Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The King Has No Power That The People Don't Give Him

I've been re-reading Barbara Tuchman's 1978 book "A Distant Mirror," and I'm struck by the social and political parallels with now -- much as I was struck while reading the 1938 polemic "The Peril of Fascism." I may be seeing things that aren't there, but at the same time, I'm certain that societies and people don't change that much over the generations and the centuries, and that certain relationships and hierarchies are almost immutable.

One of the things that is so striking to me in "A Distant Mirror" is that despite all the many rebellions of the era, almost all of which are put down -- ruthlessly, of course -- in many cases, the rebels yield to a pathetically weak King, who -- if he were stood up to -- would be more likely to yield.

And I'm wondering why do rebels so often back down when they have the upper hand? Why, especially, do they give power back when they have successfully taken it away from the King?

I've seen it happen so many times in connection with Occupy it no longer astonishes me, but even in Anaheim, the protesters and the community have done it repeatedly. See this video for an example:

The setting is outside the Anaheim City Hall after the crowd was denied entrance to the City Council Meeting on July 24, 2012; the police are clearly purposeless and confused, and the crowd has the upper hand, even though some of the police have their BigBad Weapons out. The crowd chases the police, shouting insults, while the police form a desperate skirmish line. The crowd presses closer and shouts at the police. And then a line of protesters links arms in front of the police facing the crowd, telling the crowd to cool it, to back off, to "de-escalate." They give the power back to the police.

I saw it happen in Wisconsin, I saw it happen in Davis, I saw it happen in Berkeley. I saw it happen in Oakland. I saw it happen in many places with regard to Occupy. It seems to be the universal response when it looks like the established authority will really be overthrown. People seem to instinctively want to restore that authority before it has fully collapsed.

It was certainly happening in the 14th Century in Europe as documented in "A Distant Mirror," and it was happening in Europe in the 1930's and 1940's as Fascism was briefly triumphant, and it is a persistent factor in the various uprisings and rebellions that have taken place in this country since the Wisconsin Thing more than a year ago now.

The People -- once they have the Power -- give it back to those who have persecuted them. They'll even protect their persecutors.


This isn't a simple matter of Stockholm Syndrome, it goes much deeper than that. I think it may have to do with the fact that most people, most of the time, don't want to believe that those who are oppressing and exploiting them, and sometimes murdering them, are really "that bad," or that there is no way on this earth to convince them to be... better. It seems to have something to do with "identity."

Jeremy Rifkin gets into it somewhat in "The Empathic Civilization."

We are wired to identify "us" in others. It's the origin of empathy, and it is part of our nature, ineradicable. But who we identify as "us" depends on our understanding of who or what is an integral part of our own society or tribe if you will and who or what is "alien." Consequently, if, say, the king is identified as "one of us," as the king almost always is, the urge to yield to his orders or blandishments will be strong, stronger than any fear of what the king might do. And what the king did to rebels who yielded was not pretty, even after promising leniency or pardon.

To the king, of course, the rebels are not only not of the same tribe, they're not even the same species.

Such is the case with the king's police as well. Some rebels may instinctively see them as a fundamental part of "us" and so they might identify with them and try to protect them ("You are the 99%!"), but from the king's police perspective, the People are essentially of a different species altogether. Every possible means is utilized to prevent identification and empathy with the People, much as military troops are conditioned to objectify "the enemy." The gulf is not unbridgeable, but it cannot be bridged through obeisance.

The video below shows a confrontation between Oakland police and a well-known (in Oakland) livestreamer, Bella Eiko (Jessica Hollie). In it, there are several reversals, as the police draw their guns on two young black men walking on Broadway (thus dehumanizing them), while the police in turn are verbally challenged by Bella Eiko (NSFW, she tends to be even blunter spoken than Frank Lopez). It's clear that to her, as well as to some of the other witnesses on the street, the OPD is definitely not part of "us."

(h/t hotflashcarol at FDL)

The police try to appeal to the idea that in fact they are "human" and even open and willing to engage the public, etc. Of course, by that time it's too late, they've lost any appeal they may have had; they literally lost it long ago, and given all the murder and mayhem since then, there's little chance this police force can ever regain their reputation with the community they have been abusing and exploiting all these years. The gulf is too great.

And yet, no matter what the OPD does to the Oakland community, the Oakland Powers That Be (in the place of the king) are fine with it. From the empathetic point of view, the police are part of the king.

It may be hard to watch that confrontation between Bella Eiko and the OPD. She is fierce and relentless in denouncing the officers, and she knows her rights, too. She yields nothing at all to them. She's taken the same tack toward the City Council and the City Administrator.

The main problem with that tack, however, is that ultimately she is ignored by the Powers That Be; the police won't dare shoot their suspects with her watching and recording everything they do and denouncing them so fully while they do it. Thus, it's possible she's saved some lives, just as she might have in the video above. But her verbal assaults on the police don't really affect them since they have already long since classified her as nothing but an annoying Un-Human.

On the other hand, if she used "non-violent communications" as a weapon, the way Our Betters do, she could have a real and lasting impact..

Whether she's verbally assaultive or "non-violent" in her communication doesn't matter as much as making a clear distinction between those who oppress, exploit and murder members of the community, and those who are "us."

Many rebels in the past and now haven't been able to do that. Not yet.


  1. A significant part of these movements is not really revolutionary. One of the reasons why Hedges is so important. He's an example of an important counter-revolutionary in Occupy.

    Right now, Revolutionary behavior is primarily being driven by reaction. Our elites have decided to cannibalize their own system. How far the mad feast can go before it is stopped, none of us really know. Because the mad feast causes a horrified reaction in sane people, you get a reaction. Capitalism has always been a rotten, evil system. However, it used to have safety valves in place, after various revolutions taught the capitalists that they had to worry about themselves and their progeny being wiped out, that is. (Prior to that, you had Triangle Fires and Jungles.)

    Right now, the elite are going by the Jack Welch principle, that the workers "have unlimited juice to squeeze," as that statesman of America's shadow government put it. They are just seeing how far that maxim can really be taken. Is the juice really unlimited? Is there some kind of limit? Let's keep squeezing and see!

    Since people are just mostly reacting to this, they don't have a solid plan on how to destroy the current system, and are just hoping for concessions. There will be no concessions, so we'll see how long the current state of affairs lasts.

  2. I don't know about trying to get concessions; but no, there is no plan that I'm aware of for collapsing the system.

    There can't be so long as the focus is on reaction as you say.

    The Overclass is determined and relentless and will get as much out of the rest of us as they can before it all blows up. But as we see in the Middle East and elsewhere, they don't really care whether the People rise up; hell, they'll precipitate risings for the fun of the spectacle and the sheer joy of crushing them.

    Nevertheless, while there may not be a plan as such, there's a surprising amount of ground-prep for the collapse once it inevitably comes. At least it looks like it from what little info I'm privy to.