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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Yet, history has failed to address regressive structural failings: the outdated Electoral College, prehistoric Senate rules, or state-gerrymandered House districts.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: