Ask Auntie Pinko
July 28, 2005
By Auntie Pinko
I read the July 9th article ("Condemned
to Relive the Past") on the Democratic Underground website
and instantly tied it in with the horrible thought that the recent
bombings in London were designed by different terrorists, ones who
wanted to change Tony Blair's G8 agenda. The same people who want
the world to forget starving Africans and global warming and want
the world to stay focused on the war against terrorists. Just an
evil thought from a very skeptical citizen. Do you think this is
a possible scenario?
Auntie's answer to your question is "Yes, but..." I agree that
the bombings in London (and in Egypt, too) were perpetrated by people
who want to take the world's mind off problems like hunger, disease,
and possibly irreparable damage to the environment. But convenient
as it is for many leaders of well-off nations to be able to shove
such intractable and expensive problems down the priorities ladder,
I don't think that those same leaders were involved in bombing conspiracies
to get themselves off the hook.
Rather, the bombings were the work of those who wanted to call
attention to themselves in connection with a whole stew of other
issues. History offers us many parallels, when the world has to
cope with vast economic disparities, new communications (and other)
technologies, major demographic shifts, and cataclysmic geopolitical
realignments, all at once. Since the buildup and interaction of
these factors effectively takes place in slow motion, it's often
easier to attribute the resulting violence and disorder to immediately
visible political factors. It's especially tempting to do so because
it's way easier to vote some individual out of office than engage
in the long-term, sustained organizing and effort required to change
how people think and respond to the world around them.
The current wave of ideological violence is very similar to the
wave of violence that accompanied the economic and political restructuring
of rapidly-industrialized societies and their neighbors, in the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The rise of the labor
movement, the backlash against an increasingly small elite controlling
an increasingly large percentage of critical economic resources,
and the anomie and alienation in response to the rapid pace of change
produced many violence-oriented extremist factions in the larger
movement for change. "Anarchist bomb-throwers" are not
a twenty-first or even twentieth-century invention.
Arguments continue about whether the violent extremists helped
to speed the process of social evolution (by inspiring a fear of
worse outcomes if no changes were made) or to retard it (by inspiring
a loathing of the changes being advocated by the larger, non-violent,
non-extremist liberal factions, and a conservative reaction). Persuasive
cases have been made for both viewpoints, and the same cases can
probably be applied to the current violence.
And just as the political/moral justifications for today's violence
are attributed to grand ideals, so were the bombs then thrown in
the name of the International Revolution that would lift all workers
into a common brotherhood that would take political control. An
ideal that essentially ignored the real wishes of the people in
whose name the bombs were thrown, most of whom simply wanted better
pay and working conditions, not World Revolution and the Dictatorship
of the Proletariat. In fact, some of the greatest hostility to the
bomb-throwing factions came from those who were supposed to benefit.
There was much speculation, at the time, about the possibility
that the leaders among the violence-oriented groups weren't really
ideologically motivated, that they were pawns of various national
governments or businesses, making crass material gains while their
followers ended up in jail or dead in the name of their grand gestures.
But those links were never established. Sound familiar?
Today's terrorists appear to be cut from the same pattern. They
are ideologues with an impossibly grand vision. The achievement
of that vision would, coincidentally, probably mean that they would
be leaders in the new order toward which they are working, but that
leadership is not the primary motivation for all of them. They are
able to inspire others with this vision, partly because a complex
web of economic, demographic, and sociopolitical factors has created
a large pool of vulnerable individuals.
While some of the factors that make up this equation cannot be
controlled at all, others can be changed, although the interaction
among the factors is complicated. Unintended consequences will be
inevitable. But we have little chance of nudging things in a positive
direction until we look honestly at what is happening and why, and
accept it for what it is, rather than trying to make political hay.
I wish there were easier solutions, Jeanne, but I don't see them.
Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!
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