Saturday, January 22, 2011

What do Tunisia, The Declaration of Independence and Malcolm Gladwell have in common?

The change in government in Tunisia resulting from a "popular up-rising" made me think of the importance of this passage from the Declaration of Independence:
""Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.""
This is the "Big Picture" view of events in Tunisia, but there was also a Small Picture element that may have been "The Tipping Point" that resulted in the overthrow of a long established government.

"The Tipping Point" is a great book by Malcolm Gladwell.  The general thesis of the book is why does it sometimes take a seemingly innocuous event to push enough people to act more boldly than they otherwise would in a given situation.  In Tunisia, many/most people were well aware and tired of the corruption but not to the point where they were incensed enough to do anything about it--remember the above line in the Declaration:
""Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed""

In this article in the NYTIMES: Slap to a Man’s Pride Set Off Tumult in Tunisia, Gladwell may have material for one more chapter:


""SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia — Mohamed Bouazizi spent his whole life on a dusty, narrow street here, in a tiny, three-room house with a concrete patio where his mother hung the laundry and the red chilis to dry. By the time Mr. Bouazizi was 26, his work as a fruit vendor had earned him just enough money to feed his mother, uncle and five brothers and sisters at home. He dreamed about owning a van.

Faida Hamdy, a 45-year-old municipal inspector in Sidi Bouzid, a police officer’s daughter, was single, had a “strong personality” and an unblemished record, her supervisor said. She inspected buildings, investigated noise complaints and fined vendors like Mr. Bouazizi, whose itinerant trade may or may not have been legal; no one seems to know.

On the morning of Dec. 17, when other vendors say Ms. Hamdy tried to confiscate Mr. Bouazizi’s fruit, and then slapped him in the face for trying to yank back his apples, he became the hero — now the martyred hero — and she became the villain in a remarkable swirl of events in which Tunisians have risen up to topple a 23-year dictatorship and march on, demanding radical change in their government.""

Sometimes we have to look beyond the grand rhetoric and look to a simple explanation.  I am sure the  history books will note the revolution in Tunisia, but will not remember Mr Bouazizi' role...Something to think about...
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