800 Years


As I’ve watched the world in general and the Middle East in particular go up in flames I’ve found myself thinking about the power of social media, and the weakness of the theory that democracy can be sprayed onto a culture and a people.  Or in the case of the Iraq war — delivered by the barrel of gun.

First social media.  Once upon a time the world was big.  How people lived in countries on the far side of the Earth wasn’t readily available.  In the States every family had that subscription to National Geographic where from our safe little houses we looked at “those quaint people with their quaint customs.”  

For people in the developing world they didn’t have a convenient window on life in America and Europe.  Then cell phones replaced the laborious task of wiring an entire country, and Facebook, and Twitter and Snapchat and Instagram became available to all, and suddenly we were all sharing our lives — everything from break ups to pictures of our new car or new baby, new house.  So it’s completely understandable why average people living in abject poverty would raise their heads, look at their (often) corrupt leaders and ask — “Why the hell is my life such shit and their lives are so much better?”

And so the Arab Spring began.

The tragedy is that there was no institutional structure to help these people in their struggles for political power, economic advancement, educational opportunities.  Because democracy is hard as are market based economies.

The braying statements that America is just special, blessed by god, truly exceptional is just nonsense.  Our ability to craft a democratic republic is because we had the good fortune to start our revolution near the culmination of hundreds of years of painful and halting development of the institutions and concepts that could support that democracy.

Many of these countries that are riven with strife and turmoil don’t have the institutions in place to support the needs and hopes of their citizens.  They haven’t had their Magna Carta (1215 a.d.) which gave us the first concept of Due Process.  (Yes, it was initially intended to only apply to the nobility, but the fact it existed allowed people to make the argument that its clauses should apply to all people. )

The concept of habeas corpus was present in common law and then enshrined in 1679.  The British Bill of Rights was passed in 1689 which established the right of freedom of speech in Parliament, and the requirement of regular elections.  The point being that we’ve had 800 years to develop these concepts and the institutions that support them.

Does it have to take centuries for these ideas to become embedded in a society?  Probably not especially with our modern information network, but before people can be secure in their persons and their property there will have to be court systems in place to adjudicate those rights, and political entities willing to enforce those laws in an even handed manner, and a way to remove those politicians who don’t abide by the laws.

And sadly for a lot of people that’s probably going to take longer then they would like.

3 Responses to 800 Years

  • wolflahti says:

    If you’re going to continue to insist on being sane and rational, no one is ever going to listen to anything you say.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    We also had our thirty years war which just exhausted Europe and left everyone, protestant and catholic alike, going — “let’s try not to do that again.” It feels like Middle East is having it’s religious war now. Maybe they learn faster than we did and not take thirty years to decide to live with uneasy tolerance of one another.

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