The age of social revolution that brought us into the 21st century – the struggles that human endeavor overcame since Industrial Revolution- seems to have passed us. We seem to live in a state of ‘no-more-sorrow’ today where luxury for all has become the drive of governments in the western world. This condition of society , however, makes one wonder of the possibility of social revolutions in modern world of the kind that uplifted a huge population into political consciousness.
The comparison that comes to mind when one sees a peaceful society are the opium wars in China. While the populace is blissfully unaware of their own sufferings, the institutions in power carryout a dirty war for control over trade. In such a setting of mist and sedation, it is difficult for a people led revolution to gain strength. The local population is usually awakened by an outsider as was in case of Indian Freedom Struggle- where most of Indian leaders were educated in western ways of life and were hence able to demand the same for their Indian kin. Another factor that is important in any social movement against the establishment is the feeling of actual repression by the people. A people that actually feel threatened by the state in their basic rights will find ways of countering any power no matter how insurmountable it may appear. The state itself is aware of it and therefore it provides institutions to channel and address the grievances of its people. Democratic societies of modern age have been successful in providing important institutions to address these concerns to a large extent and that has seen a large number of people that feel integrated into the ideas of nationhood. In a successful state administration, the feeling of alienation should be minimal and the faith in institutions must largely be strong throughout people of all strata.
The recent emergence of technology however, has given a different flavor to our established notions of power distribution socially and representation of political aspirations through elections. On the one hand- technology has in many ways allowed inter communication and facilitated organized voicing of common concerns by people that were before this unheard. It has given a vent to their everyday frustrations and debates between strangers often end up clarifying rather than usurping each other’s stand and meeting a common ground. On the other hand, the ownership of technology makes it difficult to trust it in times of actual social/ human crisis. Since the media and internet are in almost total control of governments and large corporate houses that have a stake in stability of the existing socio-economy, the ideas that are allowed to reach the common citizen and, certainly more dangerously, her own ideas that are disallowed to be spread through censorship may put reasonable doubt against technology .
The recent so-called revolution of Arab Spring are a case in hand. The lack of social institutions in the Arab world gave rise to popular discontent that brought people together through technology that actively supported voicing of concerns. But the way the events unfolded hereafter put major question mark on the people driven nature of the movement. There was little that the people gathered in Tahrir square did. While the camps and crowds did protest for months, the actual game of power struggle and, thereafter, power transfer was played by world powers. In the end, the “social movement” didn’t perhaps deliver what the people actually wanted. It mostly established puppet governments as a temporary solution to satisfy the people and powers that be.
Development of democratic institutions will define the stability of societies in times to come. How successfully a government is able to address the aspirations of its people is dependent on how inclusive the people feel inside the boundaries. Technology in that way could be seen as an institution as well- though not controlled by the government. It is a kind of rebel institution where ideologies are introduced to people. It also allows people to voice their opinions and maintain calmness when they lose sense of belonging and associate with like minded groups. Going forward, the control of internet will define its status as a mere communication and knowledge platform versus a potential tool for social revolutions. The odds today are greatly with status-quo.