For the Week of September 19, 2005
How is a democracy lost?
It isn't. Just as freedom can't be given, only taken, democracy can't really be lost, only stolen.
There are dozens of examples over the centuries, of honest systems
turned to dictatorships. And what they all have in common is
ruthlessness, not just of the dictator, but of those around him.
No one can seize power alone, and toss a system of popular
government on the ash heap. That only happens when there are enough
people committed to the dictator's cause that they can overwhelm,
through discipline, the vast majority.
One of the most recent examples we have is in Zimbabwe.
As Rhodesia, Zimbabwe was a dictatorship of a peculiar sort. It
was a dictatorship of a white minority that nevertheless tried to
adhere to democratic norms. Its ruthlessness was leavened by its
conscience. Ian Smith's people would not follow him all the way to any
genocide he might have had in mind.
So real democracy came, just as it later would to South Africa,
and Zimbabwe's Mandela became a man named Robert Mugabe. But Mugabe
wasn't Mandela. In the end he wasn't even Smith. He was a tribal chief,
just like dozens of others across that sad continent, and those around
him were willing to do anything, to anyone, in order to maintain power.
So, gradually, democracy was crushed, the media was crushed,
non-government opposition was crushed. This year Mugabe's people pushed
tens of thousands of their own out of shantytowns built around the
largest city, Harare, and few noticed because it simply wasn't covered.
South Africa's leader, Thabo Mbeki, is silent on the Mugabe Precedent,
trying to balance the needs of a truly modern civilization with the
tribal demands of his own cronies. But Botswana, to the southwest, is
building a fence, an African Berlin Wall, on its border with the
country, to keep the victims of Mugabe's tyranny from overwhelming it.
Without an open, transparent, and nominally democratic system,
no country can move forward. All must regress into tribalism, into
tyranny, into barely controlled chaos, starvation at the point of a
This is a lesson China learned throughout the 20th century. A balance
between order and liberty, between governed and governing, must be
found, a balance that allows people to explore ideas which might, in
time, threaten the government's control. We don't know what to call
China these days. Is it still an absolute dictatorship? Is it still
Communist? Is it free? It's none of these absolutes. It is in flux,
headed toward freedom in many ways, but with a corrupt lid still
covering the whole, like a pressure cooker whistling on top of a fire.
These ruminations, which I began when I started writing The
Chinese Century nearly a year ago now, come to me more and more often,
witnessing events in my own country. The novels represent, for me, a
virtual diaspora. In fact I remain in America, in my Atlanta home,
watching events with a sort of horrified fascination.
How far down the road toward absolute tyranny has George W.
Bush moved? However far he has moved (and he has moved some distance),
he hasn't done it alone. He has been supported at every turn by a
massive, albeit minority, set of political movements -
neoconservatives, social Darwinists, and religious fanatics. It's the
same alchemy that held Mexico in thrall for centuries - the military,
the oligarchs, the church - that in many ways still holds it in thrall.
Keeping it together takes discipline and ruthlessless. We're
seeing both on display in regards to New Orleans. Bills are being
shoved through Congress without debate. The media is now being
prevented from covering the disaster by force of arms. Yet the
President's supporters continue to not only buy his spin, but add their
It is this discipline among the conservative masses that scares me.
George W. Bush, I've come to learn, is a dumbass, a spoiled rich brat
with no more cojones than Marie Antoinette. He's a dry drunk living in
a bubble of privilege, a figurehead.
The real evil in this country is that of his followers. Those
who refuse to question the results of his actions, those who attack the
people who do question, rather than addressing the criticism. The
oligarchs want to lay off the burdens of government on the poor, the
neocons want to rule the world with military technology, the religious
fanatics demand that their particular brand of Christianity be the
State Religion. All these conspirators, and their followers, choose to
keep their mouths shut when they're discomfited, knowing that unless
they maintain, the results will be like Nuremberg, and all of them will
Are you part of the conspiracy? You might be. Do you still
think this President has a Clue? Do you still think Iraq is related to
September 11, or that tax cuts always spur economic growth, or that
America is a Christian Nation? Then indeed you might be part of the
conspiracy, because you have a cause that blinds you, not only to the
evil done in your name, but to the evil done in the name of causes
you're aligned with.
At the climax of the Army-McCarthy hearings, over 50 years ago
now, Joseph Welch is reported to have said something like, "Have you no
shame, sir, at long last?" Well, have you?
And as to the rest of us. How deep must your outrage grow before you're
willing to get off your apathetic rear ends and start fighting this
tyranny in your community? Will you wait until you're forced into
someone else's Church, as the victims of New Orleans are being forced
at the Astrodome? Will you wait until the market bubbles burst and
you're left with nothing? Will you wait until your own son or daughter
lies dead on a foreign battlefield, for no just cause?
If America allows itself to fall, if we don't start listening,
as we must, to the Better Angels of our Nature, who will take up
freedom's banner, democracy's cause, transparency's demands? Are we to
be left like those of Easter Island, who cut down all the trees until
their homes became uninhabitable, or the Norsemen of Greenland, whose
cattle nibbled away the grass until they starved?
The Earth doesn't care. The Earth will go on. God has all the
time in the world. You can blow it up in atomic fire and, after a few
million years, new creatures will rise to dominance. You can poison it
with greenhouse gases, yet some species will adapt. The marble will
keep spinning, long after you and your kind have been thrown off it.
But if you want to leave something behind, you better start
fighting for it now. And you better start fighting for it here. Because
here and now is all God's giving you. Don't let your neighbors or your
prejudices turn this into Zimbabwe. Demand accountability.
I've got a new job. I'm now editor of Atlanta voic.us, a Web start-up
aimed at building a community Web platform with a real business model.
I'm also all alone in writing the Open Source Blog for ZDNet. (When this started there were three of us.)
My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's
a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely
fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm
beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring
the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a
true alternate history, but set in the present day.
You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Best of the Week
Richard Wingard has figured out a way to fund cutting-edge technology
with angel investors, and hold them in their investments for nearly 7
traffic jams were back. The parking lots at the Tucker Wal-Mart
(pictured) and Target were full. I even overheard customers chatting
amiably about good things happening in their lives, and laughing. But
the New Normal is a mirage.
While Cerf was a fine engineer in his day, his record as an executive
leaves a lot to be desired. Those with memories recall that he was with
MCI all through the Worldcom disaster. He gave speeches, he took
awards, and he had nothing to do with the fraud. He was out of the
loop. He was lipstick on that pig.
In an era where money is magnetic ink, even the rich of New Orleans may not be safe.
Over at ZDNet, Steve Gillmor (left) has a wonderful commentary that got
me thinking about a financial disease, one to which corporations like
Microsoft are addicted and by which users like us are burdened. I call
in 1985, you would have spent big money to get an Intel 386 chip, with
over 100 Megabytes of storage, and a local network that ran as fast as
1 megabits per second.
A dedicated minority can overwhelm a disinterested majority.
George W. Bush's Bridge to the 19th Century has deposited us in 1881, in the era of the Spoils System.
The American Diaspora
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in was Eric Raymond, who knows his credibility is worth more than Microsoft's money.
Clueless is anyone who blindly follows anyone's talking points (including mine).
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