As a cynical optimist, I recognize that there is never any true progress in the world, no directed progress at any rate. Like the evolution of organisms, there is no goal, and yet, just through a ratcheting process, some things improve without a plan. Some would call this progress, and sometimes ascribe a teleological cause behind it all. I do neither.
I occasionally will visit other websites that purportedly have a superior take on things, a more studied view of events at large, as the denizens are - or advertise themselves to be - intellectually superior to your average lumpkin. One such site is Edge.org. I used to visit there quite frequently, but then I discovered that I wasn't learning anything new there. That the discussions between the "most complex and sophisticated minds" weren't all that interesting. Were, in fact, downright slow and plodding. I'm not sure if that is because those minds were trying to dumb down their thoughts to a wider audience. Or perhaps, specialists talking outside their specialty, were no wiser than the average lumpkin.
Regardless, I found that, at one point or another, I'd already picked up the tidbits of information and scientific popcorn. I'd find an insight they provided one I'd already considered. Or still worse, an insight I'd considered, rejected, and moved on from some statement they had provided perhaps ten or twenty years ago. To this day, I'm pretty much fed up with the Daniel Dennetts, the Richard Dawkinses, the Jarod Laniers, the Jared Diamonds, the Brian Greens, and said,
"Dudes, please. It's the 21st century. Contemporize yourselves already".
Another such site is Crooked Timber. I liked it at first, because the contributors and commenters did a pretty good job of making fun of libertarians. But after awhile, that gets old. And besides, I found that most of the discussions invariably devolved into a cramped wrestling match over minutiae. I'm not quite sure why academic types do that, but they do seem to pick a completely tangential point to obsess over, and miss out on the original bone of contention.
Take the latest doings in Egypt. There was a short essay by John Quiggin, invoking Francis Fukuyama's 1989 "End of History" essay. In it, he (Fukuyama) lamented that - since it seemed that with the fall of Communism, everyone was headed towards becoming a parliamentary democracy of one or another flavor of liberal capitalist stripe - that history was going to get a lot more boring. (There's a lot more to the essay than that, but, bear with me here. Don't get all twisted up in sidebars).
Well, we can grant Fukuyama a certain amount of slack here (given that we enjoy a perspective twenty years up the line, and that Fukuyama is a cosseted ivory tower academic) that his analysis is sweetly naive. It would indeed have been such a nice world where an unfettered and unthreatened Russian and Chinese peoples could thrive and grow and be free, but such was not meant to be. Such was not meant to be in the Western republics, for that matter.
But now Quiggin seems to assume that the same thing (democracy) will happen in the Islamic world. Or at least he suggests that we entertain the notion. We can forgive the opining of the commenters as basically the usual middlebrow blather that occurs among the internet denizens - usually white, upper-middle-class, Anglo-Americans with no real life-and-death struggles under the copious belts - as just so much bloodless intellectual snooze. Night drool on their fluffy pillows.
Because no where at any time are the real roles of the real players mentioned - the security services, the army, the police, the secret police. In Egypt, nothing, and I mean nothing is going to happen one way or the other without the army's say-so. There is confusion linking the tyrant (Mubarak) with the army, and yet history has shown again and again that these two entities are entirely and completely separate.
This is not to belittle the demonstrators and protestors. It is a statement of fact. The pro-democracy forces may or may not be brought to the table, but if they are, it will be at the convenience (or inconvenience, for this the job of protest) of the security forces.
This is not merely a result of brute force in action. Special interests are involved (one has only to take a look at our own American revolution to see how this works). With the advent of the Israeli-Egypt Peace Accords, subsidized by the US of A, the Egyptian army had little to do but go into business and control private enterprise. And go into business they did, and in a big way. (To cut to the point, have a gander at how Russia and China are doing to see the new political model: security forces run businesses, discover the joys of profit and the delights of private enterprise). Now, when you are business, the one thing you do not want is uncertainty. You do not want chaos. The army (and other security industries) want an end to chaos. If it means a form of participatory democracy, then so be it. Just so long as they get to keep the cash. And perhaps this is the way Mubarak will be treated: given a large severance package, a golden parachute for despots, and let business continue.
We have seen something similar (not exactly like it, but similar) unfold within the US of A, with the rise of the MIC, the military/industrial/congressional complex back in 1916. 1916 did I say? Surely I meant 1946 or 1956 or something closer to Eisenhower's speech. Nope. 1916. That is the date when a significant portion of US GDP first went to armaments, and a lot of people in power realised that this was a very, very good thing. Not for the country, for them. (Because, remember, the armaments industry is not in the business of making arms. It is in the business of making money).
We see various populists "revolts" (for example, the current Tea Party) occur, which seem on the surface to be anti-government, pro-democracy and pro-individual, and yet, they only get what does not inconvenience the MIC. Their corporate sponsors, apparently have no objection to cuts in basic science or cultural programs. After all, Americans are being bred for a return to docile servitude, so what does it matter if the US of A withers to nothing? The industry is intact and making money. That is what is important. It is only when an unruly populace inconveniences the business planners that concessions are made. (At least, unless the situation become completely untenable, then, well, you know the drill. Revolution).
This, then, not entirely modeled on the US model, but close, is the new political seascape in the Middle East. So, revolution, just not what anyone wanted or expected. Business as usual.