The other day, I read an interesting personal remembrance of Greg Peters by Mark Moseley on TheLensNOLA internet news site. It reminded me of several points I've been meaning to make regarding the nature of positive social change, and the necessary energy behind it.
The first is that it never happens as a result of parlor talk, debate, or argument among the elites alone. Mind you, there are always two types of elites: the dispossessed elites (DE) and the elites in possession (EP). Curiously enough, a common criticism the DE hurl at the EP is that they constantly screw things up and screw people around precisely because they see themselves as the elite among us, and are incapable of seeing their own failings and foibles. Meanwhile, the DE never confess themselves elites, but they are. Being dispossessed, they lack the standing and privilege which comes from the power the EP hold, jealously guard, and use to unfair advantage. The result: dissatisfaction and demands for various types of adjustments in the way our civil society operates.
The DE endlessly importune the EP to scale back their abuses and loosen their grip on power and privilege. The DE blog, they tweet, they write letters, make cartoons, skewer, ridicule, and propagandize their little asses off, but they rarely actually ever do anything. Typically, nothing or very little happens.
Still, on occasion the EP will placate and appease the DE with gestures they insincerely label "reforms." This episodic parlor game charade almost always ends with the EP enjoying even more social power and leverage, only dressed up a bit differently. Meanwhile the DE wrongly and smugly imagine they have done something good. Nothing could be further from the truth because real social power is never surrendered through persuasion alone, but only when wrested away under some form of compulsion. Hence, the memorable LBJ telephone conversation quote to MLK as he was trying to line-up support for Civil Rights legislation, "Make me (meaning us) do this."
MLK delivered big time with significant, if peaceful, social unrest and the pounding thunder of moral compulsion. Great positive social change was achieved as the result of massive activism by legions of non-elites, not simply by way of debate among elites and horse trading among politicians. So great in fact is the power of civil unrest and mass activism, that by 1968 MLK had converted his already hugely successful civil rights campaign into a full-fledged economic crusade on behalf of all poor people. He was well on the way to restructuring the manner in which we conduct business with a blind eye towards worker abuse. Had he not been murdered, we surely would never have had to suffer the yawning inequity and inequality of economic conditions which now beset our country, indeed our world. One may be forgiven for thinking that that must have been going a bit too far. And today we are living with the pitiful proof economically that political assassination occurs even in a so-called free society because it works. More on those thoughts some other time, perhaps. All of the foregoing was intended to demonstrate what is required to effect positive change in a supposedly open and democratic society such as ours. What about other places?
Yes, of course, you've guessed it. I'm thinking of those dark, cramped and closed, prison camp style societies around the globe in which dictators use secret police, the military, or chemical weapons to oppress their own people, and maintain their bloody grip on power. And that's only when they're being well enough behaved to keep their evil ambitions at home. Sometimes these assholes are rash enough to heap their loving, tender mercies upon the whole damn neighborhood. Often, existential horrors such as these can only be resisted, restrained or stopped by greater force. It is always bloody, it is always ugly, it is always brutal, it is always messy, unfair, unjust, unspeakable, and unacceptable except in regard to all other alternatives.