Saturday, July 13, 2013

Gorillas In Our Midst

Perhaps, one of the greatest arguments for Democracy and against authoritarianism comes from the movie, Planet Of The Apes. In this movie, the gorillas are, in contrast to real life, the aggressive members of society, the ones who try to dominate. They are the ones who serve in the military and police services. In today's surrealistic world, they would also become the movers and shakers of our financial institutions. In this movie, there was a strict caste system participated in by the gorillas, orangutangs,  and chimpanzees and the gorillas were hyper-masculine control freaks.

We really don't need to know more than this because what we want to focus on here are the gorillas who live with us today. And the most pertinent question one can have about our gorillas comes from another movie. In the movie, Battle In Seatle, after the police had spent one day brutalizing protesters, one of the protesters asked, "how do you stop those who stop at nothing?"

We must find an answer to the above question if we are create a new world let alone survive. And it will be more difficult to find a good answer here than it is for the Cubs to win the World Series. This is because we have three choices when responding to gorillas. The first choice is to imitate or become a gorilla by returning an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." The second choice is to be intimidated by our gorillas and submit to fear. Here, we either are paralyzed and obey or support the gorillas as a way to make the best of a bad situation. The final choice is to find ways to nonviolently resist the violence and aggression in order to create a better world.

Historically speaking, those looking for a better world do not have the best track record in handling gorillas. For example, the Paris Commune and Spanish Revolution were both overthrown by the respective militaries of the countries. We should also note that Occupy Wall Street was significantly crippled by the breakup of the encampments.  The Arab Spring has had mixed results and must continue especially in Egypt. Meanwhile, many who resisted Syria's President Assad have become or already were gorillas.

The trick to beating the gorillas in our midst is to both outnumber and outlast them. Two examples come to mind here. First, was the overthrow of Milosevic in Serbia and second, was the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. In both cases, the beginning of the overthrow started with a small number of activists who were dedicated to nonviolent resistance. After the number of activists who were protesting swelled to a critical mass and the people saw how the government shamefully treated these protesters, different groups went on strike crippling the economy. Finally, many in the military who were being used to enforce the law switched sides. At that point, enough people had withdrawn their obedience so that the gorillas were at least temporarily paralyzed. In Egypt, unfortunately, the gorillas made a temporary comeback through the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's future is now up in the air.

The problem with outnumbering the gorillas is in finding incentives. The incentives for becoming or supporting the gorillas are more immediate and real. These incentives include becoming rich or surviving in a land full of gorillas. The incentives for joining those who oppose gorillas are more intangible and long term. They include the peace that comes with being just and moral, being more humane, being more connected with others, and creating a space where longterm survival becomes more probable. We could sum up the difference by saying that the incentives for joining the gorillas revolve around greed and a desire for power while the incentives for opposing the gorillas center more on being at peace, interconnected, and interdependent.

History tells us that when defeated, gorillas make a comeback. In fact, history tells us that we will always have gorillas. Because of that that, some people have concluded that the only way to survive is to be with the strongest group of gorillas. Because survival is at stake, whatever one has to do is justified. Such logic is unfortunate.

So the trick, and it isn't an easy one, is to both outlast and outnumber the gorillas. That means the those who start opposing the gorillas of our society must persevere past the time when they significantly outnumber the gorillas, for which there is never a guarantee, and then they must maintain those odds forever. It takes eternal vigilance to keep our gorillas in their place.

We see mixed results in the world regarding the prospect of defeating our gorillas. There is promise in countries like Turkey, Bulgaria, Brazil, and Egypt. Note that there is promise, not victories. But here in the U.S., greed, patriotism, and pride provide incentives for people to become gorillas or side with them while others who very much want to maintain their current lifestyle live in submission. It seems that only principled people and idealists are currently willing to oppose our gorillas. And in a society that is based on prosperity and having more, we see that we have difficulty in providing the necessary incentives to lure people into opposing our gorillas. 

Currently, the gorillas in our midst and around the world are behind the grab for power, wealth, and resources. What they want is to have more than their counterparts from other groups whether those groups are determined by country, religion, ideology, or financial holdings. We can identify these gorillas by their behavior. We can easily see that, at least in the U.S., most leaders from both the public and private sectors have shown themselves to be gorillas. The same can be said for the leaders of many countries. National leaders such as Putin, Erdogan, Netanyahu, and Harper immediately come to mind when listing gorillas from the public sector from other countries. But there are more who lurk in the private sector.

It should not be difficult then in a world that has become environmentally compromised and will soon see significant shortages in vital resources to see how the rule of gorillas threatens everyone's future. These threats could be carried out by waging or causing wars, creating an uninhabitable world, or some combination of the two. The prospects of beating our gorillas are not good. But the realities of what follows our failure to win are far worse. Democracy, not the kind where the only action you take is voting every x number of years, is our only hope.