Category: December 6 (page 1 of 3)

Being a revolutionary on Colby campus

Why would anyone participate in a social protest? In other words, why do social revolutions exist? In this Tuesday’s talk, Dr. Perez, a postdoctoral fellow at the department of sociology, interpreted the phenomenon of social activism from the perspective of functionalism, rationalism, and more.

The functionalist’s basic argument is that there is a purpose for everything that exists in our society. However, this opinion fundamentally contradicts the purpose of social activism: for something to change.

The rationalist paradigm focuses on a different aspect of social activism: the “how” of social mobilization. They see social activism and part of the political process and due to the constant grievance, this phenomenon would always happen.

Nowadays a third theory, a post-rationalist paradigm start to gain popularity. It argues that social movements are not just normal and political; it contains cultural expressions, emotional dynamics, and identity politics. People who participate in social activism are not solely motivated by structural reasons; it is also a form of expressing who they are.

This brings up the century-long controversy: is social activism a form of agency, or embedded in a structure?

During this election cycle, with polarized political voices, social activism is seen expressed in both sides. People were very involved in the standardized political process, including attending rallies, etc.; however, protest was a very common form, from the beginning of the presidential campaigns all the way to now, as President Trump would soon become a reality.

The first wave of protests was climaxed right before the election: both candidates of the major parties were considered “deeply flawed” by many, while the third-party candidates also rendered disappointing performances. As a result, people felt more strongly against a certain candidate than for a candidate, and voted as a measure of damage control rather than positive control. Even on our own Colby campus, I remembered many organized and spontaneous protests against a certain candidate, through marches, gatherings, and even Facebook groups, events and posts. On a liberal arts college campus, people are very conscious about the concept of dictatorship and hyper-masculinity; and during the election, as Trump started to display both traits, students started to protest and mobilize people both based on cultural identities and academic studies. On a diverse campus, Trump’s both racist and misogynic rhetoric was not tolerated, and students went out of their ways to put up signs and events to convey that both messages are very harmful to future of the US, while professors demonstrated through their research that Trump’s hyper-masculine rhetoric is outdated and detrimental to our society.

The second wave of campus protests came after the election, when Trump has secured his presidency. During this phase, the focus of protests has shifted from opposing a certain candidate to try to advance equality causes under a strongman administration. The topics of the protests mostly consist of the fight against xenophobia, homophobia and inequality, and students found protests provide more of mutual, healing atmosphere as we dealt with the aftermath of the election than a mobilizing, political one.

I certainly appreciate having the opportunity to attend a liberal arts college where educated people are supportive of science and progression. I believe that social activism, as big as nationwide ones and as small as the ones occur on Colby campus, truly is a platform that is both a form of structure and agency,  that pushes our society forward.

Lets go start a revolution!

Throughout the semester, we have looked at revolutions from all kinds of perspectives. We have looked at historic events from the past, and wondered why they were distinctly defined ‘revolutions’. We looked at probable revolutions of the future, and how we need to prepare for them. We even defined revolutions through different aspects, ranging from a philosophical version to a sociological one. And, Professor Marcos Perez, in his lecture titled ‘On Being a Revolutionary’ on 6th December, nicely summed it up. Professor Perez attempted to explain what it actually means to be a part of a revolution, and how these revolutions can significantly alter the lives of those affected by it.

While discussing many aspects of a revolution, Professor Perez also discussed the constituents, or rather, the elements of a revolution. He stressed that conflict is an important part of a revolution, for it acts as a necessary catalyst which draws people’s inner desires to bring about a change. In explaining that, we were given the example of Soviet Union, where a genocidal revolution took place in the 20th Century. Through speeches and other forms of public propaganda, the opinions of the common masses were mobilised into perceiving the Kulaks (wealthy famers and peasants in the Soviet society) as the enemy of the society, the ones who were stopping their society from prospering.

Revolutions take place in all aspects of life. Finding another habitable planet in the future would be a revolution in science. And one thing is for certain, they will continue to happen. For people are never satisfied. We always want to see change. Yet, we all need to keep caution beside us in our journeys. Some revolutions will change the world for the better, while some may not. There fore, we need to carefully observe, critically evaluate and when the time is right, pounce on the opportunity.

The power of Sacrifice

It is so often we take for granted that we have life. All of us have intentions of having the best life possible, and this is different for everyone, but we spend precious time doing pointless things that don’t work towards the things we really want. What we do with our free time is vital to the type of success one might have while reaching a goal.

 

If you think about people like Bill gates. Steve jobs, Oprah Winfrey, or anyone really who has made it to the very pinnacle of success, when they finally obtain their greatest accolades, in their speeches they often talk about what they were willing to give up to achieve their dreams or how much the people around them had to sacrifice. They all have stories of giving up the things they wanted to do in order to do something they felt they needed to do. Much of this sacrifice has to do with how they spent their time. Sacrifice is centered around time. When one sacrifices for something that can reward them in the future they can put time in their favor.

 

The great thing about sacrifice is that it is temporary. By sacrificing for your goals you are temporarily giving up one thing, for the long term success of another thing. By doing this, one can actually gain time in their lifetime. Maybe not actual time, but leisure time. Instead of using their free time to make themselves happy with frivolous things that the individual doesn’t actually gain anything from, they use their time to work towards a meaningful and rewarding goal. This way, when they reach the pinnacle of success early in their life, they no longer have to worry about working a nine to five job to make ends meet. They have all the time in the world to do whatever it is they want to do, so they did indeed gain time.

 

By looking at this relationship between the time we have in our lifetime and the leisure time we have in our lifetime we can see that money drives our world. That this way of thinking is only applicable to a world in which we live in, where a currency drives the individual’s motives. If we had no currency, no money. What would motivate us? Surviving? Could we live in a world that is better for the individual, free of sacrifice? The ancient Andean people lived and thrived without a currency. Economists say that without a currency there is sure to be inefficiencies but the only kind of inefficiencies that the Andean people had were surpluses. They worked in an economic system that was better for the greater good. They found that by working with each other they could be as efficient as possible. Today, in a world where selfish motives are the intentions of many, maybe humanity’s biggest sacrifice is working together. If every nation were to work together we could gain time and be efficient as humanly possible.

 

A Revolution: Darwin

The Darwinian Revolution answered a lot of questions about the origins of our species. Through an ongoing process of natural selection, species evolve into more advanced states. All animals, humans included, are at the whim of this process. Though unseen, adaptation and natural selection occur throughout the world in order to create the state of society. There has been complicated questions and consequences of this radical new worldview. Professor Stone criticized some of these consequences. First, Darwinism equates evolution with progress. The notion that progress is linear and forward moving causes people to assume that the society we live in is the best possible state. The kind of typological thinking at work here distracts modern man from historical memory: the things we can learn from the past. We are the idealized type. The end or ultimate level of evolution. This kind of thinking ignores or glorifies our humble origins in order to show progression of man: we were apes and now we are humans. I think this ignores the creative destruction brought on the world: 99% of species that have ever existed are now extinct. This reasoning has caused economists to validate a notion of creative destruction that has been detrimental to our society: the notion that companies, jobs, and people must be destroyed in the name of progress. To make space for new ideas and companies, old ones must die. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Darwin or Professor Stone, the machinations of evolutionary progress continue even in modern man.

However, societies and nations have progressed to the point where the weak no longer die. We have elevated above the state of nature in order to create government and institutions that negate the most destructive aspects of the state of nature. Darwin’s ideas have been less powerful in human societies precisely for this reason: the rate of change is much less now that it has ever been in human societies because the level of danger has decreased. Now, even the most vulnerable of people have the ability to survive due to the abundance of food, money, and laws. I think we can consider this progress. We have allowed for differences between people, even protecting them in our institutions through laws for the weak, disabled, marginalized. I think this can be used as evidence against Professor Stone’s contention that the typographical notions of evolution have necessitated types and also perfect types. Humans will not be the last forms of evolution but we have gained many tools in which to protect our own species from extinction. With that, we have also created the tools of our own destruction through nuclear weapons and warfare: evidence of our humble warlike tribal origins, no doubt.

What’s In a Revolutionary

In one way or another, we are all revolutionaries.  It is the certain degree that we act on our revolutionary that determines what becomes thought of as revolution, and who gets thought of as a revolutionary.

This notion operates on principles of human behavior.  To begin a revolution one must start with the individual.  It is certainly universal that we all want change to some aspect of society.  We all think like this, and it manifests itself in conversation in the classroom, around the dining room table, and in the angry comments we write on Facebook.  To be human is to imagine how human life could be optimized.

The second step to revolution than, is the spread of one person’s individual notion of change to others.  The ideas that make for revolutions are the ones that are universal, that other people think as well.  They can be sold by an individual or may be so pressing as to be recognized easily by a broad swath of humans.  This spread can require lots of work or may be seamless. The more seamless it spreads, the easier revolution comes about.

The final step to revolution then is the action.  This is where ideas of a revolution become a revolution.  Where by a growing social consciousness a government is toppled, old ideas are replaced with new ones, and the world moves closer to change.  It is worth noting that not all ideas that spread and reach this stage are good, but that also is a part of the revolution process, trying and failing with revolutionary ideas.  The ones that do succeed are destined to become recognized as revolutions, the kind that get read about in history books.

That is what is in a revolutionary, the ability to complete this process of invention of ideas for change, organizing, and putting those ideas into action.  It is this that makes a revolutionary and it only takes a few to cause such a revolution.

Why wait to act, act now!

In the final talk of the revolutions lecture series, Professor Marcos Perez delivered a talk about the importance of revolutions and also why people decide to be revolutionary in the first place. This was a perfect way to finish the series, where for most of the lectures, various revolutions were discussed in detail, but the rationality and sociology behind a revolution in generally had not really been discussed much. He began the talk by saying that revolutions are “crucial and nebulous.” They are crucial in sparking social change and nebulous because, as many of the talks have touched on, they are not generalizable. They are not really well-defined and often times, major revolutions may have little to no effect on a vast majority of the human population of that time or in the future. Also, an important point he mentioned is how it takes a while to feel the effects of a revolution. To supplement this, historians are the ones who generally attribute this title to a specific event, maybe those people of the time just thought their actions were necessary. They didn’t need praise; they just did it.

Throughout the talk, Professor Perez discussed the role of individuals in revolutions but also why would they join and where the ideal location for a revolution would be. This discussion left me with a few major ideas to ponder. The first of these is the idea that no matter what your involvement is in a revolution, unless you are leading it, you won’t be making a substantial contribution. This is an interesting idea. For many this is discouraging and leads to such ideas like not going out to vote or deciding to be a bystander. However, this idea should ideally produce the opposite line of thinking. One contribution might not be much, all the more reason to gain support and rally people together to fight for a common goal. People who fall victim to this ideology fail to see this quality of revolutions. It is not about a single contribution; it is about the collection of people fighting for the same cause.

The second major point I got from this final talk was that all of the theories Perez presented focused on mobilization. This is a vital component of any successful revolution, for obvious reasons. The reason for this mobilization is still up for debate. Some theories argue that becoming part of a movement provides purpose in times of social change and the countering of old ideas. Some people may feel lost in this time and search for refuge in a like-minded group. Other theories focus more on the idea that protest is simply the rational course of action to counter grievances. No matter the proposed reason, the commonality is, in social revolutions, that when a group of people is no longer able to function properly in a society, they will band together to fight this. My counter to this conventional idea would be this, why wait? Throughout all of the discussion about social revolution throughout this course, this question lingers in my brain. Why wait until society starts to be harmful to you? If there are faults in a system that may lead to these issues, people should work to fight the conventions together before the pain is inflicted. A struggle should not be needed for a revolution to occur. Why not fight it before it happens?

Why Be Revolutionary?

Marcos Perez claimed that revolutions are crucial, nebulous, and catalysts of social change. Revolutions are necessary for changes in society, even if they do not always work out. The success of a revolution cannot be measured by its total accomplishment of one goal. Rather, it should be measured based on the impact it leaves and the implications it has for the future. Revolutions are complicated, and it takes a while for their effects to be felt or visible. However, each movement in history contributes to the possibility of a global revolution: The Revolution. This revolution would be felt all over the world in order to make a drastic change. The prospect of this revolution is exciting. Personally, I would love to see this revolution in my lifetime. Given the current political climate of the world, it may be closer than we think.

To be involved in a revolution, one must be willing to pay a high cost for a very slim chance of success. Being a revolutionary is risky and you must be willing to give up almost everything. The issues revolutionaries are fighting for are extremely important to them, which is why they are taking the risk. This is also why revolutions are so full of passion. Revolutionaries have sacrificed so much for what they want, and they are willing to give more to see it through. So while being a part of a revolution does not guarantee success, for those who truly believe in the cause, they have no other choice.

When one becomes a part of a revolution, they loose their individuality. They now take on the role of being a part of the group, and what that entails. In order to accomplish the goals of their revolution, every player has to be willing to conform. They must do what is best for the group and the cause, even if it is not what is best for the individual. When many people join together, groupthink occurs. People do things they may not necessarily do if they were acting alone. This can lead to some dangerous and reckless behaviors that turn into sacrifices for those involved. However, for a revolution to be successful, people must be willing to conform and make these sacrifices.

Individuals have agency while groups have structure. However, both are necessary for a successful revolution. Individuals with agency must come together to form a structure with agency. If there is no agency, the revolution will not be successful. Revolutions require sacrifices, but if the issue is important enough they are worth it. Just because a revolution is not successful in achieving its ultimate goal, does not mean it is not successful. Every revolution is a stepping-stone for a global revolution to occur. They are preparation for the ultimate event of discord. It may be closer than we think.

What Does It Take to be Revolutionary?

Marcos Perez’s, Postdoctoral Fellow in Sociology at Colby, talk On Being a Revolutionary was a wonderful way to end the series of lectures as it can speak to the many people at Colby who are activist or trying to be activist and/or care about making change.

During my four years at Colby people have protested, organized with other students, spoken out about their beliefs in different ways, all to bring about awareness and also social change. One example of this was when the Yik Yak fiasco occurred, in which a protest took place all over campus to bring awareness to what is happening to Black lives and people of color outside of our Colby bubble. People put tremendous effort into organizing this and thought about their risk but the cause proved to be more important to them, something Marco Perez spoke about in his talk. Another thing Marco Perez mentioned was the other side, “the enemy,” sure enough the anonymous people from Colby’s community responded in a not so surprisingly way, in discontent with the harmless protest. As Marco Perez mentions a revolution involves high risks and it takes a person or a group of people a lot of courage and preparation to assemble and enable revolutions. But this also brings up the question of what is the right way to protest is there a right way to protest? At the “closure” of the hectic, emotional week people were left wondering who’s voice was going to be heard, the protestors – the Colby students who are not comfortable on campus no matter what, or the underlying racist, sexist, etc.—people who are able to hide their face but share their ideas?

Professor Perez also discusses: Why be a revolutionary? What is it like? How are revolutions organized? He focused on the elements of revolutions, although much larger than that of what happens at Colby, for example with his example of the of the Soviet Union, he still shares important insight into revolutions. The message behind revolutions are that they are essential but imprecise and complicated, and hard to notice in the moment that it is happening. He also brings up good questions about the ability to start a revolution: is there human agency? what is the role of individuals in the outcome of revolutions? To connect this idea to the example above, professors and faculty stood up to speak on the issue and so did other students but nothing else was said, what more could and can be done at Colby, that could make it a revolution?

Finally, though I have applied Marco Peres’s talk to a small place like Colby he speaks of much more worldly perspectives on revolution: What (and where) is the best context for revolutionary change? In more or less developed societies? In urban or rural areas? In the global south or north? Third world countries with there unstable circumstances would be likely to have a revolution maybe also because they are at greater tipping point where their well being really would depend on revolution. All in all I really enjoyed this talk and the questions raised.

 

The Tipping Point

Inquires around the concept of a “revolution” are endless.  What constitutes a revolution?  When will we have a revolution?  When will we have the revolution?  Professor of Sociology Marcos Perez discusses why people choose to participate in revolutions, despite their limited success by asking the following question: are our current systems sustainable?  Although no system is sustainable in the way it is currently operating forever, when is a system flawed to the point where a revolution is inevitable?  The flaws necessary to spark a revolution not only have to upset people, but upset people to the point where they are willing to act, and sometimes, willing to die for change.  But if success is rarely guaranteed, why would individuals subject themselves to injury and possibly death?  Perez referenced the psychological term, the crowd mentality, suggesting that individuals, when grouped together, lose their individuality.  Individuals are not individuals anymore; they make up a large conglomerate of people fighting for the same cause.  Along with the crowd mentality, inhibitions, vulnerabilities, and even opinions are altered.  Although it seems paradoxical that one could be fighting and potentially dying for something that he or she doesn’t actually believe in, the crowd mentality erases this.  The group has opinions and objectives reflective of the movement itself, not individuals within the movement.

 

Although the psychology behind why people join movements has been discussed, it is imperative to consider why the movements begin in the first place.  Perez discusses two theories discussing society and revolution: Functionalists, and Rationalists.  Functionalists believe that protest was crazy: why would people subject themselves to violence?  Rationalists on the other hand believed that protest was inevitable: people were always going to be upset and if they had resources, protest would ensue.  Although neither postulate is correct on its own, bits and pieces from each theory contribute to the reason why revolutions and uprisings exist.  From the rationalist perspective, it is true that there will always be people unhappy and upset with how society hurts and detracts from them, however, rationalists are incorrect in assuming that just because injustice may exist, an uprising might occur.  In order for a massive uprising to take place, people have to be impacted to the point where they have reached their tipping point, that the injustice that exists is so great that people have nothing to lose, and thus have no other option but to rebel and protest.  The idea that groups of people have a threshold of injustice that they can endure before they take action also takes fundamental properties from the functionalist theory: people will not protest.  While people may protest, they will not take great action until they have reached their tipping point.

 

So the question remains: what is the tipping point and when is it reached?  If there really is an enormous revolution coming our way in America, what is it?  What will catalyze it?  As of today, the United States remains divided: a liberal revolution followed by a conservative backlash and counter revolution separates the country even further.  It is not a matter of if we will reach our tipping point, it is when.

Who wants to be a Revolutionary?

Who wants to be a Revolutionary? That’s pretty much the question that Marcos Perez was trying to answer from the perspective of a sociologist. And yes, it is an incredibly interesting question to look at, especially to know the different sociological theories and how they have evolved over the 20th century. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, prominent thinking included Durkheim’s “Collective Effervescence” and also the ideas of “crowd mentality” – how individuality is lost when you enter a crowd. I personally haven’t spent much time in large crowds since I normally try to avoid them, but I think anyone could attest to the difference in energy that a crowd can have—an energy that no single person can have on their own, or obvious hope to generate without a crowd. A random example would be seeing a movie in the theater. Sometimes it’s nice to have the whole place to yourself and a few friends and then it feels like a private showing. But when I went to see Star Wars last year and the theater was totally packed with big fans, there was an electrifying feel in the air with all the excitement emanating off the crowd. This may not be an apt analogy for something like a protest or insurgency movement, but both contexts share the heightened emotions that come with being in a crowd of people sharing a common moment. I don’t think I can answer why exactly I, or anyone else, would participate in a protest, especially since sociologists have been struggling to answer that question for hundreds of years. I can’t imagine the high costs and personal sacrifice that comes to those who lead the revolutions. Then for those who join a revolution as a revolutionary, Perez mentioned how there isn’t really an incentive for one person, who can’t make much of an additional difference. This leads to a collective action dilemma.  

In the question and answer period after the lecture, the conflict between “global” and “local” was identified as a driver in these recent movements. We could look to what some describe as revolutionary movements in the United States, with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, then around the world with far-right movements and decisions like the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union. The shocks of globalization have improved many lives, but has also left a lot of people behind. President-elect Donald Trump saw this and used the “local card” politically, and clearly it was a popular move and sentiment that rewarded him. 2016 seems to have been a wakeup call for globalization. Another big topic in the aftermath of the US election has been fake news. How does something like the ability of any individual or organization to post any opinion or fabrication as fact shift the balance of agency vs social structure in revolution? But now I wonder how revolution happens. Perez noted that one train of thought is that the third world will play an important part as a rising actor in global revolution.

 

 

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