No bigger than a man’s hand:
Behold there arizeth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.  It was quite a downpour. 

Having looked at the numbers and concluding that a low birth rate will lead to social instability I look for evidence that it is about to happen.  The low birth rate is there.  And the sense that people are less wholesome than they were, reported from Greece and Rome is arguably present.  But things seem very secure.  The race riots that burned cities in America late last century are over.  The demonstrations of the Arab Spring and the riots of Europe do not come nigh.  Indeed we have the Occupy Wall Street movement and its progeny, but they are peaceful assemblies.  It shows we are able to have protests without terror.  Good for us.

But now I learn (Hold Your Horses ECONOMIST vol. 402 no. 8769 January 28, 2012 page 12 and It Looks Like Civil War, same issue page 47, 48) that a year ago Syria was the safest country in that part of the world.  Since news is generally bad news and Syria had been in the news, I had not suspected.  And yet now there have been thousands of deaths reported from uprisings with no end in sight.  Evidently it was a pressure cooker with no vent.  People must have been groaning under an unpopular regime without letting on.

What does that say for us?  Safety and serenity are hardly indications of themselves that there are problems.  Can you find a pressure cooker here? 

I think maybe you can.  How many of us are singled out for coercion by the state?

Well for one thing there is the question of pain medications.  It is easy enough to get agitated about the misuse of pain medications intended for good purposes.  But I read now that the pressure of the government, mostly the feds, is so strong that it has become difficult to prescribe these drugs and difficult to get them.  Unavailability is a bigger problem than abuse.  A lot of people are affected.  One estimate I saw suggested as many as a third of the country needs medication for chronic pain, and that means every one of them is on somebody’s list as a suspect.  They must deal with the coercive power of the state.  That, of course, leaves 200 million unthreatened.

There are 7 million incarcerated or under some sort of supervision so there must be at least 15 million who have been.  But this burden falls disproportionately on certain minority groups.  Were I Black or Hispanic I would probably feel that the “law” was the enemy.  There are over 12% Blacks in the country and a similar number of Hispanics, so there is roughly a quarter of the country who feel either directly or through friends and relatives the rough side of coercion.  We are now down to 150 million who are not involved. 

How many young people use or have used illegal drugs in America?  I hear numbers suggesting half is a reasonable guess, and I don’t mean just using a drug once either.  That puts us down to 75 million.

And how many others have been arrested, audited, sued, are gay, divorced or put on notice not to approach someone who is complained against them?   If it is less than 25 million I would be amazed.  So there are fewer than 50 million who live their lives without running headlong into the coercive power of the state, say one in six.

If you are one of them, well done.  Continue to keep your head down. 

Any country in which 15% of the people have power over the others and use that power in an unkindly way has to be a pressure cooker. 

Another point that came up in the articles is that Syria is a complex ethnic and sectarian society.  So are we.  And this is no accident.  We did this to ourselves and have cultivated the trend where we could.  I am accustomed to reading how this makes a society more “vibrant” and prosperous.  And now I read that it condemns a society to endless carnage. 

But it has not happened here.  Perhaps it never will.  History gives no comfort, but things can change for the better as well as change for the worse.  Wish us luck.  But honestly at this moment I do not see a storm cloud, not even a small one. 

The thing that I put at the root, of course is birth rate.  Usually my logic is, “Those who hate outsiders marry kin and have many babies.  Those who like outsiders do the opposite.  Thus there is a tendency for a secular change toward the less tolerant.”  But another idea occurs to me.  Maybe the issue is of the nurturing personality.  We may have lost that in our society.  And maybe being around babies encourages it.  It’s just a thought.

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