Saturday, September 28, 2013

We the People?

            [This contains spoilers for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and V for Vendetta.]

            I’ve mentioned my Government class covering US/Russian relations on QBA before (here, here, and here), and I’m going to do so again. Whenever I get the chance, I like to tout the importance and power of the masses. In class, I was given a writing assignment where I was to give my opinion on what caused the downfall of the Soviet Union: Gorbachev, Reagan, Containment, or the failure of Communism. Naturally (for me, at least), I argued that the USSR’s collapse was due to masses being fed up with the slipping living standards and life spans. I held a minority opinion; the class majority believed that Gorbachev all but single-handedly led the collapse of the Soviet Union through his ideas. It is not my intent to state my opinion on that topic here to make myself feel better about holding an unpopular opinion even if I was completely right in every way, but I wish to discuss if the masses have any real clout or if they’re just controlled by a small group of charismatic individuals. I hope you did your homework.
            The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, for those of you who did not do your homework and don’t plan to, covers the revolution staged by a penal colony on the moon. The orchestrators of the revolution were not the masses on the moon, they were a small group of individuals led by the anarchistic Professor Bernardo de la Paz who lied to their own people and to their enemies, restricted freedoms, rigged elections, and intentionally misled people in order to appear as if they had majority support. In this instance, did the people’s wishes drive the change? They did not; the people were used as a mechanism to create the change individuals wanted. Although, in the end, even the Professor didn’t get the change he wanted, so perhaps the people can create their preferred change through individuals who wish for something else.
            V for Vendetta is another story where an individual carefully orchestrates an act of rebellion, using people as a weapon and a threat. However, the mastermind, V, was intentionally mysterious so he could be any individual who wanted to fight an oppressive. He could be an idea to strive for and embody. The problem with that is V was anything but an anybody. While he did embody an idea that everyone could put his or her own face on, the skill with which he manipulated Norsefire and the people could not easily be replicated.
            What can we see in these and real-life situations? A lot of ambiguity. People are an unfortunate facet of humanity. (Read the previous sentence again. Appreciate the contradiction.) For almost anything to be done, it requires the acceptance and participation of a large group, but that large group can be manipulated by a small one: Eisenhower and McCarthy in the Red Scare, Gorbachev in the downfall of the Soviet Union, even Bane and Gotham City for those of you who watch more movies than read books. However, those small groups leading large ones are susceptible to problems. More popular and powerful ideas and groups can overpower and destroy, like the opinion of the global community when the Nazi atrocities were revealed. And those charismatic leaders who seek control still need to appeal to human nature and natural law which is why fringe political and religious groups can be extremely fervent and persuasive yet still rub the wrong way.
            In conclusion, the masses have the power, but they can be quite complacent. Humanity is like an object subject to the laws of physics; it will remain at rest until given the tiniest push. On the other hand, the masses still have some discernment on what pushes to accept and which to reject, so it’s not like an object subject to the laws of physics at all. How wonderfully paradoxical.



-Jason Rossiter


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