Tag archives for arab spring

A Year In Prevail

What a year it’s been! Starting with the little things, the Prevail Project itself has been active for about a year, running in stealth mode for most of that time. But we launched (and I invite you to check out our amazing featured guest posts). But anything that we’ve done is small potatoes compared to the changes that happened in the world.

A year ago, professional intelligence analysts thought that Belgium was more likely to experience political turmoil than Egypt. Then the Arab Spring happened, and ordinary people rose up and overthrew governments across the region. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, dictators fell like dominoes. In Bahrain, protesters were crushed with overwhelming force, and in Syria the battle rages on. Just compare Foreign Policy’s top 100 global thinkers in 2011 and 2009, and you can see the kind of change that nobody foresaw. The Arab Spring was echoed by protests worldwide, most notably the Occupy movement in the United States, anti-austerity riots in Greece, and the first mass protests in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. This is the kind of people power that hasn’t been seen since 1968, and possible even since 1848, years which shook the old order.

If networks and bottom-up ideas had a banner year in 2011, centralized institutions managed not to fall apart completely. Congress’s brinkmanship over raising the debt ceiling dropped America’s credit rating from AAA to AA, not that financial markets have appeared to notice. The European Union could’t come to a decision on the Greek debt crisis, casting the very future of the EU into doubt. And in Durban, the IPCC agreed to come to an agreement about global carbon emissions in 2015, with binding limits coming into effect in 2020. It’s been a lousy year for experts and elites, and if you know of any centralized decision-making bodies that haven’t made complete fools of themselves recently, I’d love to hear about them.

The only group that came out worse than experts were authoritarian leaders. Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt were forced out of office by popular revolutions. Qaddafi was shot by rebel forces. Kim Jong Il died. And after 3 terms, Silvo Berluscion was forced to resign under a cloud of corruption and scandal. If I were a colorful authoritarian leader, I’d be watching my back.

As for what happens next in the world, who knows? The Arab Spring could quite possibly lead to another round of dictators or theocrats. Some vital cog in the global economic system could come undone, with catastrophic results. But personally, I’m hopefully. The refrain of the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe, whether economic wizards or brutal dictators, has always been “There is no alternative.” If there’s one lesson that we’ve learned from 2011, it’s that there are lots of alternatives. 2011 was a year to dream and deconstruct. 2012 will be a year to learn and grow.

Whatever happens, we’re living in interesting times. And the Prevail Project is here to nurture a human future.

Technologies of Unrest

Anybody who’s paying attention will note that these are unsettled times, from the Arab spring, to youth demonstrations in Spain, Israel, and now Occupy Wallstreet. Via Kevin Kelly who cites the New York Times:

Yonatan Levi, 26, called the tent cities that sprang up in Israel “a beautiful anarchy.” There were leaderless discussion circles like Internet chat rooms, governed, he said, by “emoticon” hand gestures like crossed forearms to signal disagreement with the latest speaker, hands held up and wiggling in the air for agreement — the same hand signs used in public assemblies in Spain. There were free lessons and food, based on the Internet conviction that everything should be available without charge.

Now, youth protests movements and this kind of radically egalitarian anti-capitalism aren’t exactly new.  These themes can be traced back through the 60s counter-culture, early 20th century Anarchists like Kropotkin and Emma Goldman, the French Revolution, a bunch of 16th century Christian heresies that were bloodily crushed and on and on.

What’s interesting is that the protesters are turning to explicitly technological metaphors for how their movement operates. These are the first generation of digital natives, and they don’t much like how the “real world” works.  But instead of retreating to their bedrooms and laptops, they’re colonizing  physical reality with internet interactions.

((Not that the internet is necessarily good: maybe it’s turning us into selfish assholes.))