THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
Source: The Crisis, 23 December 1776, Thomas Paine
As the wave of people’s uprisings sweep across North Africa and the Middle East it is fascinating to watch from afar in Australia.
We are safely ensconced in our comfortable homes distant from the terrible decisions that people are making in those far off places. And what terrible decisions they are. Taking to the streets to reject tyranny – perhaps risking death, torture, or even the lives of your family – is a terrible decision for anyone to make.
The gallant reporting of Al-Jazeera and others, together with the incredible real time feeds from citizen journalists and media journalists via Twitter, bring the action close to those far away. And this kind of transparency makes these revolutions quite different to those of the past.
Never before have the eyewitnesses to a revolution been able to report in real time to such a broad an audience across the world about the events taking place. And now on Twitter we have people who are acting as relays of that information – people like @acarvin @AJEnglish @AJELive @shervin. The network amplification effects of Twitter are playing a significant role in uncovering and shining a light on the various regime’s responses to the uprisings.
We can see how the regimes view the internet now, as a tool of revolution, by the way that they move to block the people’s access almost immediately. They do this in an attempt to cover up their next step, which is typically their attempt to crush the uprising of the people.
In the past the reaction of a regime to an uprising usually happened in an atmosphere of secrecy and confusion. But now, while the confusion remains, the reaction is happening in a more transparent way. It is hard to hide a vicious crackdown when everyone in the crowd has a mobile phone with a video or still camera.
Modern democracy has always posited that governments should govern at the will of the people. And there are many regimes around the world that do not govern at the will of the people. Many of these regimes do not govern for the people at all. Instead they govern for a corrupt few – the worst kinds of oligarchies or dictatorships. The despotic rulers of those governments must now be fearful that they too are vulnerable to the will of the people in ways that were unthought of only a few months ago.
It is worth reading Thomas Paine on the matter of government if you’ve never done so: Dissertations on First Principles of Government, The Crisis, or Common Sense. Thomas Paine’s works were highly influential in the development of the American democracy, which many have come to assume is the natural form of democracy in the world today. By the way, I can only assume some of the conservatives who quote Paine so admiringly have never actually read any of his works.