Belmont Club » An Event Foretold

The common face of totalitarianism is not, as cinema often depicts, that of uber-Nazis marching in satanic rows, or of cultured madmen planning the extinction of millions with violin music softly seething in the background. Its quotidian face is one of petty, arbitrary, unappealable abuse. For the average man life under tyranny consists of being precisely zero in a society that can do anything — anything at all — to him.

And usually the average man simply tries to forget. There is family, home, the television. There is drink. But for Mohammed Bouazizi, watching his pitiful baskets of fruit and cheap weighing scale being carted away and slapped as he groveled in the dust, there was no escape from reality into illusion. At that moment he knew exactly what he was. Not a man, nor even the mockery of a man. He was nothing. When city hall told him, “everyone is in meetings. Go home. Forget it,” he knew exactly what they meant.