On The Coming Revolution
On The Coming Revolution
September 17, 2005
The spirits of Edgar Cayce, the Delphic Oracle, and Alvin Toffler have possessed me lately, and I am moved to prognosticate. It's hard not to let the light, ironic tone seep into my voice, but do not be fooled by this. I am dead serious, and I have a conviction that my perception is an accurate extrapolation of real future events — if no actions are taken deliberately to forestall or change those events.
And what I see is Revolution.
Robert Heinlein characterized revolution as "a freak, a mutant, a monstrosity, its conditions never to be repeated and its operations carried out by amateurs and individuals." A colorful way of saying that, like Tolstoy's unhappy families, each is unique. The coming revolution, therefore, won't look like the Boston Tea Party, or the rush to the barricades in 1789, or the storming of the Winter Palace in 1917. It won't even look like the labor unrest of the 1920s or the long, hot summers of the 1960s in America. I don't know what it will look like, exactly. But revolution, real revolution, is rarely pretty.
Me, I'd prefer to be a parlor Pink. I don't like violence, I don't like people thinking they know better (even when they do) and being willing to impose their 'knowing better' by any kind of force. I prefer the voice of sweet reason, enlightened self-interest, and simple, but all too rare, logic. But as every physician knows, there comes a point in the course of a malady where gentle, non-invasive methods can no longer suffice, and the choice is between radical therapies or letting the patient die.
America is progressing toward that point, and we are picking up speed. There are still places where we can make choices, take alternate routes, save ourselves the pain and risk, but as we gather momentum from day to day, our choices are narrowing and the options are diminishing.
No, I'm not wearing a tinfoil hat. Crying wolf, exaggerating, awfulizing are not my normal idioms. But the evidence is piling up. Doesn't anyone else see it? It's not rocket science: Revolutions happen when a critical mass of the citizenry feel (not think, necessarily, but feel,) that they have no other way to secure the future they expect, the future to which they feel entitled, than to take direct action to make fundamental structural change in their government. Those expectations change from generation to generation, from place to place, and even from social stratum to social stratum. But when a sufficient number of people reach that conclusion, the change will happen.
America has been staving it off for some decades, now. We came very close to real revolution in the first quarter of the 20th Century; the Progressive movement and, ultimately, the New Deal reversed the tide. Post-WWII economic prosperity delayed it further, but things began to unravel again in the 1960s. The Great Society attempted to recapitulate the earlier success of the New Deal, but the haves and the have-mores didn't have enough conviction to sustain the momentum. The Reagan Reaction changed America's direction and began the slide back toward the levels of social inequity and frustration that foster revolution.
The 1990s may have briefly masked those conditions with a high fever of unsustainable capitalist expansion, but with the collapse of that bubble, the underlying problems have only become more acute. More and more Americans are starting to notice, and we will soon reach that critical mass. Disturbingly, the disaffection is now spreading so widely that small band-aid measures aimed at this group or that group are not only ineffective, they pose a risk of increasing dissatisfaction.
Nothing much has changed for the poor; but then, nothing ever does. The poor alone do not make a revolution, but their numbers and the bitterness of their commitment once aroused (combined with the scary reality that they have, literally, nothing to lose — no investment at all in the status quo that leaves them at the bottom of the heap) make them the natural shock troops of revolution — those most likely to engage in violent and destructive action. They become a factor when enough other citizens begin to see revolution as the only viable option. The numbers of the poor are again on the rise, and the erosion of "last resort" social safety net programs is increasing their sense of misery, futility, and injustice.
The Working Class
The working class is not the decisive factor in the development of revolution, especially since there is often a strong mutual antipathy between them and the poor, an antipathy that prevents them from making common cause until conditions have deteriorated beyond their ability to tolerate. But the American working class has been losing ground for thirty years. They are fast losing hope that successive generations will do better economically, and indeed, are increasingly seeing the traditional American dream of social mobility as a mocking and unreachable chimera. Current issues of immigration, job loss, the loss in real value of wages, the vanishing social safety net and the increasing unavailability of affordable housing and health care are escalating their discontent.
The Middle Class
The huge bulge of middle-class baby boomers is facing retirement. They grew up with the expectation that they would follow their parents' pattern, and even improve upon it. They expected comfortable retirement at 65, without worries about how to obtain health care, housing, etc. That expectation is being increasingly confounded as defined benefit pension plans are looted, the value of Social Security loses ground against inflation, Social Security itself is threatened, and fast-escalating costs for health care, transportation, and housing spiral upwards. They, too, see the vanishing probability that their children will be able to even retain the economic ground they staked out for their families, much less make any gains.
The Professional Class
Doctors are sinking under a sea of "managed care" paperwork, rising costs and declining revenues. Teachers are losing satisfaction in their jobs as the creativity and passion is leached away by legislative and religious mandates. Scientists are confronting a new Dark Age of ideological suppression and distortion, combined with the heavy hand of capitalism directing them away from creative discovery and pure research. Artists are confronted by the new Puritanism, growing tolerance for censorship, and the increasing control of creative outlets by commercial interests. This comparatively small segment of the population nevertheless represents a key resource-a resource that is becoming increasingly disconnected from any investment in the status quo.
Thus far, the controlling classes have been able to keep the critical mass from developing by setting these various groups against one another, fomenting class warfare amongst them and playing shell games with blame. But as conditions continue to deteriorate, the sustained fury a-building will forge alliances among key segments of each group. The critical mass will coalesce, perhaps with terrifying suddenness.
Perhaps revolution really is the only way to restore the American Dream of a just, equitable society offering opportunity, social mobility, and a basic standard of living to all. But I shudder when I think of the price. I remember Kent State, I remember the long, hot summers. I've studied history and I know the kinds of body counts and horrors that even 'successful' revolutions produce. It's possible to re-create a society without that massive upheaval-many European countries have done it; the British Empire devolved successfully without blood in the streets of London. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have re-invented themselves.
I wish I could see America following a similar course, but right now all I see is the gathering storm. The thunder on the right is only a faint, distant rolling now, but it gets closer and more ominous every year.
Is anybody listening?