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
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
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
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
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
Is anybody listening?