I started listening, just a bit, to punk rock lately.
It's okay. It's uneven. Some of it is, uhh, not very good. But some of it is good.
Punk rock is almost offensive on a mathematical level. I usually listen to techno or classical music, where everything is perfect. Punk music isn't like that. In the span of seconds, ostensibly the exact same guitar chords will have a sloppy erratic uneven quality to them. That's without getting into the lyrics, which are more often than not... also, umm, uneven.
It just sounds like some guys or girls getting drunk, maybe getting into a fistfight, and then jamming in a garage without caring about the musicalness of the music. Which of course, is precisely how a lot of it was made.
So, in July 1908, a peculiar incident happened in the Balkans.
The Ottoman Empire had been running at that point for a little over 600 years, and by 1908, it was... things weren't going so well.
There's some common problems with any sort of institutions that runs for a very long time — they build up patterns of doing things and ways of thinking, modes of cooperation, decisionmaking, education, selection and promotion and management — all these wind up getting written deeply into the fabric of the institution, and become very hard to change.
In the business world, institutional rot seems to set to set in for most companies in decades; governments and firmly established organized religions get longer timespans.
In 1648, around the halfway mark of the Ottoman Empire — though of course, their contemporaries didn't know the future timelines — arguably the single most important convention in modern government was established, the Treaty of Westphalia.
Basically everyone in Europe signed it, but the Ottomans — probably the strongest power in Europe at the time — were like, "yeah, whatever, we're doing our Ottoman thing and it's working quite well for us, thanks, we'll pass."
Eventually Westphalian Sovereignty paved the way for more standardized legal systems that you'd recognize as modern. Pre-modern legal systems were really strange overlapping institutional things — it's difficult to get across how they strange they were, I keep reading books on the topic and still can't get my mind around it — but the Ottomans largely opted out of those too, running an interesting type of legal system that doesn't really exist anywhere any more, the millet system where local communities even within the same jurisdiction got their own courts and laws.
So Ottoman Muslims could be under Sharia, Ottoman Christians under Canon Law, Ottoman Jews under Halacha... whatever, just pay your taxes and don't try to overthrow the government. Hang the traitors in your community yourself, prosecute people who commit fraud yourself, round up bandits and brigands yourself. Let us know if you need troops to get traitors or fraudsters or bandits, but umm, don't ask for troops very often since it's expensive and a huge hassle and we're not going to be nice if you need soldiers.
This type of thing was all well and good — actually it looks like a rather elegant system from some angles — but it falls down precisely in the type of very large-scale cooperation that the Industrial Revolution both enabled and demanded. If you don't industrialize, after all, you're in trouble. Mass-produced rifles beat muskets, full-stop, regardless of troop quality, training, morale, and all those other factors. Technology is a big deal.
So the Industrial Revolution starts happening. Ottoman Empire keeps doing its thing, with its strange "fight to the death" style of succession among claimants to the Sultanate — barbaric to our modern understanding, of course, but one of the reasons that the Ottoman Empire rarely had long streaks of incompetent monarchs (the succession problem, of course, being the biggest problem in monarchy).
But, y'know, railroads. It's hard to build railroads when you've got somewhere between dozens and hundreds of detached legal systems.
Napoleon comes and goes from the world scene, leaving the modern concept of nationalism in his wake — which it's very easy to forget and completely mind-boggling that nationalism wasn't at all a common organizing principle in Europe for over 1,000 years.
Ottomans keep doing their thing. System getting creaky, but can't really change it. Been around too long. Everyone thinks that way. Having a hard time building railroads and factories, and everyone else is getting rich, but Ottoman Empire still kind of limping along.
Another Foolish Thing in the Balkans
When institutions get particularly creaky, all sorts of conspiracies start happening.
I mean, you've got to deal with the iron law of oligarchy even in the best of times — when your economy grinds to a halt and your neighbors are all going up much faster than you, the bright and ambitious and discontent start saying, "Hey, how come the British Isles — which was still a backwards constant internecine murder-archy when we formed our Ottoman Empire originally — how come that's now 'the Sun never sets on the British Empire' and we can't get anything done? We can't even build railroads correctly. Maybe Istanbul doesn't know what's up, maybe we gotta look out for ourselves..."
Adam Smith of course reckoned in 1776's Wealth of Nations — again, 450+ years after the Ottoman Empire's founding (yeah, the Ottoman Empire was older than modern economics) — that,
"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public..."
So, in July 1908, world gets out that some Ottoman military officers are maybe up to something, and maybe they're going to do something, or something. Anyway, the Ottomans would hang you just for possibly maybe being a traitor anyways, so an officer named Ahmed Niyazi says, paraphrasing, "Ah hell, they're going to hang us anyways, so let's revolt."
So Niyazi goes into revolt with... 200 guys.
You ever go into a 101-level class at a major university, where there's 300 people in the class?
Smaller than that!
Population of the Ottoman Empire at the time is somewhere between 10 million and 20 million.
Just a few years later, the Ottomans would field almost 3 million troops in World War I.
"Ah hell, they were going to hang us anyways — we're in revolt!"
Battle Not Required
About 50 years before Niyazi's revolt, Otto von Bismarck had one of the greatest one-liners in history.
"Chancellor Bismark, what will you do if the British Army intervenes in the Prussia-Denark war?"
"I'd send the police to arrest them."
(The British didn't intervene, the Prussians got they wanted, and went on to unify Germany. They then built a lot of railroads.)
So if you were a gambling type of person wagering on Niyazi et al's chance of success, you'd reckon their chances... slim.
Their revolutionary band wouldn't even require a full-on battle to defeat; you could, echoing Bismarck, send the police to simply arrest them.
But Niyazi et al had the position of,
"F*** you, you can't stop us, and besides, we're cooler than you."
And... the cops and soldiers... largely agreed.
No one went and arrested the little encampment of would-be revolutionaries.
The Wikipedia page on "Punk ideologies" is just perfect.
Right at the top of it, it says —
"This article has multiple issues.
This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2007)
This article possibly contains original research. (October 2009)
This article may primarily relate to a different subject, or place undue weight on a particular aspect rather than the subject as a whole. Specifically, punk musicians who advocated certain social and political beliefs rather than the DIY ethic and back-to-basics music methodologies quintessential to punk. (February 2018)
This article's lead section contains information that is not included elsewhere in the article. (February 2018)"
11 years later, the Wikipedia page still has "multiple pages."
Dig through that page a little, or google "what is punk" and click around some.
There's the various music and fashion and whatever, but it strikes me that all of that is rather besides the point.
Punk Rock got really going in the 1970s, and I was born in '85, so all the, "You had to be there" stuff — well I wasn't there.
But it seems to me that perhaps the only unifying themes about punk music are,
(2) A Do-It-Yourself ethic.
I'm reminded of the opening track on Eminem's first major release from 1999 — when I was a teenager.
This is a public service announcement brought to you in part by Slim Shady
The views and events expressed here are totally f***ed
And are not necessarily the views of anyone
However, the events and suggestions that appear on this album
Are not to be taken lightly
Children should not partake in the listening of this album
With laces in their shoes
Slim Shady is not responsible for your actions. Upon purchasing this album, You have agreed not to try this at home.
Yeah. Don't do drugs."
That's not punk rock, but it's certainly punk, no?
Or take a look at Mr. Money Mustache — if he isn't punk, then what is punk in 2018?
Punk Rock in the Ottoman Empire
I think there's a lot of problems with punk music — a lot of it goes beyond looking for authenticity and gets into straight-up mean-spiritedness...
And yet, it seems like every era where things seem to be falling apart becomes ripe for that raw, unpolished spirit — authenticity and taking one's destiny into one's own hands.
The first line in Eminem's first radio hit was,
"Hi kids, do you like violence?"
Man, there were a lot of protests around that. I remember that, I was a teenager then. Of course, the kids loved it, and as concerned parents protested more, the kids loved it even more.
In his second album, he clarified it just in case you missed the point —
"So who's bringin' the guns in this country?
I couldn't sneak a plastic pellet gun
Through customs over in London
And last week I seen this Schwarzenegger movie
Where he's shootin' all sorts of these motherf***ers with an Uzi
I sees three little kids up in the front row
Screaming "Go!" with their 17-year-old uncle
I'm like, guidance?!
Ain't they got the same moms and dads
Who got mad when I asked if they liked violence?"
Doesn't this look at least somewhat similar to the Sex Pistol's God Save the Queen ? —
"God save the queen, the fascist regime
They made you a moron, potential H-bomb
God save the queen, she ain't no human being
There is no future in England's dreaming
Don't be told what you want, don't be told what you need
There's no future, no future, no future for you"
To be frank, I think that one's mean-spirited. Eminem, too, often very mean-spirited. Mr. Money Mustache is clearly one of the good guys of civilization, but even he's not all roses and good vibes when he points out the epidemic of the clown-car habit.
And Niyazi and his 200 guys, metaphorical middle finger in the air and all of that.
Mean-spirited, sometimes, yeah. Unpolished, totally. Raw, very much so. Maybe not thought-through very carefully.
No, not maybe — definitely not thought-through carefully.
And yet — the resonance, no?
Just a very subtle spark in there, just a gem of authenticity, just the faintest hint of something... something that was locked deep in the hearts and minds of a lot of the Ottoman people.
"Can someone go arrest those 200 guys? ... someone? ... anyone? Bueller?"
Of course, it's often easier to diagnose a disease than it is to cure it — after all, 1908-1922's Wikipedia entry for the region is "Defeat and Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire" — and the Middle East still hasn't recovered from the many-sided blunders and duplicity and incompetence from that era.
And yet, after all that, just yet, one of the Ottoman punk-rock-in-spirit types kept the nonconformity and DIY spirit, but identified just enough of the cure and was able to shepherd it through.
We can't help but filter the world through our own experience, and express those lines written into our spirit however makes sense to do so in our day and age.
For my part, I see patterns recur — and I think what was happening in the UK in the 1970s is not-entirely-dissimilar from what was happening in the Ottoman Empire in the 1900's. Far different outcomes — it'll always be different outcomes — but certain patterns keep showing up. When a stagnant sort of rot starts setting in, a certain type of ethos starts to shine — a diagnosis, first and foremost, often directionless, very raw... and worst of all, if the diagnosis is truly correct and gains broad acceptance, it gets subsumed into the mainstream and ceases to be what it was.
But for a brief, vanishingly small moment in time, occasionally 200 guys can go say, "Y'know what, we're not doing it like it's been done before" — and sometimes it resonates and sets off chains of events, for better or worse, for good or for ill, seemingly impossible in the moment and seemingly inevitable in retrospect — neither of those being actually true if we're really going to be frank about it.
As for my part — I'm writing again.
In the year 1853, the Ottoman Empire had been in power for 554 continuous years. Abdülmecid I was Sultan and, shortly into the year, the Albanian-descended Governor of Crete Giritli Mustafa Naili Pasha took the post of Grand Vizier.
Queen Victoria was the Monarch of the British Empire and Lord Aberdeen was her Prime Minister, though the Queen favored one of his rivals, Benjamin Disraeli, as an advisor.
In France, Napoleon III had been elected President of the Republic in 1848, and had dissolved the National Assembly two years previously in 1851. In December of 1852, the Second French Empire was established, with Louis-Napoleon becoming named "Napoléon III, Emperor of the French."
Across the Atlantic, Franklin Pierce was the President of the United States of America and Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War. There were 31 states at that time, and the American Civil War had not yet been fought.
In mid-1853, the Russian Empire started maneuvering troops to key places on the Baltic Sea near Ottoman territories. Hostilities were about to break out into the Crimean War. The primary forces were Ottoman, British, and French fighting the Russians. The war ended with a decisive British/French/Ottoman victory.