"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
world more than anything written after the events of that day."
Robert Stone

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June 21, 2009



The Iranian showdown has been both heartening and heartbreaking to monitor as it shudders and shifts, day by day.

As I mention in Watching the World Change, new technological breakthroughs – digital cameras, digital video, satellite and cable television, the World Wide Web – have allowed us to witness dissent, and atrocity, on the far side of the globe in close-to-real-time. What’s more, new social networking sites and services like Twitter have proved crucial in helping Iranian protesters to organize.

I was pleased this weekend to hear President Obama use a phrase that was first popularized during the 1968 riots outside the Democratic Convention in his hometown of Chicago. Quoth the president: “The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching.”

Herewith, a passage from Watching the World Change (pages 244-5):

“At the very pinnacle of the U.S. student demonstrations in 1968 – at the Democratic National Convetion, held that August – organizers and protesters were so conscious of how their brutal treatment by police would be transmitted via TV cameras that the demonstrators’ signature chant was not ‘Stop the War’ or ‘Kill the Pigs’ (that era’s nickname for police), but ‘The Whole World is Watching.’

“The whole world was watching. In a year when a war raged in Southeast Asia, the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia, and both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, TV cameras had sprung open the political portholes. It was no surprise that within two months, when two African-American athletes won medals at the Olympics in Mexico City, they would choose to raise their clenched fists in a Black Power salute – during the American national anthem – knowing that the world’s TV screens were tuned to the ceremony and that few activists had ever had a more visible platform for making a worldwide statement.

“….In this all-seeing age [the late 1990s to the present day], beset with its crashing tide of digital cameras and videotape, contemporary society has been imposing, quite inadvertently, a layer of accountability on social interactions. Happenstance photography, quite literally, provides an oversight function. Do something untoward and there is a good chance that it might be observed, recorded and, given time, judged. (That phrase might as well have been lifted, in its entirety, from the Scriptures.)

“The witness might well be a bystander with little or no connection to the action observed. The witness might be a hidden, closed-circuit monitor. But cameras – in the right hands – or at least in more and more hands of average citizens – may help create a culture in which the previously powerless have the welcome recourse of evidence against the culpable.

“ ‘We. . .are compassed about,’ says Hebrews 12:1, ‘with so great a cloud of witnesses.’ ”

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