China, the Middle East Revolution and the U.S. Counter-Revolution
How did the Beijing Olympics act as a catalyst for the revolutions sweeping the Middle East?
- The true revolutionary in the Middle East is Qatar's ruling family, the al-Thani family, who in 1996 helped established the Al-Jazeera network.
- Both the Arab revolution and the American counter-revolution are using the Internet and social media to organize their followers.
- The revolt taking place in America today, embodied by the Tea Party, is a counter-revolution to the changes that globalization and technology have forced on American society.
One of the few things that anyone can be sure of in reference to the ongoing Arab revolution is that the majority of young people leading the revolution saw the Beijing Olympics on TV two years ago and said to themselves, “Something isn’t right.”
If China could rise up to economically challenge the United States, they thought, then what was wrong with their own countries? Why were their lives so much more impoverished?
That is why the true revolutionary in the Middle East is Qatar’s ruling family, the al-Thani family, who in 1996 helped established the Al-Jazeera network. By allowing freedom of the press — or at least freedom of one cable station — in the Middle East, the al-Thani family in retrospect has had a similar revolutionary effect on history as Germany sending Lenin back into Russia in 1917.
Revolting for a better life is slightly different than protesting for pure freedom. If you believe that, like you, everyone lives in a shack with a tin roof over it, then you are more accepting of your situation. But if through Al-Jazeera or the Internet you now see someone from another culture or country that you thought was equal to, or even behind, yours traveling on a bullet train while some people in your country are still traveling by donkey cart, you begin to think something is wrong.
The political and economic forces of technology are blind to whether a country is a democracy or an autocracy. And the United States has definitely not been spared from the transforming revolutionary powers of the new media.
Unlike the Arab revolt, however, the upheaval now going on in America is not being led by the kids, and it is not a revolt about the future or about the commonality of the nation.
The revolt taking place in America today, embodied by the Tea Party, is a counter-revolution to the changes that globalization and technology have forced on American society.
Strangely, in a society that once was known for its competitive spirit and for its organizational abilities, the current revolt in America is almost isolationist in its making.
It wants to ignore not only the fact that the competitor (read: the Chinese) has built a bullet train, but also the simple fact that by manufacturing that train, China has learned new innovations to make the next train more efficiently. And by making the trains, they have created what economists call the multiplier effect.
You need food providers to serve the travelers, repair shops to fix the train, taxis and buses to bring the passengers to the train, and so forth — multiplying the wealth-generating capacity of the initial investment.
This new reactionary American revolution assumes that the mere belief in American exceptionalism and its own political theories will deter any international competitor.
Ironically, that belief is not so dissimilar from 14th century China. One of the richest countries at that time, it decided to withdraw into itself, ignoring the outside developments of the Age of Discovery — and thus beginning a 500 year history of decline.
The American counter-revolution also celebrates some individual rights to a fanciful extreme. These new revolutionaries seem to forget that America’s gift to organization management is its ability, much like a well-managed baseball team, to let the individual thrive — but within and with the help of the team.
Unlike the current Arab revolution, a revolution that appears at this moment to be partly based on the idea that ideology has constrained society, the America counter-revolution is like Gulliver, with each limb tied down by ideology.
There is no better example of this than the current budgetary wars in Congress. The idea of cutting the federal budget to the extreme as the nation is beginning to move out of recession is more ideological than practical. It has the potential to be even more destructive now that the economy is contending with higher gasoline prices.
Both the Arab revolution and the American counter-revolution are using the Internet and social media to organize their followers. The difference, however, appears to be that, in today’s Middle East, social networks are also having the function of opening up the society, freeing the society to accept new — and consequently competitive — ideas.