Tonight we dine in Starbucks
Tonight Athens burned. As I watched horrified by the images I saw I found it difficult to determine cause and effect, action and reaction, and the whole milieu of twitter and livestreams has turned into one digesting mess of violence.
I can’t give you a better idea of what is happening than what #f12gr on Twitter can, so I’ll leave writing that story to the Greeks. Instead I’ll talk about where we are today here in the states and how this relates to our situation.
Nations exist as long as they are sovereign and legitimate. Not just the state, but the economic system in the nation must be considered legitimate by it’s citizens. This legitimacy can come from many different reasons, including force, fear, shared interest, ideology, religion, etc. In a democracy, this is generally the sense that you and your fellow citizens have an impact on how the system runs.
Many people in America feel that the government they live under no longer represents them. Many others feel that our economic system has left them behind or exploits them without adequate compensation. Still others have many of their family members disenfranchised while they themselves face routine hostile interactions with militarized police. In short, their acceptance of the rules and norms in our society are increasingly due to fear of government rather than love of country.
You can have a country that maintains order through sheer force and the threat thereof. This is not generally something that democracies do well, and those that do usually end up devolving into authoritarianism.
The people of Greece have seen much of their voice be usurped by extra-national actors that they don’t feel invested in, that they feel don’t represent them or their interests and that force economic policies hostile to their wellbeing. This isn’t that far from where we in America are today.
We cannot maintain our democracy by telling those that feel exploited by it that nobody owes them anything. It will not weather a nation filled with people that don’t care if it comes under threat. No amount of love for our troops will stop mobs from burning down the buildings of those they feel are taking advantage of them without recourse. A people that are made hostile to their police cannot be all locked up or disenfranchised without ending our commitment to a democratic state. Naked force cannot be the only backstop for an economic and political system that maintains the pretense of government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Our economic and political systems must be made legitimate by giving people voice in how they are run. Anything else leaves us at the mercy of the mob or the despot.