Revolting Developments

The mood in Fremont.

Back in the day, before people said things like “back in the day,” John Lennon sang a song about revolutions and how “we all want to save the world.” At the time, quite a few of us thought it might really happen. But then Lennon was murdered on his own doorstep by a lunatic, and though a lot has changed since then, the worldwide problems of economic disparity, environmental degradation and escalating violence have continued to grow worse.

At this moment throngs of angry people are massing on the streets in New York, Seattle, and across Europe to demand change.

Will it happen as a result of these demonstrations? Or will the corporate giants whose behind-the-scenes control mechanisms dictate how news is spun, how elections turn, and who profits from the suffering of the powerless win again?

Aging flower child that I am, I’d like to believe that this time, at this particular moment in history, things will be different. And if this turns out to be the case I believe it will be almost entirely due to the global shift in the way communication takes place. But I could be wrong again. Here in Seattle it’s easy to fall into the assumption that everyone in the world is connected to the internet, that everyone is literate and rational and conscientious. It’s easy to overlook the vast gulf between the connected and the disconnected, whose sources of information remain as choked as their sources for material income.

Last week, for example, I heard a first-person account by an American citizen who had been imprisoned in a Chinese holding cell for months while awaiting sentencing for a minor public disturbance. His descriptions of the conditions in the cell were appalling, but even more disturbing to me was his discovery of the disbelief shared by all of his Asian cellmates who completely rejected the idea that the U.S. had ever put a man on the moon. They all considered this a blatant falsehood propagated by the U.S.

When lies replace truth in the common understanding, great injustices grow powerful.

Perhaps in the U.S. we have placed too much trust in our capitalist system, expecting it to be self-correcting. It’s natural to distrust big government, but an economic system without strong government oversight runs the risk of capsizing from the greed of a few unprincipled individuals.

Another headline grabbing image in the papers this week ran alongside the scenes of crowds in the streets: a giant freighter, its load of containers a-tilt in a rough sea.

As such accidents grow more common, we become numb to the damage. But the long-term costs of ignoring our common problems could sink us all.