The shape of the 20th century was the pyramid. Concentrated, centralized, vertical communication systems allowed a few people at the top to organize to large groups in the service of a common cause, whether it was making money or changing the world. In the move toward social justice, people like Ghandi, Mandela, and King became not just people, but icons, symbols of change, signifiers of movements.
The shape of the 21st century is more like a frisbee. Unlike the three 20th century icons I just named, in this century we had people like Mohamed Bouazizi. If you had ever heard his name, you have probably long since forgotten it. Bouazizi was the Tunisian fruit seller who lit himself on fire and triggered the Arab Spring.
The trend of nationalist and populist governments across Britain, Europe, (and even the US) was, to a large extent, a response to the refugee crisis in Europe; which was the result of several factors, a significant one being the civil war in Syria; which started in response to the Arab spring protests; which began because of a Tunisian fruit seller and Twitter.
Even the heroes of modern movements for change like Greta Thunberg or Malala Yousafzi do not function as central, organizing principles in the way a Ghandi or a Mandela did. One of the primary factors in the resilience of Black Lives Matter is that there is no one like King or Malcolm X to assassinate.
In a frisbee-shaped world, waiting to organize around the next hero is futile. Most of the agents of change have always gone nameless and forgotten. Now it’s just more obvious.
Everyone can be a hero now.
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