When I first saw the images of what’s happening in Spain, I was dumbstruck to see how similar they looked to those from the incidents in Egypt, just a few months ago. If it weren’t for the buildings in the right picture, it would be hard to distinguish the two.
According to Emmanuel Todd, the “Arab Spring” was “spurred by rising literacy and rapidly shrinking birth rates” (spiegel) and whether we agree with that or not, it has not ended, yet. Just today, activists have announced a “second revolution” to abolish the Military Council, converging once again on the famous Tahrir Square, which we see in the left picture.
But I’m not writing this to do a comparative analysis.
My question is why a European country like Spain identifies with the modes and methods of protest as we’ve seen (and are seeing again, now) in Egypt?
What do those people want? Who are they?
“End the corruption!” they scream. “We want jobs!” “Democracy is our fight!” “Down with the bankers!” “Down with big media!” “World revolution,” they cry. […] “Go Vegan!” they yell. Wait, “Go Vegan?” What? But there is more: “Homosexuals against the Heterosexual hegemony!” “Equality for women!” “Save Western Sahara!” And, of course, the perennial favorite, “Free Palestine!”(Haaretz)
There is no dictator to get rid of. And in place of this clear target, there’s a sense of confusion and mixed agendas. The same source, quoted above, asked Miguel, a 28 year old man why he participated in this protest, to which he replied:
“We are all from different backgrounds, and with different agendas, to some extent,” Miguel explains. “And this is about joining together and raising a collective voice. It is about getting our society to reflect on the need for change. And I believe we will be heard, which is why I am here.”
This is a key statement: For it implies that there is someone listening. But who?
Most of the protestors are young people like me. There is a great sense of frustration. Shaky horizons. A collectively felt need for change. And while these protests seem to be local, they are actually global phenomena.
In 2009, I wrote in my book “A Mindful Guide to Online Living” the following thought, that seems more valid now, than ever before:
Games Without Frontiers
In many parts of the world people still have strong faith in governments, often because they expect certain financial supports and security from their nations. After all, this is why we have states in the first place, don’t we? As means of protections, guarantees of stability and growth?
But too much state well-fare builds up expectation in the public, which if not met – is responded to by all kinds of negativity. In other words, what happens is that people interiorize those “support wheels” as a general attitude, in other words, they take them for granted and then get very furious when you take them away, challenging them to stand on their own feet. And sometimes, it’s not even by evil intention that they get “taken away”. Global changes dubbed “crisis” simply begin to take their toll. What used to be a state’s functions, like securing employment for everyone, become harder and harder to fulfil.
And while this might seem to be the biggest problem, the attitude of looking to governments for final answers, is another one:
Instead of “growing up” to become self-directed, independent human beings, people lean on the state from birth to death, initially in the hope of security, ultimately simply out of fear to be free.
Such a situation is neither good for a state nor for an individual. It makes constructive change and flexible adaption to global conditions almost impossible.
Out of the mutual dependence between the state and a person all kinds of negative consequences are born so that whenever pension gets cut or unemployment relief drops, people “take to the streets”.
A Wake-Up Call
This is not about theorizing, though. I’m not a political analyst or sociologist, nor do I want to be one.
I simply grew up with the firm belief that when I would be old one day, there might not be much to rely on state-wise. In other words, my parents and teachers helped me understand that the pension system was already defunct and would not carry my generation as it had carried their parents. It was already visible that it would barely carry them!
In this way, I never came to expect anything.
Even if it wasn’t broken, I still would be better off not expecting anything.
And it seems to me that we might have to overcome an almost mythical infuation with our governments: Either they are evil or they are magical bestowers of prosperity and freedom, even if only potentially. It seems we are expecting the state to give us change, as if it was some giant tooth fairy.Why are we begging for change from governments instead of creating it, ourselves?
The state doesn’t have anything itself! In an increasingly globalized world, a state’s sovereignity is increasingly compromised by global conditions! (This is one of the reasons maybe, why certain leaders try to keep “cyberspace within national borders”, whatever that means.)
All of this can be depressing. It can be frustrating to see everything that you identify with, go down and not deliver!
To me, there’s a message in this: Withdraw identification from nation borders. Use global communication tools. Don’t rely on wellfare states that are suffering from their own problems. Don’t expect to be handed golden keys by anyone.
In this way, the protests which we are seeing all over the place aren’t political or even economic problems. Those are educational problems! And this is why I am writing about this in the first place: If schools, teachers and parents would help children to identify beyond their mother-tongue and nation borders, to be eager to live in other countries (instead of dreading the difference) and encouraging free movement from the beginning instead of creating monuments of cultural pride and local patriotism, maybe we wouldn’t be experiencing these problems, now. Maybe.
For some people, unfortunately, moving to a different country is not an option because of political and financial reasons.
But it’s no excuse to get upset. The Internet, contrary to ridiculous attempts to contain it within nation-borders is an international medium. Again and again, activists are proving to us that there is no Firewall high enough, no censorship strong enough, that those who are willing to connect beyond their nation-borders, wouldn’t be able to do so!
There might be a risk. But there always is. Change does not come from banging on the doors of anachronistic systems. It comes from taking risks and stepping forward into the unknown, even if you got the whole world against you!
And, as some of you might know, I also firmly believe that a large quantity of people who will acquire certain skills and mindsets can actually use the Internet to make a living so that even if surrounding situations are “difficult”, they nevertheless will be able to enjoy a certain sense of independence from what you might call “bad local weather”.
Thanks for reading.