Sunday, February 07, 2010

Yippies, yuppies and speed of change

Humor is so key. With humor, even the hard edge of opposition becomes softer. I watched the full version of Bill O'Reilly v Jon Stewart and in that light Stewart absolutely creamed him because he has a great sense of humor that O'Reilly--tough and smart though he is--utterly lacks. And to make it worse for O'Reilly, he called Stewart names, called those who work with Stewart names, labeled everyone, and was just arrogant and combative. Stewart met all this with humor and it was like the incredible hating Hulk v dancing Wu Li Master. Stewart allowed O'Reilly's power to just wash out, stepping aside to let the force of O'Reilly spend itself into a sort of ineffectual alluvial fan of insult and sneers. There are no better exemplars of the dysfunction of full frontal patriarchy than O'Reilly, who is the personification of finger-wagging, patronizing lecturing.

Some like that style (most white males--wonder why?) and cocoon themselves into the O'Reilly self-righteousness, purblind to any analysis other than a Manichean dualism that someone like Stewart can flatten by deflating the pomposity. So we continue in our Estado Unidense way...

Historical humor
The Youth International Party (Yippies) were really basically political hippies. We were in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic Convention. That was the first time I was almost arrested--and at that time talked my way out of it because I was simply not prepared. At age 17 I was just getting my sea legs as a member of various social movements and I was philosophically all over the map, as are most 17-year-olds. But the older ones, like Abbie Hoffman, were appealing to me because he in particular was always so funny. When he started getting hyper-confrontational, I loved that too, at my immature age.
I was drawn one week to nonviolence and the next week to working with the Black Panthers, which I did--though I never committed a single violent act, just approved of their self-defense (which turned out to be the most useless and dysfunctional approach, teaching me lessons that have stayed with me).

My generation was empowered by the Civil Rights movement and by the global decolonization movement, as well as the general disgust with the black-and-white attitudes of the corporate post-World War II generation, my parents. Still, most of us were coopted and became our fathers and mothers in most significant ways, losing our Yippie youth into the next youngish phase of the so-called Young Urban Professionals, yuppies. I chose a different hippie homesteader path, going after a solar cabin built in the north woods, but I was a weird one. The yuppies are aged baby boomers now, and we achieved little, in my estimation, so that is now passed along to youth to take it much further.

Rise up and achieve quick change
On the speed of revolution, do not make the error of assuming nonviolence is slower than violence. That is statistically not the case at all. Historical examples abound and the use of the counterfactual is helpful.

How long would it have taken for African Americans to wage war against the US and get Jim Crow segregation ended? Any such insurgency would have been mercilessly and totally crushed. A hint of that came about during riots, when all the casualties were on one side, but you just won't find the poor minority of 11 percent militarily prevailing on the most well equipped military on Earth. The paucity of, and incorrectness of the Che Guevaran triggering event theory has been shown to be generally completely useless and counterproductive. You don't have a riot leading to revolution, nor do you assassinate a George Bush--or Obama--and expect any outcome other than society reacting against you, radical leftists and teabaggers (respectively) notwithstanding. Mistaking wild enthusiasm for Sarah Palin from the woefully underinformed teabaggers at their convention for some kind of potential actual violent American Revolution2 is a radical rightwing fantasy of radically unrealistic delusion.

And apply the timeline question to Nashville, where Jim Crow segregation was the law from 1896 (Plessey v Ferguson) to 1954 (Brown v Board of Ed) in education, 1956 in city buses thanks to the Montgomery campaign, and then 1960 in Nashville. The college students looked at 64 years of 'legal' segregation in the winter of 1960, trained and did sit-ins, and won by Easter. That is fast. Violence would have been costly and worse than slow.



Or look at the Philippines in 1986. Four days of nonviolent People Power masses in the streets and they overthrew Marcos, who had successfully defeated violent insurrection for more than 20 years! Violence is fast? Not.

But that is counterintuitive. We are in a culture saturated with the idea that violence is fast. That is part of the bubble around it that needs to be punctured.

2 comments:

Terri said...

I think that one reason people think NV campaigns are slow to create change is because of the Indian struggle for independence. One of Gandhi's principles was non-embarrassment, which wasn't about having a good laugh at the expense of your opponent, but that you halted your campaign while they are distracted by other more pressing things. Every time Britain had some other conflict to attend to, Gandhi would call a stop to the home rule campaign. I believe India would have achieved her goals much sooner had he not taken this strategy. But it was so important to Gandhi that Britain leave as friends that he persisted even thought it gave the false impression that NV is slower than violence. Thanks for giving these great examples.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Exactly! You give the primary example of the perduring myth. Thanks!