While we stay home and write songs, people all over the world are speaking out, marching, fighting and dying against tyrannical and unjust governments. We call some of them “protesters” and give them our heartfelt, if meaningless, support. We call some of them “insurgents” and deliver them for interrogation to tyrannical governments like the ones the “protesters” are fighting against. We call others Tea Partiers and lament the effect of their violent rhetoric on our society. Still others, we’ve barely paid attention to; Libya’s southeast neighbor divided itself in half last month and few of us even know why, or which half is the “good” half.
All those divided countries confused me when I was a child. “North” was usually bad — in Vietnam and Korea — but not in Yemen. East Germany was bad, but we lamented the fate of those in East Pakistan during the war that turned into Bangladesh. Every morning we pledged a grievance to the Republic for which we were standing up with our hands over our hearts, but never for the People’s Republic or the Democratic Republic or the People’s Democratic Republic.
So which of these revolutions are good news? For years I had a proverb in the quote server that’s making the rounds again: “Now, people exploit people. After the revolution, it will be the other way around.” And good news for whom? Will the good guys win?
Are we good guys? A lot of the people in the “Arab street” don’t think so. I’m writing this on a laptop on an airplane about to land in George Bush International Airport. The plane burns fuel supplied by tyrants. My laptop and cell phone contain rare minerals mined by slaves, often children, in Congo and Rwanda. I’m wearing clothes made by people who’d rebel if they could. What if they did? My clothes would get more expensive, just as the price of gas started rising when the popular rebellions moved towards the oil-producing nations.
Despite what we like to think about the value of social networks, the increasing unrest may be driven by the simple fact of rising food prices and deteriorating economies. Just as the midterm elections were not an endorsement of dementia, but the rage of frightened and powerless people. Meanwhile, the rest of us simply do not seem to be frightened enough.