Tuesday, February 03, 2009
In this piece at Alternet.org, Joshua Holland asks an interesting (and timely) question: Why aren't Americans rioting in the streets in response to the worsening financial and economic crisis like much of the rest of the world?
Over the past few years, a series of riots spread across what is patronizingly known as the Third World. Furious mobs have raged against skyrocketing food and energy prices, stagnating wages and unemployment in India, Senegal, Yemen, Indonesia, Morocco, Cameroon, Brazil, Panama, the Philippines, Egypt, Mexico and elsewhere.It seems that people are pretty riled up everywhere these days.
For the most part, those living in wealthier countries took little notice. But now, with the global economy crashing down around us, people in even the wealthiest nations are mad as hell and reacting violently to what they view as an inadequate response to their tumbling economies.
The Telegraph (UK) warned last month that protests over governments' handling of the crisis "are widespread and gathering pace," and "may spark a new revolution".
That is, everywhere except for the U.S.
After recounting the increasingly violent protests and demonstrations in the U.K., Greece, Latvia, France, Iceland, and Russia, attention is then turned to the U.S.
Notably absent from the list of countries where the economic crunch is rending the social fabric is the good ole US of A, a state with the greatest level of economic inequality in the wealthy world.Surprisingly, the role of religion in the American culture was not mentioned, but, it is arguably as big a factor as any other.
Outside of a few scattered and quickly contained protests, the citizens of the U.S. -- a country born of revolution, but with an elite that's been terrified of that legacy since immediately after its founding -- have been calm, despite opinion polls showing that Americans are more dissatisfied with the direction in which the country has been headed since they began measuring such things.
It's a baffling disconnect, considering that real wages for all but the top 10 percent of the economic pile haven't increased in 35 years.
Americans are rightfully angry about that state of affairs, but with a few small exceptions, quietly so. Why? It depends on whom you ask.
In a 2006 interview with Harper's, Barack Obama shared a subtle, but rather fundamental observation about America's political culture: "Since the founding," he said, "the American political tradition has been reformist, not revolutionary." If there is to be positive change, Obama has argued, it must be gradual; "brick by brick," as he put it in one of his final campaign speeches.
Mark Ames, author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion -- From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond, argues that Americans have been beaten down to a degree that they're now a pacified population, largely willing to accept any economic outrage its elites impose on them.
In a 2005 interview with AlterNet, Ames said the "slave mentality" is stronger in the U.S. than elsewhere, "in part because no other country on earth has so successfully crushed every internal rebellion."
Slaves in the Caribbean for example rebelled a lot more because their oppressors weren't as good at oppressing as Americans were. America has put down every rebellion, brutally, from the Whiskey Rebellion to the Confederate rebellion to the proletarian rebellions, Black Panthers, white militias ... you name it. This creates a powerful slave mentality, a sense that it's pointless to rebel.
As The Nation's Bill Greider told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, "you can't do this to people year after year -- that is, upturn their lives, take away what they thought they had earned, and so forth and so on, without provoking rather intense political reactions. ... We're just, just beginning to see a few bubbles like that around this country. I don't say we're going to have riots, but I think ... people, out of their own distress and anger, will organize their own politics, and they will make themselves seen and heard around this country."
If I can find the chart from Pew Research from a few years ago showing how much more important religion is in the U.S. than anywhere else in the developed world, I'll tack it on to the end of this post, but it seems to me that an abiding faith above and beyond President Obama's ability to rescue the economy is somehow involved.
UPDATE: Tuesday, Feb. 3 - 10:30 AM PST
FWIW - Unable to locate the results of the Pew Research poll that asked "How important is God in your life?", the best that could be found was from an LA Times story that contained the following, very similar data.