Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Anniversaries: Lest We Forget Tiananmen Square

Image Source: Guardian.

I noticed when the uprisings in the Middle East began in Tunisia and then spread to Egypt this spring that, for media and Web commentators, this was the social media youth revolution.  Millennials see these events as the dawning moment for Generation Y, wherein decades of passivity exhibited by previous generations has been swept away by educated, Internet-savvy, globally-aware twenty-somethings.  I also noticed that there have been some noises specifically made about their Generation X predecessors not being conscientious enough to overthrow tyranny and oppression.  That was odd.

On that note, today is the anniversary of the army massacres at Tiananmen Square in 1989. We should not forget what social and political protest looked like in the period just before the Information Age kicked in - otherwise, we might not see the long term pattern of these events.  The Chinese government has not forgotten. According to a Guardian article, Zhou Yongjun, a former Tiananmen student leader, was arrested in 2009 and was held and tried for fraud. In 1989, he was 21 years old.

In other words, the Tech Revolution is indeed a decisive factor which does coincide with the fact that the majority of populations in developing nations are now under the age of 30. But the spirit and momentum of these democratic conflicts was not born this spring, in the same moment as the birth of Millennials' generational consciousness. To confuse the confluence of these three things is to misunderstand the larger conjunction of technology and democracy that has been transpiring for over two centuries. Below the jump, contemporary news coverage.  Seeing these reports is déjà vu - all over again.

BBC1 report. Video Source: Youtube.

BBC News report on the Tiananmen massacres. Video Source: Youtube.

AP retrospective. Video Source: Youtube.

NBC report. Video Source: Youtube.

CBC report. Video Source: Youtube.

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  1. I think many people took the Tiananmen Square protests for granted in their early stages because student protests are de rigeur in many Asian countries, although they aren't usually demanding democratic reforms. I was a college DJ at the time and remember dedicating Billy Bragg's "Waiting For The Great Leap Forward" to the students, adding that they would have a very long wait indeed. Entrenched power ultimately doesn't care if its rationale is communism, fascism, monarchy or theocracy. Once entrenched, its new purpose will be to ensure that nobody's leaping anywhere, especially forward.

  2. Thanks for your comment pblfsda. I agree that power is the lowest common denominator; political and legal systems that surround that power are often just window dressing. As for what Tiananmen Square meant, it took place in an atmosphere when communism was actively crumbling across the Soviet bloc. The Wall fell that autumn.

    The fact that the buck stopped at China was not testimony to the resilience of Marxism as an ideology, imo, but rather to the resilience of communism as a political system that could encase vast power quite well. But even then really, it depended on the willingness of the Chinese authorities to exercise that authority, at whatever cost; their willingness exceeded that of the Russians and East Europeans. If the power is wielded without regard for democratic rights and individual lives, then no amount of impressive democratic agitation will work. Hence you can have all the idealism about freedom, democracy and changing the world you want (a la Generation Y). But you have to be willing to die for it. This is not something, I think, that has penetrated the Millennial consciousness in the West yet. Moreover, if the people win over a tyrannical government and establish democratic government, that does not guarantee that the government will be democratic. The history of post-Revolutionary France says a lot about this.

    At the end of the day, it comes down to a clash of spirits between authority and rebellion. If the former wins, then the minds of the people are cowed, rebellion will not work, and tyranny prevails. One of the abiding images from the above reports is of two armed soldiers holding back hundreds upon hundreds of people, who were already too intimidated, post-massacre, to overrun them. In other words: the people can 'win' and take power in Egypt - but 'winning a democratic society' is not necessarily a sure thing. And just because revolutions are sweeping a region or the world, does not mean the people will 'win' at all. All Gaddafi had to do was refuse to step down, and you see how peace and hope begin to crumble.

    That's why the Middle Eastern protests will not automatically engender free societies. There has to be a civic change in public psychology in these populations, with the populace and those in power both making concessions. The people have to be willing to take on more responsibility. Those in power have to concede that the people may be capable of doing so.

  3. ToB, lest we forget about the facts? Like:

    - Have you seen the recent US embassy cable from Wikileaks that no one died in Tiananmen Square? It's actually known for decades, check a 1998 article from Columbia Journal Review titled "The Myth of Tiananmen"

    - Declassified NSA document showed our intel estimate placed casualty at 180-500, in line with the Chinese government's official casualty figure of 241.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Anon. No I was not aware of these data. However, my point was not the body count, but the psychology of social transformation and whether that can or should be generationally defined.