Is there a Black Swan circling the globe?


Photograph © Miguel Vidal/Reuters/Corbis, modified by Opto

The Occupy Wall Street movement, if it can be called a movement, is growing and spreading.  There have been demonstrations in most major American cities, in Europe and in Asia; and while they cannot all be lumped in together in any strict doctrinal sense,  they all have a common thread and each of the identifies with the others.  Where did this come from, did this start with the Arab Spring?  It is difficult to say, like copy-cat crimes, each new demonstration or protest does seem have gained some inspiration and motivation from the others, but each how much is left to speculation.  When, in the early days, the movement seemed to be an Arab phenomenon, it was easy to compare the Arab discontent and civil disobedience with the political movements of the beginning of the20th century.  They looked and sounded much like the revolutions in Russia, China and Europe – but as the movement spreads it becomes increasingly more difficult to find any historical comparisons.

What is happening and who are these people?  At best, it is possible to say that there are people in most of the developed countries in the world who are extremely dissatisfied with their social and economic status and potential.  The people we see in the streets of Madrid, New York City or Taipei are not the downtrodden, the very poor and uneducated – instead they are nearly middle class, relatively well-educated and for the most part have some form of employment.   And while, they do want jobs and security, but they really seem to be seeking an equalization of the political and economic systems of the world – they want economic equality.

The current phenomenon is different from every movement in history that has preceded it in one very significant way – it has no center and no clear direction.  No leadership has surfaced and no manifestos have been published; and that makes it very difficult to understand what is happening or what may happen next.  Without Marx, Lenin and Mao communism would not, could not have spread – without Mohamed, the Koran and the Sword of Islam, Islam would not, could not have spread.  The civil rights movement in the United States needed Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X – doesn’t every movement need leaders and a creed?

We have only two and a half months to go in 2011 – but it is clear the year is something unique in history, or at least in my history and in my knowledge of history;  one might speculate that over time it will be compared to 1095 and the launching of the crusades ( 610 and the beginning of Islam or 1848 and the beginning of communism) .  Except of course the crusades had a central leader – the pope – a central purpose, recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land and a source of funding and tactical leadership.  2011 and the apparently deep rooted dissatisfaction has none of that yet – although leaders may surface over time; at this point all we can say is that somehting is happening.  And with due respect for Nassim Taleb, we may just have spotted a Black Swan circling the globe – scary.  Because by Taleb’s definition that means we don’t know what it is or what it havoc it will wreck.

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