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We Need A Social Revolution

Our future depends on our willingness to fight for it
Friday, August 18, 2017, 6:12 PM

In the conventional view, there are two kinds of revolutions: political and technological. Political revolutions may be peaceful or violent, and technological revolutions may transform civilizations gradually or rather abruptly—for example, revolutionary advances in the technology of warfare.

In this view, the engines of revolution are the state—government in all its layers and manifestations—and the corporate economy.

In a political revolution, a new political party or faction gains converts to its narrative, and this new force replaces the existing political order, either via peaceful means or violent revolution.

Technological revolutions arise from many sources but end up being managed by the state and private sector, which each influence and control the other in varying degrees.

Conventional history focuses on top-down political revolutions of the violent “regime change” variety: the American Revolution (1776), the French Revolution (1789), the Russian Revolution (1917), the Chinese Revolution (1949), and so on.

Technology has its own revolutionary hierarchy; the advances of the Industrial Revolutions I, II, III and now IV, have typically originated with inventors and proto-industrialists who relied on private capital and banking to fund large-scale buildouts of new industries: rail, steel manufacturing, shipbuilding, the Internet, etc.

The state may direct and fund technological revolutions as politically motivated projects, for example the Manhattan project to develop nuclear weapons and the Space race to the Moon in the 1960s.

These revolutions share a similar structure: a small cadre leads a large-scale project based on a strict hierarchy in which the revolution is pushed down the social pyramid by the few at the top to the many below.  Even when political and industrial advances are accepted voluntarily by the masses, the leadership and structure of the controlling mechanisms are hierarchical: political power, elected or not, is concentrated in the hands of a few at the top. Corporations are commercial autocracies; leadership is highly concentrated and orders are imposed on the bottom 99% of employees with military-like authority.

Social Revolutions Are Not Top-Down

But there is another class of revolution that does not share this hierarchical structure, nor does it manifest in the large-scale, top-down power-pyramids of the state and private corporations: social revolutions are bottoms-up affairs, lacking centralized leadership and hierarchical control mechanisms.

Social revolutions eventually influence the state and private sector, but they do not require the permission, funding or leadership of these hierarchies; as a rule, social revolutions drag the state and corporate sectors forward, kicking and screaming, as the social fabric and values of the populace change and the state and corporate sector cling to the status quo.

Examples of recent social revolutions include the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and the gay rights movement.  The leadership of the state resisted each revolution, and was essentially forced to adapt to the new social order as it became mainstream.

Once corporations figured out ways to profit from the transformed social order, they quickly introduced new products and fresh marketing: all-Caucasian advertising, for example, gave way to targeted ethnic advertising and mixed-race national advert campaigns.

When social revolutions are suppressed by the state, they may spark a political revolution as the socially oppressed come to see the overthrow of the autocratic political order as a necessary step towards liberation. 

In other cases, social revolutions may have little immediate impact on the political stage. Faith-based social secular movements--for example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century-- were not overtly political; their eventual political impact (temperance, woman’s rights and support for the abolition of slavery) may manifest decades later.

In summary: social revolutions may generate political waves, but they need not be overtly political to do so, nor do they rely on political, financial or technological hierarchies to transform society.

The Decline of Social Groups and the Erosion of the Social Order

Robert Putman’s 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, documented the decline of social connections and what we might calling belonging in American society with reams of data. This erosion of social bonds is not limited to social groups such as bowling leagues; it is secular, spanning every social type of connection from family picnics to community and neighborhood groups.

If we extend Putnam’s findings to the core human bonds of family and friendships, we find the same fraying of social ties; people have fewer close friends, are more isolated and lonely, and family relationships are increasingly superficial or characterized by alienation.

The factors feeding this broad-based decline of connectedness and social capital are many: the nation’s economic mode of production has changed, requiring two incomes where one once sufficed, and globalization has increased both the demands on those with jobs and the number of adults who have fallen out of the work force.

This winner-takes-most economy has been accompanied by the rise of political divisiveness, a brand of politics that fosters us-versus-them disunity and the erosion of common ground in favor of demonized opponents and all-or-nothing loyalty to one party or cause.

The technological revolutions of broadcast television and radio homogenized the mainstream media even as they provided superficial substitutes for social engagement. The technologies of social media, mobile telephony and narrowcast echo-chambers of uniform opinion have created even more addictive forms of distraction that are not just shredding social connectedness—they’re destroying our ability to form and nurture social bonds, even within the family.

This dynamic was explored in a recent essay in The Atlantic, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

Any careful observer of present-day family life would add that the addictive draw of mobile telephony has also damaged the parents’ generation and the family unit itself.

Cui Bono: To Whose Benefit?

Longtime readers know I often begin an inquiry with the time-tested question: cui bono, to whose benefit? Who has benefited from the erosion of the social fabric and social capital, from the politics of divisiveness and the mass addiction to the technologies of superficial connectedness?

While we can take note of soaring corporate profits, and draw a causal connection between these profits and the modern-day “always connected to work” lifestyle of high-productivity corporate employees, it’s difficult to argue that corporations have benefited directly from the loss of social capital that characterizes American life. 

Rather, it seems that the corporation’s relentless pursuit of narrowly defined self-interest, i.e. maximizing profits by whatever means are available, has laid waste to boundaries between work and home life as collateral damage.

In a similar fashion, purveyors of smartphones and the software and content that render them so addictive don’t necessarily benefit directly from the destruction of intimate, authentic social bonds, but they certainly have prospered from the feeding of the smartphone addiction. Once again, the loss of authentic social connectedness is collateral damage.

While it seems quite clear that political groups have fueled divisiveness to their own benefit, does the state (government in all its forms) benefit from the fraying of the social order? It’s difficult to discern a direct benefit to the state, though it might be argued that a fractured populace is easier to control.

But the erosion of the social order has gone beyond fracture into disintegration, and it’s hard to see how class wars and social disunity benefit the state, which ultimately relies on some measure of social unity for its authority, which flows from the consent of the governed.

It's Time To Take Our Future Back

In Part 2: Rescuing Our Future, we focus on the self-evident truth that governments and corporations cannot restore social connectedness and balance to our lives.  Only a social revolution that is self-organizing from the bottom-up can do that.

And we detail out the specific steps each of us can and should take to develop the values and skills required to form and maintain authentic social wealth—the wealth of friendship, of social gatherings, of belonging.

It takes courage and independence to swim against the toxic tides of our economy and society. The good news is that true wealth is within reach of everyone. The steps we each need take are clear; it's just a matter of having the will to invest the time and effort.

Do you have it?

Click here to read the report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

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15 Comments

Uncletommy's picture
Uncletommy
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
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Posts: 402
Need or want?

A revolution, in its most basic meaning, means a circular path around a fixed point. Culturally, given the current state of affairs in the world, we are only seeing the perigee of that trip now. Some revolutions are of shorter duration, while others take a bit longer. The Reformation, the Thirty Years War, the American Continental wars, American and French revolutions, WW 1 and 2, are markers in that process. Whether we need or want a revolution is moot. It will happen. The real question (especially from the PP perspective) is where do you want to be when it happens and what are you going to do to prepare for it. We can continue to go on bitching an complaining about it, but what will you be doing when the gangplank is pulled in?

richcabot's picture
richcabot
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A bit simplistic

Not all social revolutions are bottom up.  The war on drugs (including the drugs themselves) and the attendant social changes were very much top town, as is the shift to a war based economy.  The insularity, erosion of trust and loss of privacy driven by the manufactured war on terror are courtesy of the elites.

I think it's an open question whether corporate America has exploited a shift in society or if it has caused the shift.  The book "In the Absence of the Sacred" by Jerry Mander is a good exploration of this as it played out on the Native Americans. 

Loucleve's picture
Loucleve
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The globalists win

No the State does not benefit from the breakdown of cohesiveness in our society.  But someone does, and I suggest it is the globalists.

They want the state broken up, borders erased, and one big global populous of consumers.  With them in charge.

“You will have one world government whether you want it or not” – Paul Warburg, Council on Foreign Relations.

Create Problem.  (Import millions of un-assimilable alien muslims into Europe and declare racist anyone that opposes it.  Poland/Hungary resists – resistance must be crushed.)

Provide Solution.  That we do not yet know.

charleshughsmith's picture
charleshughsmith
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Posts: 628
top down social changes

I don't see the War on Drugs as a social revolution but a specific type of state repression aimed at disrupting target populaces. I see your point but I think we're describing two different things: state policies that force social changes as second-order consequences of political-economic policies, and the sort of organic social tides I am referring to that don't arise from the state.  I agree that state policies have social consequences, but oppressive state policies aren't revolutions, at least in the commonly understood use of the word.

"You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities," Ehrlichman said. "We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
 
Ehrlichman's comment is the first time the war on drugs has been plainly characterized as a political assault designed to help Nixon win, and keep, the White House.
 
http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/index.html
Christopher H's picture
Christopher H
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Those aren't "social revolutions"

Examples of recent social revolutions include the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and the gay rights movement.  The leadership of the state resisted each revolution, and was essentially forced to adapt to the new social order as it became mainstream....

In other cases, social revolutions may have little immediate impact on the political stage. Faith-based social secular movements--for example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century-- were not overtly political; their eventual political impact (temperance, woman’s rights and support for the abolition of slavery) may manifest decades later.

I don't agree with the assessment that any of these things represent "social revolutions."  They may be changes in society, but they are not wholesale revolutions.  True revolutions involve at least a partial smashing of the old order as opposed to a re-orientation of certain features of culture and society around forces that have been present for quite some time (or reactionary backlashes against re-orientation).  These are examples of the latter, not the former.

For example, the Civil Rights movement was the culmination of forces that had been unleashed almost 100 years prior with the Civil War and Reconstruction.  And as we're seeing with events today, it's not clear that any of those questions have actually been resolved.  If anything, Reconstruction was the actual attempt at revolution (leading Eric Foner to give his book on the subject the subtitle, "America's Unfinished Revolution"), but since it was attempted without a wholesale crushing of the remaining vestiges of antebellum Southern society (not that that would have been advisable either), it predictably created an intense backlash in the form of southern redemption, Jim Crow, and the myth of the lost cause of the South.

Likewise, support of the abolition of slavery was more due to the rise of replacing human labor with machines and fossil fuels than moral concerns.  It's no accident that the abolition movement in England came about in concert with the rise of the steam engine and the first industrial revolution -- that technology made reliance upon human labor obsolete.

The temperance movement was not a revolution either -- it was the result of two concurrent threads in American society.  Those were the series of Great Awakenings that inspired rededication to Protestant Christianity and the very real spectre of drunkenness and its impact on the family.

Social revolutions, like I said previously, involve wholesale upsetting of society and culture.  The idea of re-making society is largely an Enlightenment concept -- it's hardly an accident that the first true Revolution occurred in its midst, in 1789, and that later manifestations (Russia 1917, China 1949) could draw a thread directly to the last figure of the Enlightenment, Karl Marx.

Lastly, I find the take on the relationship between capitalism and social isolation to only go halfway instead of the full distance -- because capitalism itself has been and continues to be a truly revolutionary force.  If anything, these trends of social isolation are a predictable result of capitalism, given its compulsion to seek constantly growing profit through commodification.  (Note that this is very different from the free market, a topic on which I agree with the distributists as actually being antithetical to capitalism.)  Capitalism first commodified land itself (the process of enclosure in Britain), then the production and consumption of material goods (the subject largely tackled by Marx), followed by services that used to be provided through the informal economy and networks of kin and community (which were often the same thing), and finally arriving at direct personal relationships that now even extend into the nuclear family.  The loss of social cohesion is not collateral damage, it was the target of this process of commodification, as people without ties to one another will undoubtedly turn to the marketplace to get needs met that used to be met through social ties.

KugsCheese's picture
KugsCheese
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GMOs Revealed Series Released

kaimu's picture
kaimu
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CHANGE?

agitating prop's picture
agitating prop
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Christopher H
Christopher H wrote:

Examples of recent social revolutions include the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and the gay rights movement.  The leadership of the state resisted each revolution, and was essentially forced to adapt to the new social order as it became mainstream....

In other cases, social revolutions may have little immediate impact on the political stage. Faith-based social secular movements--for example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century-- were not overtly political; their eventual political impact (temperance, woman’s rights and support for the abolition of slavery) may manifest decades later.

I don't agree with the assessment that any of these things represent "social revolutions."  They may be changes in society, but they are not wholesale revolutions.  True revolutions involve at least a partial smashing of the old order as opposed to a re-orientation of certain features of culture and society around forces that have been present for quite some time (or reactionary backlashes against re-orientation).  These are examples of the latter, not the former.

For example, the Civil Rights movement was the culmination of forces that had been unleashed almost 100 years prior with the Civil War and Reconstruction.  And as we're seeing with events today, it's not clear that any of those questions have actually been resolved.  If anything, Reconstruction was the actual attempt at revolution (leading Eric Foner to give his book on the subject the subtitle, "America's Unfinished Revolution"), but since it was attempted without a wholesale crushing of the remaining vestiges of antebellum Southern society (not that that would have been advisable either), it predictably created an intense backlash in the form of southern redemption, Jim Crow, and the myth of the lost cause of the South.

Likewise, support of the abolition of slavery was more due to the rise of replacing human labor with machines and fossil fuels than moral concerns.  It's no accident that the abolition movement in England came about in concert with the rise of the steam engine and the first industrial revolution -- that technology made reliance upon human labor obsolete.

The temperance movement was not a revolution either -- it was the result of two concurrent threads in American society.  Those were the series of Great Awakenings that inspired rededication to Protestant Christianity and the very real spectre of drunkenness and its impact on the family.

Social revolutions, like I said previously, involve wholesale upsetting of society and culture.  The idea of re-making society is largely an Enlightenment concept -- it's hardly an accident that the first true Revolution occurred in its midst, in 1789, and that later manifestations (Russia 1917, China 1949) could draw a thread directly to the last figure of the Enlightenment, Karl Marx.

Lastly, I find the take on the relationship between capitalism and social isolation to only go halfway instead of the full distance -- because capitalism itself has been and continues to be a truly revolutionary force.  If anything, these trends of social isolation are a predictable result of capitalism, given its compulsion to seek constantly growing profit through commodification.  (Note that this is very different from the free market, a topic on which I agree with the distributists as actually being antithetical to capitalism.)  Capitalism first commodified land itself (the process of enclosure in Britain), then the production and consumption of material goods (the subject largely tackled by Marx), followed by services that used to be provided through the informal economy and networks of kin and community (which were often the same thing), and finally arriving at direct personal relationships that now even extend into the nuclear family.  The loss of social cohesion is not collateral damage, it was the target of this process of commodification, as people without ties to one another will undoubtedly turn to the marketplace to get needs met that used to be met through social ties.

 

You are probably too young to appreciate how revolutionary the 60s anti-war movement was.  The U.S was poised for European style socialist democracy and more enlightened drug policy and ready to move away from a war economy. It made a huge difference.  Many of these sentiments still linger in the hearts and minds of the enlightened and have had input in the political sphere through the women's movement and environmental movement. 

 

Unfortunately, the forces of fascism working through letter agencies and creepy conservatism on the one hand and over focus on gender politics and PC on the other, have kept the U.S from realizing its potential from a macro perspective. 

 

Christopher H's picture
Christopher H
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I think you're idealizing that time, honestly

You are probably too young to appreciate how revolutionary the 60s anti-war movement was.  The U.S was poised for European style socialist democracy and more enlightened drug policy and ready to move away from a war economy. It made a huge difference.  Many of these sentiments still linger in the hearts and minds of the enlightened and have had input in the political sphere through the women's movement and environmental movement.

You're correct on the count that I'm too young to remember, especially since I was born in 1973.  However, I've generally concluded that the 1960s are often idealized by those who lived through them.

I really don't think that the US was on the verge of social democracy -- rather, our elites were trying to institute social welfare at home while continuing to build and defend empire abroad at the same time.  Guns and butter.  And given the manner in which the gold standard that undergirded Bretton Woods fell apart shortly thereafter, it was a bridge too far, economically-speaking.  I also don't think that the sentiments you're expressing were adopted across the entire populace, especially judging from the right backlash that occurred immediately after.  Lastly, the women's movement and environmental movement were largely co-opted by the Democratic Party and upper-middle class elements of society, and effectively neutralized in the process.

charleshughsmith's picture
charleshughsmith
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excellent summary of profound dynamic

Christopher, your last paragraph is a truly excellent summary of a key dynamic:

 "If anything, these trends of social isolation are a predictable result of capitalism, given its compulsion to seek constantly growing profit through commodification.  (Note that this is very different from the free market, a topic on which I agree with the distributists as actually being antithetical to capitalism.)  Capitalism first commodified land itself (the process of enclosure in Britain), then the production and consumption of material goods (the subject largely tackled by Marx), followed by services that used to be provided through the informal economy and networks of kin and community (which were often the same thing), and finally arriving at direct personal relationships that now even extend into the nuclear family.  The loss of social cohesion is not collateral damage, it was the target of this process of commodification, as people without ties to one another will undoubtedly turn to the marketplace to get needs met that used to be met through social ties."

I would add that Universal Basic Income (UBI) and other welfare schemes that are presented as the solution to the commoditization of labor and automation are extensions of this dynamic, as the recipient of UBI gets his cash directly from the state--each atomized individual owes nothing to social ties or the community. He takes his state cash and goes to the marketplace to buy goods/services.  This is why I say we have a state-capitalist system.   

Christopher H's picture
Christopher H
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The issues with UBI

Charles, thanks for your response to my comment.

My background could best be described as coming from the American peasantry -- my mom's family has been in rural Western PA dating back to the 1790s, and my dad's in the eastern panhandle of WV for about the same length of time.  One thing that has struck me throughout my life in listening to stories from my parents and grandparents about growing up in those areas is that while they may have been cash-poor, they still lived life in a material abundance in some ways greater than today.  They had fresh milk directly from the milk cow, home-smoked meats from game and livestock, a small coal shaft for heating/cooking fuel, etc.  For them, access to the land WAS their "UBI" -- but it also offered the benefit of being part of a place and community with all that entails.

I have long argued that UBI is an attempt to create a commons of sorts within the financialized economy, but the financial economy is the destroyer of commons and distributed systems, so it can never work.

agitating prop's picture
agitating prop
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Christopher, I very much

Christopher,

I very much agree with you about boomers idealizing an era. And to your point about commodification, you could say that 'the movement' was commodified to a large degree by Madison Avenue and that many of the 'ideals' were a mixed blessing when implemented in a way that focussed on the individual rather than the tribe  

Femisnism, though very positive in some ways, had some terrible negative consequences.  One of the negatives was feeding lots of labor to corporations while depriving social networks that had, up until that time formed the backbone of a civil society. 

I totally hear you, (Man)!

Mots's picture
Mots
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Social Revolution

This article (the part that I can read) by CHS is fantastic and so are the comments. So prompted to review the Peak Prosperity blog postings at the "what should I do?" section I was struck by the contradiction between those who need guns and violence for self protection as seen in Argentina, and those who endure without such violence (as noted above for the U.S. agrarian society during the last Depression wherein starving hobos would go to unlocked houses asking to work for food).  

Now that I have been immersed in a rural agricultural society myself the last few years, the reason for the difference is quite clear.  Those of us who create wealth within a (rural) community of wealth creators have an "abundance mentality" wherein we circulate wealth among ourselves, partly for sport, partly for fun, but in particular because that defines who WE are. We dont take pride in having an expensive car, instead we take pride in creating enough wealth that we can freely give away surplus to our community members who are also doing the same thing.  Our meaning and identity is created and reinforced by the giving of food, time etc. to neighbors who, because they are wealth creators themselves, truly understand.  Moreover, outsiders who already have or are willing to adopt the wealth creation ethos (Hobos of the US Depression?) are welcome.  Unfortunately many of the fiat refugees who visit us looking for a new life are not willing to DO but instead confuse dreamy chit chat over coffee with community building and are encouraged to leave.  

I would like to add an observation about revolution.  The bottom up development of self sufficient communities is spontaneous and is the true social revolution that CHS talks about.  BUT (this time) this is accompanied by a technology revolution that the top-down structure CANNOT pursue.  Renewable technologies and other new technologies are local and dont fit the globalism model.  Much cheaper and easier to implement locally.  (this is something that MBA degreed schemers that profit from providing financial advice don't seem to understand)  We have inherited all technology that has ever been created, for free and which is instantly available anywhere.  We no longer need NY, DC, London, Tokyo and the bankerized top down machinations.  The top down sociopath globalists simply cannot participate in the new technology revolutions of 3-D printing, local production of renewable energies, local production of food.  In fact, the top down organizers cannot compete with us.  This is potentiated by revolutions in the use of technology to get everything we need locally.  The globalists with their MBA-school-learned tricks of racketeering have no traction here. 

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charleshughsmith
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social and decentralized tech revolutions

Mots, thank you for integrating decentralized social and technological revolutions -- a topic that I consider core to my own work on designing structures that make it easier for people to create and join the kind of wealth-creating decentralized community economies you describe. 

You are so right about the distribution of wealth not as a financialization scheme but as a community-human gesture of abundance. My wife baked a pan of peach cobbler for the staff of the local hardware store -- needless to say, they were surprised. But why not? they've helped us many times over the years, and we had a super-abundance of peaches this year. heck, I even drafted chart guru Davefairtex into slicing peaches by the dozens --his visit was perfectly timed in terms of helping us process the peach crop, maybe ill-timed from his POV :-)   Actually, helping collect and distribute local abundance is very rewarding.

Mots's picture
Mots
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community backyard gardens provided 45% of all food

Thanks Kugs for this video link (

)

The video explains at 27:50 that Americans (and in other countries) grew 45% of our own food in personal/community neighborhood "victory" gardens in 1945. Back to the future?

The video also correctly explains the mechanism/activity of glyphosate.  Good video.

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