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On the July 14, 1789, the peasants of France rioted, culminating into first the public death of their Governor Marquis, followed shortly by that of a local Mayor. Over the next month, the riots and attacks continued in what would later be called The Great Fear. Concessions were made, slowing the violence, but the continued failure of the French government in addressing the wants and needs of their populous meant that the next decade of their history would be shaped by this revolution.
And of course, all of Western history was shaped by this revolution as other groups rose up over the course of the next hundred years, resulting in widespread democracies and the near-total abolition of Monarchial rule. To this day, the Guillotine remains a symbol of reclaiming the power of the people.
I've been hearing a lot of Guillotine talk these days. But as talk of "revolution" and "revolt" continue across social media, mainstream media and casual conversations, the truth is that the catalyst clearly isn't there. Riots happen, but then fizzle out. Protests are staged, only to be disbanded at the slightest concession. Revolutionaries speak until they are consumed by the very political system that they speak against.
The question that I've found myself asking is, why? My friends' rage isn't at a simmer—it is a boiling, life encompassing hate. People who I would have confidently claimed could never hurt a fly are hissing (admittedly empty) death threats toward politicians, the super wealthy, and the system in general. The anger spills out across discussion boards, prompting the emotional burnout of our population.
I don't think the change has to do with the degree of rage. I don't think it has to do with the degree of inequality, or a change in life-expectancy. I don't think the issue lies in access to weapons or a lack of experience with physical violence, nor is it a failure to mobilize. For all the times the internet has diffused ideas, it has also spread them. There are enough dispossessed, eager and willing people to rally together, and still, we don't.
And it's simple, really. What is the point? In 1789, raiding a wealthy manor would result in gold and silver, as well as necessary fabrics and foodstuffs. The lord could abscond to his winter home, but eventually the mobs there would get him too.
The wealthy have gotten so good at institutionalizing their power that not even death would rob them of their goods. Digital money has meant great things; however, it has also meant that the wealthy have finally found a way to move their wealth completely out of the reach of the poor. We cannot chase Mr. Bezos off to the Cayman Islands, and even if we did his money would go to his children. Even hackers can only take so much from him, effecting mostly the poor folks that he is already ripping off.
What will rioting get me but a nice police beating? In a world where the wealthy have bought the justice system, the police, the infrastructure of the world, how can we possibly fight back? I cannot foresee a path for a revolution that will change the systemic violence that keeps me working three jobs and free me from the misery of peasant life. I have just enough to lose that the threat of that police beating is a good deterrent, and the wealthy have gotten really good at stripping everything but that last necessary bit from the poor.
So, what do we do in a world where even revolution has been stripped from us—where the forces that shape our world are not just out of reach, but where even many of my fellow peasants would rather keep the system that has ruined them than risk losing what little they have? How do you fight back against people who aren't just immune to our violence, but who gain power from it? How do we catalyze the great social discontent of our time into a social movement that can actually fix what is broken?
Right now, voting will have to be enough; sensible, sane people running campaigns will have to be enough. Maybe if we get enough people into their ranks, we can take them down, piece by piece.
Maybe that's the point. This revolution will take longer, and be far bloodier than the ones before. It has to be a slow burn, because we are fighting the sort of enemy that no one before has. So share the load, and lets take turns until the monsters that rule our world can be worn down enough to be taken down.
Photo Courtesy of Ricardo Gomez Angel CC