A reader writes:
I often find it funny to read historians that are mindful to point out specific contexts in history that we should be mindful of, while they ignore the current environment in which this historical analogy is playing out. For example, Niall Ferguson tells us that the people in Libya are close (in education and financial wherewithal) to the sans-culottes commoner occupying the back streets of Paris. Perhaps. But a salient point regarding the current Middle East events is to recognize that they're going on NOW, not back in 1848, and are thus able to view the outside modernized world through the window of the Internet.
Back in 1848, those peasants (for lack of a better word) had little vision of the world beyond their own dilapidated streets. They saw Versailles, but not any more of the world beyond that. They violently overthrow the ruling class, but given their limited experience and knowledge base, what could they reasonably hope for? Their world was somewhat binary in that they saw little occupying the societal space between their poverty and the lavish lifestyle of those in Versailles; one can even argue that even then they were not all revolting because they all thought they would end up in Versailles if successful. In that respect, there was an ambiguity to their possible outcomes. What was between their poverty and the extravagance in Versailles? Overthrow Regime + ? = Happiness isn't the clearest equation.
But the Middle East protests are happening TODAY in an environment where those protestors have much broader access to the information that is crawling around in the world. These people will soon realize that there is a broad scale of opportunity in between their current desperate situation and the riches of the despots. At the least, given what the Information Age offers, they'll be able to mentally entertain many scenarios that they want to plot out for themselves.
I'm not trying to suggest that these societies will turn into overnight success stories of diversity and enlightenment. However, the sheer volume of information and "experience" available to people now, through our information technologies, provides them with much more direction once they overturn the current dictatorship. This was not so back in the years that Ferguson invokes.
Another reader is more succinct:
Three words: The fucking Internet. I don't care how "ill-educated" a populous is, a revolution seeded directly by the Information Age (whatever ignorance the population collectively exhibits) cannot be compared to political upheavals of so long before information was ubiquitous. I highly suspect these new Arab governments will have a far more modern "right to assembly" enshrined in their founding documents than most (if not all) Western nations, seeing as they've been born with online collaboration acting as midwife.
And I agree with your feeling; no matter how the Arab uprisings impact the US, I find them spiritually uplifting, without caveat. This is human nature at its finest. And it provides me, as a terminally pessimistic cynic, the first opportunity of my life to take genuine, giddy joy in watching a large collective movement succeed. I sincerely hope they end up somewhere much Righter, and even my inner nihilist believes they will.
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