I don't think anyone really understands at this stage what this Revolution means for the world. There were earlier periods in the region that shaped the future and geo-politics, and I'm not enough of a historian to know whether there were smart people who understood the meaning of these at the time. I think that many of us feel torn. We've a youthful hope that the Revolution will bring about real democracy and freedom to the masses who have been for so long ruled by cruel dictators who were proxy to western powers. And we've a cynical old understanding that the situation presents a fertile ground for opportunists and those same western powers to wangle new kinds of influence. I hope, in the interim period, that all discussions with governments and multinationals will be closely monitored for quick publication in the next Wikileaks release.
One middle-aged Libyan said today on Twitter that the situation today reminds him of the ideals of his father's generation in shaking off the colonial rulers. But history is more of a spiral than a cycle. The curves resemble previous ones, but take us to a new place. The world and our position in it have since changed. Consciousness, knowledge, technology and many other factors have evolved in the meantime. The ripples of these events will continue to have effects in unexpected places. It was reported on Twitter today that demonstrators in Cairo had ordered pizza for demonstrators in Wisconsin.
We create and change the world out of our consciousness. The main feeling I am getting from the media and social networking sites is one of inevitability, resembling manifest destiny. Just as yesterday people felt that it was inevitable that they should be ruled by despots, now they share an equally powerful belief that these despots must fall - and quickly. It isn't so much "people power", but the consciousness that moves them, that is the important factor. I'm not being spooky about consciousness here. It's just the power of decision. But the leaders, like Gaddafi today, are definitely so spooked by what's happening that they are seeking the usual suspects to explain it. Surely it's imperialist agents, Zionist schemers, "bearded men" pulling the ropes. It isn't any of these. It's just the force of decision.
A mass current of consciousness cannot be maintained for very long. Quickly it will warp into disagreement or be shaped into new conventions. But at the moment that this wave crests it is invincible - the force of history.
Another experience I had, while watching Gaddafi in his rambling speech was compassion, for this violent man. I felt a similar sympathy for Mubarak. From their point of view, they had brought change and honor to their countries. They had molded the lives of millions of citizens, created conditions of relative peace and stability. They had modernized their country and provided much for them to be proud of. And now these citizens, whom they had surely feared for decades, had turned upon them, ungrateful and disloyal. And Gaddafi today pulled out the law books. Like judge and executioner he showed us what should happen to anyone involved in sedition.
At what point is it acceptable for citizens to rise up and overthrow their government? In a democratic country, we would say, this is unnecessary. There are free elections - we can vote for anyone we please. Gaddafi used similar arguments today. He said that in Libya the way to make reform is through the people's committees. He went out screaming Revolution. How ironic were his words.
Gaddafi's Jamahiriya system, according to the commentators, is a cruel lie, a mask for an unforgiving authoritarian regime. And a few days ago the New York Times carried an op-ed which pointed out the ways in which democracy in America has similarly become a lie ("When Democracy Weakens"). Should Americans too rise up to overthrow their government? Gaddafi today had many crazy examples of what America and other nations do when the authority of their regimes is threatened.
There are no absolute answers to these questions. We all know that whatever comes of the Arab Revolution of 2011, the peoples of these countries won't be totally free. Their societies will not suddenly become paradises in which there is equitable distribution of wealth, employment for all, protection of minorities, children and women, equal access to political power, etc. But at what point do the conditions on the ground grow so far apart from a nation's potential that the normal mechanisms of preserving authority deserve to be torn asunder - through violence or non-violence? There is a point and a time at which we all become revolutionaries. Legitimacy for a revolution is not determined by some eternal principle. It is rather the sense that an invisible line has been crossed, or that the time has now come. Enough Gaddafi. The people demand the fall of the regime.