San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

People power

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

That little gem was buried within an otherwise uninspired poem by Romantic poet William Wordsworth, celebrating the French Revolution of 1789. The emotion must be ascribed to the poet’s own nature, because the revolution was a thoroughly messy affair, brutal and bloody, dragging on for 10 decidedly unblissful years. Nevertheless, its idealistic mantra, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” sparked a score of revolutions worldwide, introducing the novel concept of the rights of man and burying forever the outdated idea of the divine right of kings.

Those who subsequently seized power in the freed countries concluded that tyranny can be sustained indefinitely only so long as it is exercised by a savage police force backed by a ruthless army. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has recently shown that getting someone else to subsidize your army is not smart, as the military may well go along without you so long as the subsidies continue. Egypt may turn out to be a special case, but the apparent success of the revolutions there and in Tunisia will undoubtedly encourage uprisings in many countries oppressed by tyrannical rulers.

So what has all this to do with us, the overprivileged minority whose main concern is that the Wall Street Warriors may yet steal whatever we have left after the last meltdown? The answer is that we ourselves are now poised on the brink of a revolution that will dwarf anything that went before. If the Egyptian revolt spreads to every tyrannical regime, we may be facing a world without a Middle East crisis or a terrorist threat, a largely democratized world where China, India and Brazil discover that there are not enough raw materials left to allow completion of their own industrial revolutions, yet war is not a viable solution.

At that point, we will all realize that Malthus was right after all, merely premature, and the futuristic idea of exporting our annual 20 million surplus souls to a new world will start to seem practicable. Then it will seem as natural to see our kids off on a 30-year trip to a new world as now to summer camp.

Only then can they, or more likely their own children, truly say: “Bliss was it in that day to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!”

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