The New Meaning of Revolution
Revolutions always had the objective of creating a better world – that was what they were for. The American Revolution was one of those revolutions, and was a relatively successful one – initially. Although America soon moved in other directions – and even had a civil war, one of the first of the Industrial wars that would mark the next hundred years. This was hardly progress.
Progress, in fact, was the more modest American idea that replaced Revolution. If Revolution was too difficult, Progress (technological progress, that is) must be possible. But late in the 20th Century we discovered this was not the case. The latest technologies (TV and the Computer) did not produce a Heaven, but something resembling its opposite.
This was summarized for me with the cover of a Time Magazine, showing an idealized president Bush as an American Revolutionary. My brother, an ardent conservative, agreed fully. And was disappointed when the majority of Americans thought otherwise.
What most Americans knew (unconsciously) was that the meaning of Revolution had changed fundamentally - and they did not like the result. What had happened was simple – the meaning of Revolution and Progress was flipped into its opposite – a destructive trend instead of a constructive one.
This was vastly complicated by the confusion between conscious and unconscious beliefs and behaviors. Which has been caused by the unconscious (or virtual) nature of our networked technologies – Television and the Internet. We expected them to give us the answer – but the only answer they could give us was don’t be (be like us instead).
This is a very strange turn of events – to say the least – and one we were not prepared for – to say the least. And one we probably will never recover from.
Allow me to become a Historian here – and to quote from another Historian, Sheila Fitzpatrick, in her book The Russian Revolution, page eight:
All revolutions have liberté, égalité, fraternité, and other noble slogans inscribed on their banners. All revolutionaries are enthusiasts, zealots; all are Utopians with dreams of creating a new world, in which the injustice, corruption, and apathy of the old world are banished forever. They are intolerant of disagreement; incapable of compromise; mesmerized by big, distant, goals; violent, suspicious, and destructive. Revolutionaries are unrealistic and inexperienced in government; the institutions and procedures are extemporized. They have the intoxicating illusion of personifying the will of the people, which means the assume the people are monolithic. They are Manicheans, dividing the world into two camps: light and darkness, the revolution and its enemies. They despise all traditions, received wisdom, icons, and superstition. They believe society can be a tabula rasa on which the revolution will write.
It is the nature of revolutions to end in disillusionment and disappointment. Zeal wanes, enthusiasm becomes forced. The moment of madness and euphoria passes. The relationship of the people and the revolutionaries becomes complicated: it appears that the will of the people and the revolutionaries is not necessarily monolithic and transparent. The temptations of wealth and position return, along with the recognition that one does not love one’s neighbor as oneself, and doesn’t want to. All revolutionaries destroy things whose loss is soon regretted. What they create is less then the revolutionaries expected, and different.
The Russian Revolution is probably the most spectacular example of this. But in America, later in that century, something similar happened – billing itself the enemy of Communism and the patron of Democracy.
I can remember the dreams of the Sixties – and how they were forgotten, in what followed. And how no one noticed. We have the amazing ability to detect unconscious directions and to follow them.
I became a servant of the Computer – which then kicked me out of its nest when I questioned it. Here I am, blogging on my computer in my pajamas, in rural Costa Rica.