“May you live in interesting times”

“May you live in interesting times”

May 1st, 2011 // 6:20 pm @

This is supposed to be an old Chinese curse, whether it originated in china or not is unclear, but what is important is that it was a curse. “Interesting times” were ones of profound change, and therefore dangerous.

We live in “Interesting times” and the latest incarnation of those times, is the change in the Middle East, but this is but a small part of mans development and movement towards freedom that has spanned history.

The move towards personal liberty has been the driving force of human change for many centuries. There have been set backs but this movement has driven much of our history, and continues to do so.

From the freeing of the surfs, through early limited democracy, through the collapse of the class system, to full and inclusive democracy. Through the waning of the influence of institutions, such as the church or monarchies, to personal cultural freedom over sexual orientation, dress and behavior. All through this process the driving force has been personal liberty in its widest form.

And through history various governments and institutions have tried to stop this march to personal freedom, and yet none has been truly successful. Some have, and some continue to block this march by force or the threat of force. This can be at least for a time successful, but it simply does not work and has not worked in the long term.

Repression is based on fear not force, you cannot exert daily force on millions of subjects, it is the threat of force that silences the populous, and it is on this threat that dictators depend.

The moment that fear is removed or overcome by the majority, then the dictator is finished. The best recent example was in the old East Germany, when it became public that Gorbachev would not use force to support Honecker (East German Communist leader), the East German state and the Berlin wall collapsed in days.

The situation in the Middle East has many similarities to the collapse of the Soviet block. Leaders in the Middle East have a number of options in front of them now:

  • Buy silence, a favorite of the Saudi royal family, and one that will probably be successful in the short term. But there is a truth, you can rent a man’s conscience, you cannot buy it.
  • Repression, this again can be successful in the short term, particularly if the world is not watching as in Zimbabwe where Mugabe has been repressing his people, black and white for decades with limited international action. It is harder when the world is watching it tends to trigger severe sanctions, or in the case of Libya direct military intervension.
  • Acquiescent, sadly too few dictators follow this route, although to their credit Hosni Mubarak did bow to the inevitable as did de Klerk in South Africa.

What is strange to watch is the half way strategy of hoping with limited concessions and a little brutality you can stop the march of freedom.

This appears to be the strategy of Bashar al-Assad of Syria. He ends the emergency rule decree after 50 years, presumably in the hope that this limited gesture will silence his critics, despite his security forces attempting a brutal crackdown.

The Syrian people have thrown off the fear, and their built up frustration and anger will not be satisfied with anything but their freedom. Sadly blood will be expended in the process, but freedom cannot be denied.

The leaders of other repressive regimes should learn from history, particularly China, where they seem to believe despite the lessons of history that economic freedoms can be introduced without political freedom.

When the human desire for freedom gets a taste of that freedom it will be satisfied with nothing else than complete freedom.


Category : Blog &Other Thoughts

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