Indignados In History: Why The World Is Shaking Like It's 1848

Essay: Perhaps the closest historical comparison with recent worldwide social disaffection and civil unrest is in the lead-up to the mid-19th century revolutions that roiled the globe.

Protests last June in Santiago, Chile (Simenon)
Protests last June in Santiago, Chile (Simenon)
Rodrigo Lara Serrano

BUENOS AIRES -- I have a friend who composes elegant and catchy technopop songs. His band plays in small venues here in Buenos Aires, where he has some fans – but not too many. He has a day job in telemarketing, for which he proudly speaks English with a "mid-Atlantic" accent. His salary allows him a modest pizza-and-Chinese-food lifestyle. To save money he commutes on a used bicycle – he had a new one, but it was stolen. He's affable, polite, an avid reader and, generally speaking, quite content with his life.

But about a year ago I noted a change in our conversations. New words began popping up, like Bilderberg, zeitgeist, indigenous lands, and occupy. He began talking about how the governments of the United States and Europe – and maybe even China too – are part of a secret global brotherhood that, lacking any real sense of democracy, abscond with the savings of other countries and force average citizens to pay for the luxuries of a tiny class of mega-millionaires. These same governments use their military might to seize the world's mineral resources, and poison the middle classes with industrial foods designed to cause harm, all the while ruining the seas and forests.

There's something very 21st century about all this talk. At least it seems that way. In reality, however, we've seen this kind of thing before – during the tumultuous years between 1846 and 1848.

We have a habit of looking at the past for reflections of the present. Many people look at the upheaval, protests and revolutions of 2011-2012 and are reminded of the fall of the Soviet block two decades ago, or of the 1968 student movements in western Europe and the United States. Some even see similarities with 1914, when world war was eminent due to shifts in the balance of Europe's colonial powers.

But there's another parallel that may actually be more useful for understanding the present: the years just before the revolutionary wave of 1848.

From South America to Eastern Europe...

With the notable exception of France, all of those popular uprisings – from Pernambuco, Brazil to Transylvania – failed, often in a matter of weeks or even days. But the context in which they occurred was not unlike the paradoxical times in which we are living today.

In terms of urban technology, industrial power and communications, the world had never seen such formidable advances. For the first time, capitalism was showing off the muscularity of its true power. But like today, there had also never been so many educated people who felt bereft of their due rights and tricked by the false promises of kings and emperors. Thanks to the rise of a brand-new mass media, the scandalous breach in wealth between the poorest and richest was suddenly more public than it had ever been. And like in our own times, old certainties and loyalties were dissolving.

New ideas were emerging in place of those certainties, and the people that espoused them – the "radicals' – were feared and demonized, regardless of how utopian or reasonable their proposals were. The rabble-rousers thought the kings and emperors were using free-market industrialism to subdue the people. That wasn't the case, although there was no shortage of chains in those days: in the United States alone, there were 3.2 million slaves in 1850.

We too will be judged in retrospect for some of our absurd ideas: the ridiculous quantities of money the United States and China spend on armaments, the huge financial bailouts being offered for nothing in exchange, the fact that basic food stuffs are treated as commodities for market speculation. People will question too why we didn't invest heavily in clean energy technology, or why we wouldn't come up with a rational, worldwide plan to eradicate hunger.

Conspiracy theorists can be forgiven for trying to make sense of it all. But what they fail to grasp is that there may just not be a real rhyme or reason to how this crazy world operates.

Read more from AmericaEconomia

Photo - Simenon

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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