I can’t presume to know your thoughts, but I can presume to suggest what presidents, prime ministers and popes are thinking. In a word: “Help!” How in God’s name do I get up in the morning and keep holding all this together? This being the millions of people and companies and agencies and military units and stock markets and rivals who constitute the crazy-quilt pattern of this thing I’m trying to run?
You see, our leaders watch the same violent street outrage and clashes on their nightly newscast that scare us. But for them, it’s a lot more than scary; it’s a ticking time bomb. Leaders have been having nightmares about “the masses” from the beginning of history. Be they chieftain, king, or gang leader, you get to the top by guarding your back. Because in back of you there are always “the masses” of poor and angry majorities who hate their life and, accordingly, hate your failure to make it better.
The ancient Greeks, Shakespeare, right down to Arthur Miller’s frightened Willie Loman have portrayed men and women who feel overwhelmed by their world and their roles in it. Today — in a world bristling with supersonic missiles and deadly cybernetics — anyone who presumes to be a leader quickly realizes the bronco they have saddled has really saddled them. There are no walls nor gates nor surveillance systems strong enough to keep “the masses” from your seat of power or the head on your shoulders.
Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Mali — simply the latest venues where “the masses” have exploded. They have been all throughout history from Hannibal to Spartacus to Robespierre to Lenin to the crowds taunting our Grant Park cameras in 1968 with “the whole world is watching.”
Will the next uprising be the apocalypse? The final collapse of order? The end of civilization as seers have been predicting for centuries? Hell-fire preachers and funereal philosophers are still with us to shout “yes.” On the other hand, there’s my favorite playwright Thornton Wilder whose answer to the doomsayers is best captured in the hardscrabble title and still-hopeful tone of his last play: “By The Skin Of Our Teeth.” The next scrappy, upbeat, storefront cast that mounts that ode to human survival will be worth your time…
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