In this article in The Guardian, Marsha Gessen argues that the Putin regime is on the outs. Her description of the fall of the Soviet regime is very similar to Dmitry Orlov's:
The thing about harsh authoritarian regimes is it's not laws, or courts, or the rigid government hierarchy that makes them run. It is fear. And once the fear is taken out of the equation – suddenly, for the vanishing of fear is always sudden – it becomes clear that these courts, laws and hierarchies do not work. Everything just starts falling apart.

That is what happened here 20 years ago: institutions just stopped taking orders from the Kremlin. The media stopped fearing the censors who still sat in their offices at every media outlet. The police stopped applying absurd regulations, enabling the birth of private enterprise. Ultimately, the heads of the Soviet Union's 15 constituent republics lost their fear – and the empire fell apart, in what by history's standards was the blink of an eye.

In August 1991, when Communist party hardliners tried to wrest back power, fear was the magic component they lacked. Some people got scared, to be sure – but enough did not. Radio journalists continued reporting on the coup and finding ways to broadcast even when their signal was repeatedly cut off and their offices were invaded by special forces. Print journalists from several newspapers that had been shut down got together to put out a joint publication they called the Common Newspaper. And ordinary people, including college students, professionals, and former army military men, flooded into the streets to protect the Moscow white house where Boris Yeltsin sat, personifying democracy.

The Moscow mayor and many other local officials were not frightened by the hardliners, and so refused to obey their decrees. Instead of being paralysed by fear, institutions just kept marching on as usual: the airports worked, the phones did not get shut down, people could get from place to place and communicate with one another. Finally, key generals did not obey the hardliners' orders, forcing them to retreat in disgrace. In the end it was they who were scared.
Vladimir Putin's World Is Falling Apart (The Guardian)

I also wanted to note this nugget from earlier in the article:
A friend sent me a link to a programme broadcast on Russian national television recently (the link was to a YouTube clip, since most people I know do not have actual working television sets – the habit of watching TV has quietly died among the educated class here over the last 10 years).
One can only hope this happens in the U.S.A. You can't afford all the hamburgers and automobiles and cell phone plans and life insurance anyway. And TV has become unwatchable anyway (remember, programs are just delivery vehicles for commericals). The 800,000 or so people who cancelled Netflix is a good start. As John Michael Greer quipped recently, there's a reason it's called 'programming':
An effective response to this predicament, as I’ve proposed here, involves several unfamiliar steps. The first of them is to get out from under the collective thinking of our society and the manufactured popular pseudoculture that holds that collective thinking pinned firmly in place in the minds of most people, so you can make your own decisions about what goes into your mind, instead of letting huge corporations ante up millions of dollars to choose for you. (It still amazes me how many people never wonder why what appears on TV is called "programming.") This is a challenging task, made even more so by the blank incomprehension and active hostility of those who are still down there in the belly of the beast, but the payoff is worth it. The problem with thinking thoughts that you’re told to think by others, after all, is that the people who tell you what to think are doing it for their own advantage, not for yours; think your own thoughts, and doors open before you that the thoughts you’ve been told to think are meant to keep tightly shut.
Anyway, for a hopeful message, check this essay by Charles Hugh Smith - Why I Am Optimistic. A much-needed dose of hope in a system falling apart:

I know many smart, well-informed people expect the worst once the Status Quo (the Savior State and its corporatocracy partners) devolves, and there is abundant evidence of the ugliness of human nature under duress.

But we should temper this Id ugliness with the stronger impulses of community and compassion. If greed and rapaciousness were the dominant forces within human nature, then the species would have either died out at its own hand or been limited to small savage populations kept in check by the predation of neighboring groups, none of which could expand much because inner conflict would limit their ability to grow.

The remarkable success of humanity as a species is not simply the result of a big brain, opposable thumbs, year-round sex, innovation or even language; it is also the result of social and cultural associations that act as a "network" for storing knowledge and good will--what we call technical and social capital.

I often mention that the U.S. has much to learn from so-called Third World countries that are poorer in resources and credit. In many of these countries, the government is the police, the school and the infrastructure of roadways and energy. Many of these countries are systemically corrupt, and the State is the engine of enforcing that corruption.

Rather than something to be embraced and lobbied, involvement with the State is something to be avoided as a risk. In everyday life, people rarely encounter the government except in law enforcement or schooling.

As a result, people depend on their social capital and community for sustenance, support, work and connections.

This is not altruism, it is mutually beneficial.

Once a community dissolves into atomized individuals who each get a payment from the Central State, then they no longer need each other. Rather, other dependents on the State are viewed as competitors for the State's resources.

These atomized, isolated individuals have a perverse relationship with the State and what remains of the community around them: lacking the self-worth earned from work or engagement/investment in a community, then their only outlet for self-identity is consumption: what they wear, eat, drink, etc. as consumers.

Why I Am Optimistic (Of Two Minds)

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