I’ve been “offline” for a couple of days — avoiding the computer and the news media — but plenty has been happening.
If you’ve been waiting for the Muslim Brotherhood to extend its hand in Egypt, wait no longer. The Ikwhan’s éminence grise and foremost theoretician Yusuf Qaradawi — the one who explained to the ummah that Hitler was simply one of the many agents sent periodically by Allah to punish the Jews, and who urges Muslims to reconquer Jerusalem and finish the job — addressed an enormous rally in Cairo yesterday.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the similarities between various ideas in the physical sciences and the processes that drive global social change (there are many), and in that context a simple metaphor for what’s happening in Egypt comes to mind. It’s hardly an important insight, but I never metaphor I didn’t like, so here it is anyway.
Are you familiar with “supercooling”? It happens when a liquid drops below the conditions of temperature and pressure at which it would normally freeze, but doesn’t. This can happen when there are no particles in suspension around which crystals can begin to form. Highly purified water can be held in a supercooled state at temperatures far below 0° C. When a “seed”, like a grain of sand, is dropped in, the water solidifies around it at once.
Egypt has been in a similar condition for the past week or two, caused by the sudden release of pressure, and subsequent expansion of political freedom, brought about by the toppling of the Mubarak regime. It’s been just like a supercooled liquid, looking for a seed upon which to crystallize. When one appears, the phase transition can happen in a twinkling.
Meanwhile, the plates are slipping, and the fault-lines rupturing, here at home as well, as we see in Wisconsin. There is rage this week in Madison — where, as elsewhere, disruptive change is necessary and inevitable. John Derbyshire made an important point about it all in last night’s podcast (transcript here):
I won’t play down the degree to which these unionized public-sector workers have been parasitic on the national economy. I mentioned Scott Walker raising state employees’ health-care contributions to 12 percent and their pension contributions to 5.6 percent. Who pays for the other 88 percent on health care? Who pays for the other 94.4 percent on pensions? Why, the taxpayers of Wisconsin, of course. That’s the kind of distortion, the kind of injustice, that public-sector unionization has brought us. It’s wrong and it needs fixing.
We’ll be seeing a lot more of these kinds of battles, and the public sector will have to lose them, if the dollar is to retain any value at all. So there’s a certain glee, a certain anticipatory triumphalism among conservatives here. The public-sector unions are, after all, the backbone of the Democratic Party.
Let’s please remember, though, while we’re exulting, that these are our fellow citizens here. The root cause of the problem is a systemic one that we have to fix, and I hope we do fix it. A patriot should always be troubled by large-scale civil dissension, though. America has enemies enough in the world, without us exhausting ourselves battling each other.
Let’s fix the problem; let’s get the public sector into some kind of reasonable alignment with the private sector on benefits. When it comes to vituperation against our fellow citizens, though, let’s keep a sense of proportion. Someone has to teach the kids and collect the garbage. These sweetheart deals arose from faults in our political arrangements. I want the faults fixed, but I don’t blame anyone for taking the deals.
We’re going to win these fights, listeners, and the public-sector unions, and the Democratic Party they nourish, are going to be humbled and brought low. Let’s just keep in mind the American tradition of magnanimity in victory. These are our neighbors, our friends, sometimes our family members; and we’re all Americans.
Well, enough for now. Time to switch this thing off again for another day or two.