Typically we think of dictators as power hungry people, usually men, like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Cambodia’s Pol Pot, and Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi. Sometimes they were once popular rulers but became more and more corrupted by the power like perhaps Egypt’s Mubarak and many others past and present.
But do dictatorships need to be flesh and bone human beings? Can an oppressive autocracy be created by a power-hungry system that dominates and operates similarly to a Kaddafi or a Hussein? I think so.
Let’s take three classes in one of these oppressive systems, as a simplified breakdown of the primary actors. Let’s call them the Elites, on top of the pyramid, the Enforcers in the middle row and the Exploited at the bottom, carrying the weight of the two levels above (see cheerleaders pyramid below).
The Elites are the privileged, the group who continues to gain wealth and power by making sure the system continues to function for their convenience, occasionally slanting the playing field even more to their advantage. They aren’t prone to giving up any of their advantage and often become insensitive to their excesses.
The Enforcers make sure the system is maintained and do the bidding of the Elite. They enjoy some power but just enough to remain loyal to the Elites.
The Exploited are the majority who have the least power, wealth and influence.
The Arab Spring movement has been fueled by growing injustices as seen by the Exploited (the masses) and even some of the Enforcers (military and police). The movement has been led by many educated professionals who are willing to risk physical harm to take their stand against oppression. In so doing, some of the Enforcers have been sympathetic, finding it difficult to harm fellow citizens with whom they empathize.
Now let’s look at the United States and the Occupy Movement. Obviously masses of people are feeling exploited and oppressed, giving rise to Occupy. Let us look at the similarities.
Many Americans are feeling oppressed by the economic system and powerless in making any change happen to improve things. They feel exploited even though they may not have a personal dictator to point to as the identified oppressor. Fear, financially insecurity, and gridlocked political leaders acting like teenage brats incapable of doing anything to rectify the situation make matters worse. The status quo is oppressive. By most definitions the common people are the Exploited.
The Enforcers in the U.S. are similar to the Enforcers in the Arab world. They consist of the courts, the prison system, local, state and national governments, the military and police. They keep the Exploited in line by maintaining order and squelching disorder. When the Elite see their hold on power threatened, they will subdue and suppress. In this regard, the Elite reactions to the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement are somewhat similar.
The U.S. Elite are not despots living in sumptuous palaces with harems and surrounded by personal militias. But they live in extravagance, often have flamboyant personalities and flaunt their wealth and power and maintain their power base. They may not imprison or execute anyone whom they see as a threat to them, but there are similarities!
The ruling Elite in the U.S. is largely hiding behind very powerful and wealthy corporations. They purchase political favor much like people bribe officials in other countries. And now the courts have removed all restrictions on them to purchase even more political power, which has helped to paralyze our legislators who sit in “special interest gridlock.”
To use an old expression, we have put the foxes in charge of the hen house. The changes that are desperately needed in our systems will not be made by the people who are currently benefiting from those systems. Campaign finance reform, tax reform or election reform will never come about unless some force outside the existing system takes responsibility for making reforms happen. The foxes are very happy with the status quo! Why would they change something that benefits them so much? They may put on a good show at trying to change things but there is no incentive to actually lessen their perks as things stand. The status quo is good for them!
Perhaps it is time for a new constitutional convention where “we the people” take back our country much like the courageous Arab people are attempting to do. If we can oust our corporatocractic dictators we will face similar challenges as those in the Middle East and North Africa. Once you succeed in ousting the source of oppression, a system that has been in place for a couple of generations that has maintained stability, even though oppressive, things can get unstable pretty fast. Recreating a true democracy from the tenets of a constitution can be challenging and not for the faint of heart. It is a task for the stand-takers, the collaborators who put the well being of all ahead of any special interest or ideology they hold privately. Our founders had the chutzpah and made it happen - so can we. However, we have to don the cloaks of our colonist founders and summon that historic degree of personal responsibility to make the new system work as our founders envisioned, not as it has devolved after centuries of special interest skewing.
Do we have the moxie, the chutzpah, the spiritual courage to pull it off? Do we possess the ability to recreate a system that serves the people instead of the privileged few? Do we have the will to stop energizing the existing system in all its dysfunction and work together to form “a more perfect union”? I think we do.
[My editorial in this month’s issue of my free newsletter is titled “The Human Species Grows Up:
Transcending Our Adolescent Stuckness” (see link here)]