There was a post on Memeo today, about "complacency advocacy" -- people vehemently arguing that you should STFU and not rock the boat. It got me thinking, because I've noticed that phenomenon too. Memeo says:
Complacency enforcement in the form of policing activists is to be expected from those in advantageous power positions, yet it appears too often among those who are on the losing end of that scale.Yeah, I think it's fear. I know a quite a few "normal people" (as the Russian expression has it) who grew up in police states or civil wars. Most of them have this as a built-in reflex: keep your head down, don't rock the boat, and don't go near anyone who doesn't keep her head down. Express strong opinions at odds with the consensus only among close family, if that. Don't even go see a remotely controversial movie because someone might be watching, or you might bump into someone, or there might be trouble.
Perhaps it is due to fear. That’s the only insight I have into it at the moment after having read a lot of these kinds of comments and having been on the receiving end of them more times than I like to remember.
I don't blame them. And I'm overawed when that fear breaks and cracks open the system. But even when it does, most people still stay home and keep their heads down. That's how fear-based polities work, by psychologically atomizing society, so networks of opposition never manage to coalesce. Not all Egypt was at Tahrir. Only the ones who somehow managed to crack that shell of fear.
I have noticed it more in our "free" societies as well, lately. It's the same vibe: the undertone of "you'll get us all into trouble." I don't think that it's a coincidence that despite these societies getting safer by the numbers -- less homicide, less violent crime, less rape, fewer war dead, less famine, longer life expectancy, fewer terror attacks, fewer traffic accidents, fewer victims from natural disasters etc. etc. -- our risk-aversion has grown far faster than the risks have fallen. If you believe that you're surrounded by deadly forces outside your control, keeping your head down and huddling in a silent mass, sheep-like, is a natural thing to do.
I read a bit of news reporting a few months ago where they had interviewed three people, one born in the 1950's, one in the 1970's, and one in the 1990's, in a certain part of Helsinki. They'd asked them to map out the physical territory they roamed as children below the age of 12. The 1950's kid was all over the place, shooting rats at the harbor with a BB gun, climbing the rocky vacant lots in Kallio, getting into scraps with the kids from the neighboring neighborhood, taking long walks to Seurasaari, and so on. The 1970's kid's map covered the general quarter of the town pretty well, but had none of the 1950's kid's expeditions. The 1990's kid went to school, some friends houses nearby, and was driven by his parents to do sports and other hobbies. His map had a few disconnected spots on it.
This mirrors my experience as a suburban kid in the 1970's, the stories my parents' generation tell of their childhood, and their parents' generation of theirs. Nowadays it is unthinkable to see a 10-year-old kid by himself, or only with friends of the same age, out playing in the streets five or ten kilometers from home these days.
All because of fear. Yet Helsinki now is a great deal safer than Helsinki in the 1950's, with its heroin-addicted war veterans, more lethal traffic, general lack of safety barriers, unexploded ordnance left over from the war, and so on.
It really is too bad about fear.