The modern Great Gatsby Syndrome and the coming Social Perfect Storm
It’s been interesting watching the world of change that is happening in places like Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and other countries in that region and how social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are being used.
It has also been interesting to watch the discussion among the digerati of how services like Twitter and Facebook have influenced our changing society; and regardless to which side of the importance scale you might fall there is something much more subtle happening and it’s not restricted to places like Egypt.
Yes, these social media services are important and in a lot of ways extremely subversive; which is why governments around the world are worried, but they are just the tools being used by a fast growing part of our society that wants change.
We aren’t just talking about countries being imprisoned by dictators either as these self same tools are being used by regular people as a way to have a say in the political processes of democratic countries; and often with growing success.
It is easy for us, here in our comfortable homes and with our fun toys, to slough off Facebook as nothing more than a destination point for wannabe farmers and Twitter being the cyber warehouse of pointless 140 characters being spewed forth endlessly. However, the youth of places like Egypt and Tunisia have shown us that these tools can also be used to reach the disenfranchised and ignored to give them a platform from which they can lay the groundwork for change.
These are not just people in far away lands either but rather the tip of an iceberg that our society here in the privileged world is approaching with an increasing speed. As much as we might like to believe that such titanic change, like what is happening in Syria and Yemen, is a localized event the underlying spark to those events is global in nature.
In the past social change, radical social change, has been a difficult thing to move beyond just corner bar chatter. It often needed a massive blow to the common man and the world they lived in before there was enough impetus to move it past any status quo lines of separation.
There has always been three basic factors behind any massive social change: human beings who have been marginalized either financially or politically, a political and corporate atmosphere where power and money is concentrated in the hands of an increasingly smaller number of people, and finally an effective method of communication – for the times – through which people can organize.
In the past we have seen this happen in ways that foreshadow what our future could hold. As Paul B. Farrell wrote in a commentary on the MarketWatch blog
Remember the Roaring Twenties? The Crash of 1929? Great Depression? Just days before the crash one leading economist, Irving Fisher, predicted that stocks had “reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
Yes, he was trapped in the “Great Gatsby Syndrome,” an earlier version of today’s Super-Rich Delusion. It was so blinding in 1929 that the president, Wall Street, all America were sucked in … until the critical mass hit a mysterious flash point, triggering the crash.
Yes, we’re reliving that past — never learn, can’t hear. And oddly it’s not just the GOP’s overreach, the endlessly compromising Obama, too-greedy-to-fail Wall Street banksters, U.S. Chamber of Commerce billionaires and arrogant Forbes 400. America’s entire political, financial and economic psyche is infected, as if our DNA has been rewired.
The Collective American Brain is trapped in this Super-Rich Delusion, replaying the run-up to the ’29 Crash.
As we struggle to comprehend the changes happening half a world away from the majority of us it is easy to brush it all aside by saying that these are people who were being downtrodden by power hungry tyrants. Doing so though belies what is happening all around us in supposedly free countries where and increasingly small number of people are the ones that are actually enjoying the fruits of the labor of an increasing majority of people wondering where their next meal is coming from.
Farrell points out in his post that there is very little difference between the driving forces of change in Egypt, Syria, or Jordan and the quiet murmur that we are beginning to hear in our own cities and countryside.
Nobody predicted 2011 revolutions in the oil-rich Arab world either
Warning: Mubarak, Gaddafi, Ali, Assad, even the Saudis also lived in the Super-Rich Delusion. Have for a long time. Were vulnerable. Ripe for a revolution. They, too, honestly believed they were divinely protected, chosen for great earthly wealth, enjoyed great armies.
Then, suddenly, out of the blue, a new “educated, unemployed and frustrated” generation turned on them, is now rebelling, demanding their share of economic benefits, opportunities, triggering revolutions, seeking retribution.
If we were to look at the three driving forces of forced radical social change we would see that two of them are already in full force in our own societies.
Never before has the American public been so divided and increasingly feeling that they no longer matter in the political process. Never before have American seen such separation along financial lines with the vast majority of people living so close to the poverty line. There is no more middle class driving forward the economic engine.
Where ever you turn you see people who are facing a future without any promise of things getting better no matter how hard they try. Where you turn all you see are politicians who do everything they can to appear like they care about the people they are suppose to represent but turn right around and enjoy a privileged life paid for by corporate back-patting.
In Libya, Syria, and Egypt we safely point to the Gaddafi’s, the Mubarak’s, and the Assad’s suggesting that people like them could never exist in our world. The problem is that they do but they run billion dollar corporations that answer to nobody, regardless of the show put on by our elected politicians.
Tyranny can come in many forms and they don’t always need to carry guns. Money is more powerful than any amount of guns and when you control who gets the money, and how much, one can be as much a tyrant as the next dictator, or corporate CEO.
With past social upheavals the key ingredient was the print media, and later the television media, as well as the telephone. Through those outlets people from around the country were able to read, and see, what was happening. They were able to communicate better because of things like the telephone. The free flowing flood of information (for the times) allowed people to combine their efforts, allowed them to challenge the powers that be; both political and corporate in ways that they had never been able to do before.
Today we are living in the waning world of the baby boomers, many of whom are in positions of power; both in politics and the corporate boardroom, and those positions of power, or money, isn’t something that they are going to give up willingly. Today though, we are also living in a world with a growing number of technologically knowledgeable young men and woman; many of whom unfortunately don’t like the lack of a future for themselves.
Bloomberg warns: “The Kids Are Not Alright.” Worldwide, youth unemployment is fueling the revolution. In a New York Times column, Matthew Klein, a 24-year-old Council on Foreign Relations researcher, draws a parallel between the 25% unemployment among Egypt’s young revolutionaries and the 21% for young American workers: “The young will bear the brunt of the pain” as governments rebalance budgets. Taxes on workers will be raised and spending on education will be cut while mortgage subsidies and entitlements for the elderly are untouchable,” as will tax cuts for the rich. Opportunities lost. “How much longer until the rest of the rich world” explodes like Egypt?
All the pieces are coming together and now the young have the greatest tool of all – the Internet and can communicate in real time with each other outside of the view of those in power. They have the tools and they know very well how to use them to their benefit.
Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, and Libya have shown us all the power that is there when people can communicate in real time and not just with words but with pictures and video. They have show us all what happens when the perfect social storm comes ashore.
People are a social animal and that is what gives them the power in the end and why governments, tyrants, and corporations do whatever they can to first profit from and then break apart that social behavior.
Just as in those countries where social upheaval is occurring right now we are also seeing the ingredients of a perfect social storm coming together. The Internet, Twitter, and Facebook might not be a revolution but they are most certainly to tools of those that want change; and change will come. It’s just a matter of how ugly the process will be as we undergo it.
The Social Perfect Storm is out there just beyond the horizon but like all perfect storms it will hit when we least expect it; but you can be sure you’ll hear it first rumblings on Twitter and Facebook.