Friday, December 10, 2010

People against Power

Violent strikes in France, the Wikileaks affair, Student protests in London - what’s going on? Do these apparently disparate events have anything in common? The media certainly treat them as entirely unconnected. Yet all three have at their core a common distrust and rejection of those who govern us.

A great deal of the current disaffection stems from the fact that politicians are making tax payers foot the bill for the near ruin visited on Western economies by corrupt bankers and financial speculators. Wikileaks has added to the discontent by revealing details of how governments flout national and international law, routinely lie to their own people and subvert the decisions of their own elected parliaments.

While it is too soon to characterize the present as a turning point in our history, we should not entirely dismiss the thought that we may be witnessing the first skirmishes in a prolonged struggle of the people against their rulers; a struggle between demos and plutos, between the citizenry and an unholy alliance of government and finance, between a people’s Democracy and a Plutocracy sugar-coated with a regular but meaningless electoral ritual in which faces may change but policies emphatically do not.

At first sight, such a conflict may seem ludicrously one-sided, with governments enjoying all the resources of state power as well as the backing of capital and big business. But the people have the advantage of numbers and an ability to attack from unsuspected directions - such as Operation Payback and the 500 and growing mirror sites for Wikileaks.

Rulers dislike and fear the populace; and for that reason, if for no other, we should never trust them no matter how earnestly they claim to act on our behalf. Shakespeare - who knew more about political life than most of us will ever learn - understood the relationship all too clearly:

MENENIUS: The helms o’ the state, who care for you like fathers....
FIRST CITIZEN: They ne’er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily, to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there’s all the love they bear us.

Has anything at all changed since the Bard wrote those lines?

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