Well, you know/ We all want to change the world -- The Beatles
Incantations of "revolution" rise from right and left choirs, reminiscent of the visionary '60's. That turned out well -- as "the system" swallowed the great divergence, spitting out what it couldn't digest. How easy to declare war against today's power-hungry elites, firming up one's credentials as insightful contrarian, even revered prophet. And yet, sweeping declarations, especially if premature or overstated, won't likely achieve the core objective: to win over a critical mass. Pie-in-the-sky proclamations alienate, even demoralize newcomers when predictions peter out.
So pardon my skepticism, but permanent revolutions are rare birds, scaling more than misery, even despair. Hard times do not automatically presage something better. Peak events celebrate heroism, yet most history records feats of remarkable endurance to suffering. What, aside from high hopes, makes today so special? Revolutions succeed no more often than breathtaking ideas shake generational foundations.
Less inspirational are voices that reluctantly acknowledge the status quo, not because it's favorable but because of resistance against big change, certainly revolution. Desperate jeremiads in America, when even our brightest feared apocalypse now, are commonplace. How the world escaped the global nuclear war calamity that bedeviled my childhood is still a mystery. Ditto, the equal horror that sprawling communism would bury us. Reality outsmarts nearly all predictions, dire or otherwise.
Though terrorism re-ignites current fear-thresholds, no mushroom clouds outdid genocides since 9/11. Hey, the year 2000 sparked a mania. Excluding the Confederate rebellion, our legacy is evolutionary reforms, not massive upheavals. Why, we haven't had a good revolution in centuries. Though the right batters the extraordinary New Deal reforms, this is our grinding, frustrating model of change.
The Elusive Revolution
Are today's arrogant corporatists worse than autocratic Robber Barons, armed with bad laws, zero regulations, and armies of mercenaries? Did we not resolve equally onerous income inequality of 1928? Does our slowly improving recession outstrip the Great Depression? In fact, '30's thinkers outdid today, with clearer visions, even agendas, prominent leadership and a more dedicated critical mass.
Yet, history has failed to address regressive structural failings: the outdated Electoral College, prehistoric Senate rules, or state-gerrymandered House districts. Plus new problems, like billionaire payola, knee-jerk media, and post-terrorist hysteria obsessed with symptoms, not causes. Notably, two conspicuous uprisings since 2008 -- Occupy and the Tea Party -- have peaked. In this context, I question Chris Hedges' mystical notions in "Our Invisible Revolution" that insurrection rises like an unheeded volcano:
No one knows where or when the eruption will take place. No one knows the form it will take. But it is certain now that a popular revolt is coming. The refusal by the corporate state to address even the minimal grievances of the citizenry, along with the abject failure to remedy the mounting state repression . . . and the loss of hope and widespread despair, means that blowback is inevitable.
Proof for such exaggerated broadsides? When have ruthless tycoons (think bitter late 19th C. labor battles) willingly addressed grievances? How can that which mocks prediction then justify the facile certainty a "popular revolt is coming"? And does today's corporate state disregard "minimal grievances"? What about half-assed Obamacare? Food Stamps are down but not out; ditto, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and job training. Falling short does not equal falling apart. What's "invisible" here isn't revolution but balance and respect for evidence. With such despair, why do rightwing pitchforks rise, as well-fed, older, whiter reactionaries execute "blowback" with no small success?
Hedges' default to mysterious, even subterranean forces imply that context, timeliness, or leadership barely matter, making revolution more like a lottery. Will "state repression" incite "revolution" in jobless millions, or outrage a different class? Do the unemployed track state spying or welfare lines? Overall, what revolution, across American, French, Russian and Chinese events, did not culminate years of bold handwriting on the wall?
Hedges does pinpoint one critical lever, "An uprising that is devoid of ideas and vision is never a threat to ruling elites. Social upheaval without clear definition and direction, without ideas behind it, descends into nihilism, random violence and chaos. It consumes itself." But that only prompts the most obvious objection: what positive, compelling ideas or vision emerge in his distinctly negative polemics? Where on the left is "revolutionary" definition and direction?
Strangely enough, the right is flush with ideas and vision. Rapture addicts are addled with weird ideas and nightmare visions: the twin-swords of Almighty retribution and grace will resolve all, in a flash: no muss, no fuss, and upheaval arrives like lightning. Less global, but nearly as implausible, is the revolutionary rhetoric from today's Confederate zealots driven by the nullification of secession. That crusade might threaten the "ruling elites" but, existing only in a alternative universe, lacks support or leverage. One more bout of secession madness will really do in that noble cause.
Left & Right Mesh
However contrary the aims, curiously the left and right share similar aspirations, even assumptions:
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