by senior futurist Richard Worzel, C.F.A.
“All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.
“You’ve gotta say, ‘I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!’
“So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”
– Television news anchor Howard Beale,
as portrayed by Peter Finch, in the prescient 1976 film Network.
There come times in the life of a society when things change, a tipping point where what has gone on before is no longer accepted, and suddenly the world and society change, often in very visible ways, like the Boston Tea Party in the lead-up to the American Revolution.
I believe we may be at or past such tipping points in three separate, but potentially, intriguingly related, areas of society. I’m going to save what I consider to be the most important ’til last. This is not to say the other two are not important. They are all important, but I believe the third will have the greatest, long-term effect on our world.
Governments spying on their own citizens
There is always tension between security and individual liberties, and the line between what’s acceptable constantly seesaws back and forth between the two. You can’t have individual liberties if you have no security, but without individual liberties, there is no purpose in security other than to maintain the power of a ruling dictator or elite. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Security and intelligence people always want to know more about everyone. They can always justify their wishes by pointing to past disasters as being caused a lack of timely information. From their point of view, the worst part about such disasters is that they, the intelligence and security communities, wind up looking stupid, and being blamed when nasty things happen that might have been prevented if only they had known or recognized the right facts. So they have a hardwired thirst to know everything about everyone. As a result, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 gave security forces all over the world enormous license to expand their invasion of personal liberties. I believe the time has come for this to be re-balanced.
Now, it seems, the general public has decided that governments have gone too far, and have done so without proper consultation or the consent of the electorate. Ever since Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency was intercepting the phone conversations and emails of American citizens – spying, in other words – on an enormous scale, and doing the same with billions of similar communications of citizens of other countries, people have started pushing back.
Yet, because security forces can (always) make a compelling case as to why they need to nibble away at personal liberties (just a little more, of course), the odds are always stacked against official action to rein in spy agencies. No politician wants to be blamed for a terrorist attack that “might” have been averted with more information. As a result, we get Orwellian doublespeak.
A perfect example of this is evident in Canada, where the right-wing government of Stephen Harper recently passed Bill C-44, known as “The Protection of Canada from Terrorist Acts”. Obviously it makes Canadians more secure, right? Well, actually, it makes Canadian spy agencies more secure, giving them more leeway to spy with impunity, supposedly for the purpose of making Canadians more secure. In practice it gives security agencies more power to invade privacy in the name of security. This is doublespeak, and George Orwell would recognize it immediately.
In response, the general public is taking matters into their own hands. New means of encrypting personal communications are emerging daily. Internet sites are creating systems that allow their users to do things anonymously, so that websites can honestly tell spy agencies that they cannot deliver up personal data because they don’t have it, even when such agencies come armed with a warrant.
Of course, this has consequences. People who want to do nefarious things can hide more easily in the shadows because of such developments, including real terrorists and pedophiles. This is the tension between security and liberty.
But for now, people have decided that they’re mad as hell about being spied upon by their own governments, and that those governments have gone too far.
Lack of police accountability, and the misuse of force
In Ferguson, Missouri, an unarmed African-American, Michael Brown, was shot repeatedly and killed by a police officer under conditions that have led many to say that police used excessive force. A subsequent grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer involved, despite the fact that it’s almost unheard of for a grand jury to refuse an indictment when a prosecutor asks for one. This led to the belief that the fix was in, and that there is one law for the police, and another for everyone else, especially minorities. Riots and protests have persisted around the country in response, months after the death of Michael Brown.
In July of 2014, in New York City, police officer Daniel Pantaleo choked African-American Eric Garner to death while trying to subdue him. Again, a grand jury chose not to indict officer Pantaleo, seeming to echo that police are above the law, and that black lives don’t matter. National demonstrations have resulted, and other examples of deaths resulting from police actions are now making front-page news, whereas in the past they were buried in the back pages – all 500 of such deaths a year.
Part of this is the unresolved issue of black-vs-white in America. This is a wound that still festers more than a century after the slavery of people of African descent was abolished. Yet, there is also something else at work here, and not just in America.
In 2010, the government of Canada designated Toronto as the location for a G-20 summit, despite recommendations from city leaders that a major urban center was not a secure location for such a meeting. More than 20,000 police, military, and security personnel were called into Toronto, and large sections of the downtown core were cordoned off. The results were disastrous:
“Over 1000 arrests were made, making it the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. In the aftermath of the protests, the Toronto Police Service and the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) of the G-20 Toronto summit were heavily criticized for brutality during the arrests and eventually went under public scrutiny by media and human rights activists.”
The mass arrests were later almost all subsequently dismissed as illegal. The police were later found to have identified and attacked journalists covering the protests. Some peaceful protestors were beaten or jailed by the police without cause. And many members of the police covered their badges so they couldn’t be identified. Despite all of this, only one police officer was convicted of illegal activity, and then only after a sustained campaign by the media and the public to hold the police accountable. To this day, no senior officers have been called to account.
Largely in the United States, but with similar calls emerging elsewhere, citizens are now calling for greater police accountability. In particular, technology is being brought into the discussion, with calls that every police officer must wear a video camera that records all of their on-duty actions.
Police, who are the bulwark of public safety, are now being seen as having grabbed too much authority to themselves, and believe themselves to be above the law, accountable to no one but themselves. This is dangerous in a democracy, because it’s a short step from there to becoming, literally, a police state.
Police, like security forces, don’t like to be watched, questioned, or checked in their behavior, and will always seek to justify their actions on the basis of public security. Yet, because of these high profile events, the accountability of the police is now being called into question, and will, I suspect, lead to a change in the way many police forces act and are overseen. Much as the military in a stable democracy must answer to elected civilians, so, too, the police, who are entrusted with the ability to use force, up to and including lethal force, are now being called to be accountable to civilian review in a transparent way.
And, echoing what is happening with domestic spying, the general public is now acting unilaterally, video recording police actions. This is part of how these issues have gained prominence.
Violence against women
The blowback against security forces and the police are both important developments, and will, I believe, lead to a realignment of power within our society. But women represent the sleeping giant in Western society, and I believe they have just woken up, certainly in the U.S. and Canada.
What may turn out to be a tipping point happened first in Canada. Jian Ghomeshi was a very popular, well-connected, award-winning, and talented radio interviewer for CBC Radio. He interviewed the famous and powerful from all over the world, and seemingly could do no wrong.
Then, in the Spring of 2014, the Toronto Star informed Ghomesi they were investigating reports that he had sexually and physical assaulted a number of women, and that the CBC had swept such charges under the rug. Ghomesi’s employer, the CBC, eventually fired him, and Toronto police charged him with four counts of sexual assault, and one count of choking. At first, the general public and many prominent people sprang to his defense, but as more and more women stepped forward, apparently substantiating the charges and going public with similar claims, sentiment turned against him.
Likewise, in November of 2014, the Washington Post reported that 16 women had come forward, claiming that Bill Cosby had sexually assaulted them, with some saying that he had drugged them before engaging in non-consensual sex. Since that time, more women have come forward with similar charges.
As in Canada, Cosby’s public first sprang to his defense, but came to realize that it’s possible that the claims are true, and that the formerly beloved actor and comedian may well be a sexual predator.
It would be easy to see this is a sense of personal importance and entitlement on the part of famous and popular people, and Lord knows, there’s a lot of that around. But the bigger story here is that I believe that women have been roused from their slumber, and will now move to have the laws changed on sexual assault. At present, trials of rapists too often turn into de facto trials about the sexual behavior of the female victims.
Partly for this reason, the incidence of rape and sexual assault has long been vastly underreported. Yet now women in many places are coming forward and saying “Enough!” On college & university campuses, they are demanding new standards for dealing with non-consensual sex in all forms. Online, women are stepping out of the shadows, and taking steps to shame sexual trolls and bullies. One enterprising young woman in Australia has taken the unusual, but apparently effective, step of first identifying such trolls, and then forwarding their posts to their mothers.
My point is that women are now coming forward in sufficient numbers that the whole issue has taken on much greater visibility. As a result, I believe this issue won’t go away, but will snowball, bringing dramatic social changes with it.
It has long been my view that women are in the process of moving into a dominant position in society. I have written about this on many occasions in the past, such as here. But there needed to be a spark to cause women to stand up and act. These two sets of accusation about high-profile, popular men being sexual predators, with the accompanying unhappiness with the way women are treated in sexual assault cases, may well be that spark.
And if women do stand up and force change, they will come to realize just how much power they actually have when they stand together. And that will change society and the world in ways we can scarcely imagine.
“I’m mad as hell…”
All of these potential tipping points share one common trait: they all represent situations where the people involved have had enough of being abused, and are standing up to fight back. Or, in the words of the so-called Mad Prophet of the Airways, Howard Beale, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any longer.”
I could be wrong. None of these events may turn out to be tipping points. But they sure look like them to me.
© Copyright, IF Research, December 2014.
 Out of all federal cases in 2010 (the latest year for which we have data) in which a prosecutor sought an indictment, they failed to get one in only 11 out of 162,000 cases. http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/ferguson-michael-brown-indictment-darren-wilson/
 “2010 G-20 Toronto summit protests”, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_G-20_Toronto_summit_protests
 Pelley, Laureen, “Taking on the trolls”, Toronto Star, 9 Dec. 2014, p.E1.