Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dictatorship is obsolete (?)

John Shirley made a thought-provoking post on Facebook today.  
Aside: if you don't recognize the name "John Shirley," you should check out his work.  He's an excellent writer of science fiction and various other milieus.  Highly recommended.

Here is Mr. Shirley's post: "Daydream of Pres Obama declaring to the UN assembly that 'sweeping & necessary historic change cannot be resisted long, & should be embraced. Dictatorships are obsolete in the 21st century. Information itself has tolled their death knell. Let us support these revolutions, in the Middle East. Let us call on Qaddafi, on all dictators, to step down.' "

One can argue the relative appropriateness of America's political leader making such a statement to the world (the arguments likely fall into which side of the fence you happen to inhabit, mentally), but what really struck me is the notion of dictatorship reaching an obsolescence.  John Shirley is quite correct in pointing out that the Internet and social media have rendered the free dissemination of data almost a given.  Thus the plight of the totalitarian: how to reign in a century where such information exchange between collectives and individuals flows like a tidal wave.  This really is an exciting premise.  I'm dating myself, but I remember the U.S. bombing Libya and dogfighting their MiGs over the Gulf of Sidra.  I remember Gadhafi, or Qaddafi, or however the hell you spell it, being painted as a maniacal tyrant who is dangerous to all of humanity.  He still is that of course, but it truly does appear that his days are numbered.  A dramatic example of this is the crew of a Libyan warplane who crashed their own aircraft rather than carry out their orders to bomb a town.  Egypt was just the first domino to fall as many other nations of The Middle East appear poised to topple their own autocrats.  In truth, you might even argue it started with democracies in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but that argument carries overtones with it that I would just as soon not address in this post.

Yes, it is exciting, but I have to wonder if it is truly the end of totalitarian rule.  After all, it can be far more efficient to convince people to surrender liberties and voting if they are sufficiently scared enough.  Not scared of their leadership, but scared of the evil boogeymen that are thought lurk both within and without a nation's borders.  And what good is means with which to share information when no one is interested in reading/hearing it?  This is truly history unfolding before our eyes in The Middle East, but how interested is the average American?  I'm willing to bet more people sought news on Lindsey Lohan's Big Day In Court than took time to examine what's happening in another part of the world.  
And that may be how simple it is for dictatorship to survive.  Amuse and distract the masses.  In time, successive generations will become either so programmed or so ignorant that they aren't even aware they're being oppressed...or oppressive.

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