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Friday, April 2, 2010

A Word About Revolution

Fake Revolution
Image found at Secret History
Shorter this post: Don't bother.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.
- Dylan
What with all of the populist righteous indignation green-shooting around the country these days, I'd like to suggest we settle down a bit. But, I will try not to be that patronizing and explain a little bit why we should settle down. After all, I'm righteously indignant myself, and I feel your pain.

Change is hard, right? And history tells us that nothing important ever changes unless you first unsettle or unseat the powers that be. They're entrenched, they have their hands on the levers, and until you pry their cold, dead fingers from them it will be status quo. Or, more properly, the slow decline will continue - to the inevitable revolution.

I love Dylan, and the romance of revolution (if you can ignore all of the attendant mayhem and death, that is.)

However, history tells us something else about revolution. It tells us that it happens over and over again. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, or so Ben Franklin would have it (or Einstein, depending on where you stand on that particular dispute.) I agree. While this observation is usually made regarding individual or group behaviour, I also believe it applies to generational repetition as well.

History, and common sense, tells us what happens when "the last become first and the first become last." In our modern times, the "last" are the have-nots, the "first" the haves. The quote says they switch roles. (Oversimplification, but fine for the discussion, OK?)

The haves are pretty dismissive of the have-nots, and that makes them right bastards, really. The have-nots absorb all sorts of degradation and poverty, and that makes them the salt-of-the-earth, of course. I happen to agree with this, and the first impulse is to drive out the bastards and put the salt-of-the-earth in charge. All should be well, then, for the new haves will not be right bastards and will treat the new have-nots with much more compassion than they received. And hell, even if they don't, the right bastards deserve it, right?

Problem is, "have" and "right bastard" are merely synonyms - there is no separating the two. Become a have, become a right bastard. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Revolution is merely eye-for-an-eye expressed in generational terms. Demonizing an "elite" and overthrowing it merely puts the revolutionaries in the same psychic position as the elite. And they will act exactly the same. This idea has been touched on before.

A significant part of the problem is that the have-nots (the "people") are not very salt-of-the-earth after all. They have their inner right bastard as well, and its name is covetousness. In other words, the very would-be revolutionaries, who happen to be right and will have history on their side, dodge an important lesson by the very virtue of their success.

The people suffer at the hands of their oppressors, yes. It is understandable to think that all you have to do is to cow said oppressors and start over with a new system. Such "new systems" have historically become increasingly "democratic," with their heart-felt pledges to curb centralization of power, etc. (Go USA!)

It's happening again, though, ain't it?

The truth is, as long as there is a covetousness for power and advantage over others, we clever monkeys will find a way to game the system.

What makes the oppressed "blessed" in any sense is that there is an opportunity, for them, to learn the lesson. Forget about the privileged - once you "have yours" there is absolutely nothing to teach you (at least existentially, where it matters.) Oh, but the oppressed are quite motivated to absorb existential lessons, and they do. Sadly, they always seem to stop with the simple revelations ("oppressors bad"), rather than digging a bit deeper, seeing their own responsibility in this haves/have-nots condundrum.

The solution is simply a heart-change. The reason it seems so daunting is that it seems a little difficult to imbue this to a population under the best of conditions, let alone one under the stresses of oppression.

As a matter of fact, telling people under the stresses of oppression that kind of Pollyannish shit can get you crucified, or so I hear. It is clearly not a message for the masses, nor a sensible curriculum for public education (at least, not yet.)

The good news is that you don't have to convert anybody. Only yourself. Stop playing the oppressors' game. The game is - you want what we have and you can't have it. To stop playing it, you simply say, "No, actually, I don't want it."


  • Stop respecting the idea of property. (No, this is not a call to vandalism. There are lots and lots of people out there who do respect the idea of property, and there is no percentage in inviting their outrage.) Forget about dividing it up "equally." Ignore it outright (while respecting those who are still deluded by it.) Buy or rent (because our sick society is set up that way), but know in your heart that it isn't really yours at all. Property is a man-made idea, and a very bad one at that.
  • Money should never be used to transact in human rights. These include food, clothing, shelter, medicine. Go ahead and use money to buy these things (because our sick society is set up that way), but avoid charging for these things as much as possible. Be subversive, trade, share, be the change that you want to see.
  • Do not exploit the labor of your fellow human beings for your own profit. This is flat-out evil, and the fact that it is considered normal, moral business practice is a flashing-red indicator that the system of capitalism is also flat-out evil. If you care to provide a service which requires "employees," then get equal partners. Subtract the greed from your deeds.

Just those three things are so revolutionary that you will bring upon yourself a great deal of resentment from the players in the oppression game - both sides. That should sate some of the initial impulse to dance with these fools.

But you will pick off (convert) enough of them that at some point in history a critical mass will be reached. I am as certain of this as I was certain that my newborn son would walk when he reached a certain age. This is how we stop doing the same thing over and over again.

Now - off to the barricades heart of the matter with you all!


  1. Your Favorite BartenderApril 9, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    My question is a simple one. Isn't what you are talking about just another form of revolution? Wouldn't the inevitable conclusion of your three tiered concept of rejecting the very notion of wealth (side topic: is it really possible to reject a notion? Isn't a notion a thought, and once having a thought, is it really possible to put that apparition back in the bottle?) be to, eventually, cost those who still prize possessions and wealth their possessions and wealth? If this did work out, and more and more of us rejected the capitalist ideals you seem to hope we'll reject, then we would be reducing the overall consumer base for those who wish money, property, and the power that (under the sick system) comes with the money and property? So isn’t it, then, a revolution? All dressed up in the latest Abercrombie & Fitch skinny jeans, but still a revolution? And if that’s the case, then how do you possibly expect the revolution to be successful when it clearly isn’t going to get any media play, since we all know it’s the car crash that gets the media play, not the smoothly flowing interstate. I have attempted not to simply scoff at your notion (as I, a devout capitalist, am want to do), and I’m not the kind of jackass capitalist who believes that 10 year olds in China should be sewing soccer balls with their teeth, I believe in regulation and…you know…human decency and shit. I just wonder about whether or not the revolution will be televised (or at least passes a million YouTube hits), because if it isn’t, I vaguely remember something about a tree falling in the woods…

  2. Your Favorite BartenderApril 9, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    Oh, yeah, and if this is just a newly dressed up revolution, then isn't it that wicked annoying Pepsi campaign where Wycleff and Dylan are "merged" together...and isn't that just a little depressing?

  3. Hello, FaveB!

    This is a very thoughtful set of questions, and frankly I think they deserve a new post. May I quote your objections, with attribution, in said post?

  4. Your Favorite BartenderApril 13, 2010 at 5:20 PM

    Absolutely...but ONLY if you promise to mercilessly ridicule me at least once in said the old times


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