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Sun Dec 29, 2013, 11:38 AM

Where will it kick off next?

In the networked age, country-specific predictions of political unrest like poverty or inequality are pointless

Paul Mason

The Guardian, Friday 27 December 2013 19.31 GMT


......... excerpts:

These societies were supposedly the beneficiaries of globalisation and marketisation. But up close, the rising middle class felt shut out. So now "masked guy with gym membership who hates corruption" has joined the "graduate without a future" on the list of social archetypes through which we try to understand the unrest.

If you read the Economist Intelligence Unit's latest attempt to guess where it will kick off next, it becomes clear how hard this is to do with conventional thinking. For the unit it is places with high inequality, heavy corruption, economic crisis and a collapse in trust. So Nigeria (the biggest economy in Africa), Egypt and Argentina all figure high on the red list of countries where there is a "very high risk" of conflict threatening the political order, with Brazil, South Africa and China merely "high risk". Though an advance on the straight-line thinking that linked revolts simply to the post-2008 economic crisis, I still think this misses something. When people ask me where it is going to kick off next, I say: "In people's heads."

The scale of repression now, even in stable democracies, is so high that those with a grievance take much longer to trip over into action that risks arrest. Though their armed forces are increasingly wrapped up in concerns about the laws of war, there is no Geneva convention in the modern conflict between riot cops and protesters. So what looks like acquiescence is not that. What looks like social order is merely the skin on a deep disorder. China watchers are used to this concept. The Chinese internet is seething with discontent, even as everybody in public bows down to the official line. But at a more general level it is true across the developed world. In the past there was very little to fear from movements that were all ideas and little action. But we live in an information economy now. Critical ideas have a materiality to them, and repression seems to fuel critique.

Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden have hardly been made folk heroes in the western media. But in the informal world, the world of online conversation, they are metaphors for "what happens". Challenge unlawful state surveillance, spill the beans on military atrocities in Iraq and you become a candidate for Guantánamo-style torture and mind games. In such a situation "metrics" – on poverty, inequality or trust – are hardly relevant in the prediction of unrest.


Full article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/27/political-protest-networked-age-edward-snowden

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