Democracy vs. autocracy

In light of recent events, I am republishing the translation of an article that I originally wrote in French in February 2011.

A wind of madness has recently swept the Arab world. Intoxicated by the tidal waves that engulfed Tunisia then Egypt, whole populations are rising and trampling old autocracies.

The following domino effect spread to Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. Countries long time muzzled by strongmen are suddenly rebelling and demanding a more democratic form of government.

But the transition from an absolute regime to a representative system is a Herculean task. I would compare this state of affairs with the situation of a homeless person who suddenly inherits millions. Penniless yesterday, millionaire today. Can this man who lived all his life in a state of extreme poverty manage his new riches?
I very much doubt it. If he has any sense, he will look for somebody “qualified” to manage his newly found fortune, and that’s where danger lurks.

I have always been wary of the extremists (fundamentalists, Islamists, communists, Trotskyists, pétainists, fascists, papists, etc.) who swarm into the murky waters of revolutions.
These unsavory characters are waiting for the opportune moment to pounce on the carcasses of deposed states and establish (for the good of the people of course) another kind of dictatorship, often harsher than the one that was overturned.

I would not go as far as saying that Nicolas Alexandrovich Romanov was a saint, but I think that I would have preferred to live under a Romanov than a Stalin, Pol Pot or Ahmadinejad.

All the poor devils who have lived in misery injustice and fear think that a revolution will be the panacea for all their ills. Those people are eager to listen and follow any sweet sounding demagogue who will promise them heaven on earth.

Personally, I would be more inclined to listen to a realist like Winston Churchill who famously declared on May 13th, 1940 “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” than somebody who promises me the moon.
I am ready to bet that the street vendors of Cairo or Tunis will not be better off under a democracy than under an autocracy.

Let me confess that I am always leery of being tossed from Charybdis to Scylla.
I do not mean to say that I am against the establishment of a democratic system anywhere in the world, but rather that I feel ill at ease by the inevitable vacuum created by a revolution; and especially by the unavowed convictions held by the people who are jockeying for power.

Unfortunately “freedom fighters” have a tendency to bite the hand that fed them, and often morph into mobs bent on carving their own fiefdoms rather than implementing the basic tenets of democracy.


PS: To look at pictures of recent events turn the sound on, click on the “Home” link at the top of the page, and click again on “My photos” located on the right side of the page.




Suite à une vidéo de troisième ordre crée et diffusée sur YouTube, des milliers d’énergumènes se sont précipités dans les rues pour attaquer les symboles de tous leurs maux: les ambassades des Etats-Unis.
Quand des contestataires ont une raison valable pour manifester, je n’ai pas grand-chose à dire, mais quand des crimes sont commis pour des raisons pseudo-religieuses, je ne peux rester indifférent.

Ces émeutes, incitées par des marionnettistes venimeux, sont généralement commises par des mécontents n’ayant pas grand-chose à perdre.
Souvent sans emploi ou travaillant pour un salaire de misère, pour ces déshérités toute occasion est bonne pour exprimer leur rage contre le système.

Ces manifestations « spontanées »sont  avant tout des actes de revanche commis par des gens jaloux d’une société dont ils sont exclus.
Au Moyen-Age, les manants avaient rarement l’occasion d’apprécier comment vivaient les seigneurs. Au vingt-unième siècle par contre, même dans les pays les plus sous-développés, les miséreux (grâce à la télévision) ont maintenant un aperçu des splendeurs de l’Occident.
Et c’est de là que nait leur rage. Cette rage qui n’attend qu’une occasion pour exploser et détruire les symboles d’une société dont ils sont exclus.

Les « casseurs » qui manifestent  dans ces occasions n’ont probablement qu’une connaissance limitée des doctrines de leur foi. Ils se réfugient dans la religion tout comme les manants d’autrefois se réfugiaient dans les cathédrales pour supporter leur misère.

Je ne crois pas un seul instant que c’est uniquement une ferveur religieuse extrême qui a poussé ces jeunes gens à attaquer les ambassades et les Mac-Dos.

Ces casseurs, fiers de crier leur haine pour les photojournalistes, n’hésiteraient pas une seconde si l’occasion s’en présentait, à fuir leur pays et a venir frapper aux portes de l’Occident pour quémander un asile et un travail.
Mais comme beaucoup d’amants jaloux, ils préfèrent tuer ce qu’ils ne peuvent posséder.

La misère et l’ignorance sont malheureusement des terres fertiles pour les provocateurs. Et les barbus rétrogrades qui rêvent de tenir le monde sous le joug d’une théocratie féodale en profitent.




In my head I keep a bunch of little drawers.
They are labeled with tags such as “stupid”, “ridiculous”, “frivolous”, “cruel”, “cute”, “sexy”, “mean”, “vain”, “vulgar”, “nice”, “dangerous”, “friendly”, “freak”, etc.

When I meet somebody, after an often brief conversation, I stick that person’s name in one of those little boxes; because consciously or not, we are all judgmental.
It might not be fair, but we will judge you by the way you dress, the way you talk, the way you walk, etc. and our perceived first impressions will end up (and remain for a long time) in one of these little filing cabinets.

Some people are not good at assessing other people. It might have something to do with a lack of proper training in the “people-watching” department.
If you are not able to “read” somebody correctly, you are bound for a lot of headaches in the future.

Neville Chamberlain never “read” Hitler properly… with the consequences that we know. He probably classified him as “reasonable” instead of “freakish”. Hitler’s imperious little mustache should have been a clue though, but Neville failed to notice the ominous threat in Adolf’s crumb catcher.

I honed my people-watching skills in my impoverished student days. For the modest price of a cup of coffee, I could sit at a sidewalk café and practice my people-watching skills for hours.
I learned to read body language, vacant eyes, smirks, etc.

It served me well. In the following years, I avoided being shot by hostile “fellagas”, fired from a lifetime job and surviving a series of amorous conflicts.

So, when you meet somebody new, watch your mouth and your steps. Avoid making insensitive comments or unsettling body noises for as long as you possibly can.
Leave immediately after making even the slightest favorable impression, for it will linger for a long time.

To sum it up, always strive to create a good first impression, otherwise in a near future, an avenging Soup Nazi will pop up and decree “No soup for you!