Q6 What causes (e.g. corruption of government) would be sufficient to get citizen mobilization to the level of Hong Kong?

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New Year’s Eve 2019 Forecast (What’s this?)

In Q7 I cover some of the demographic barriers to widespread mobilization and uprising in terms of youth bulge, unemployment, and expectation formation.

Here I want to cover something more visceral – which is the personal motivations that lead to mass protests. First I’m starting with a premise that the United States remains in 2020 the most privileged large ethnically diverse country in the world. At 330M people, if you were to have to randomly roll without knowing what race, gender, gender identification or socioeconomic status you were going to find yourself within, the United States would not be a bad roll.

What that means in practice is that for the majority, when it comes to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (Physiological, Safety & Security, Belonging, Esteem & Self-Actualization) the entirety of conflict between Red and Blue occurs at the Belonging (Group Identity), Esteem (Self-Identity), and Self-Actualization (Meaning) level of debates. When we talk about mass mobilization, and mass-arrests, in Hong Kong we’re talking about issues which (to them) are about Safety & Security in regard to immediate loss of freedoms and risk of imprisonment and suppression tactics by Chinese that are very recent and real in China.

Other than radical activists, most Americans are not going to trade the real-comforts they have in Physiological and Safety & Security needs (I’m currently employed, I’m not being arrested) for a hypothetical improvement in Self-Actualization (feeling like Red or Blue is winning).  In Hong Kong, the reverse is becoming truer. People are willing to surrender the hypothetical Self-Actualization or Belonging (a sense of “Hong Kong” as a unified concept) for the very real trade off of increased perceived Safety.

We may consciously think we are “committed” to a cause, but that’s a trick of our subliminal mine to find meaning and purpose.  Deeper in the skull, our lizard brains are fully aware that continuing to argue on social media while not taking to the streets is preferable to getting thrown into lockup for 24-72hours.

This holds true in most countries experiencing broad instability. The questions of needs they are protesting on fall within Physiological or Safety & Security for a broad slice of the population. Certainly, we can point out to minority populations in the US suffering Physiological or Safety & Security, but those are going to lead to a political activism that stays at the higher level of Maslow’s Needs rather than risk loss of lower levels. 

Corruption, as an example of one causation to mass protest, would fall within these higher-level Maslow Needs because it’s abstracted, conceptual, and distant and falls into these Red and Blue frameworks. What I mean by that is how one views “corruption” as a problem is more informed by how one identifies as Red or Blue than any direct personal resonance with corruptive acts themselves. We view this lens of conflict within these higher-level needs, and you’re not going to see majority populations risk Physiological or Safety needs to pursue these higher ones. 


Compare/contrast this with, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement.  There a direct personal resonance with real acts of police brutality meant this was not a question of arguing cable shows and abstracted concepts between Red and Blue, but very real felt and lived consequences.

So, if causes like “corruption” then won’t lead to mass protests, what might?

Anything that provides sustained risk to those lower levels. Sustained mass-violence by the government for example is often capable of creating sharp and rapid rises in mobilization. By way of example if we projected the violence in Iran in December alone onto the US, and adjusted for population, we’re talking the government killing at least 1,200 people and wounding 16,000.   You can begin to imagine how such a wave of violence would result in rapid mobilization and reaction, but it’s also easy to see how far away we are, even in the most extreme excesses we can point to of overreaction, of even coming close to that level of state violence.

I also suspect that end-game strategies of either Red or Blue to cement a permanent wedge that favors “their” side at the Constitutional level could spark such mass protests. Both partisan sides mistake themselves as having a super-majority of support (because in areas where they live it might seem that way) but fail to acknowledge a bitterly contested and close division throughout the country. For example – a move to call a new Constitutional convention (with a super majority of Red state legislatures), abandon the Electoral College, or even reconfigure the Supreme Court with an unfair packing scheme could spark mobilization.  Both Red and Blue historically, but certainly Red more recently take the inherent legitimacy of government for granted. But legitimacy adjusts and if shenanigans and maneuvers result in a sustained drop of legitimacy, that has long-term consequences for both Red and Blue pundits who may be trying to exploit the dynamic for short term gain.

A third path to mobilization lies in sharp economic hardships caused by unresolvable structural problems. For example, the Social Security drawdown beginning in the mid-2030s where benefits can no longer be paid at full; or the increasing crowding out of services due to interest payments or (worse) a failure to obtain sufficient investment to fund government services via debt.  Both of these could lead to the kind of shock-therapy to the economic landscape we’re seeing cause protests in Iran, Bolivia, Ecuador etc. but not until the late 20’s/early 30’s at earliest and I talk more about that scenario in Q13. And not until we see the youth-bulge/unemployment factors align more favorably to conditions of instability as mentioned in Q7.


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