Author: Emma Kuehn

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.

Modern Constructs

It is strange to think that we might not be modern, but according to philosopher Bruno Latour we are not modern, and therefore we cannot be revolutionary. I do not know much about philosophy or how to interpret it, but Professor Keith Peterson’s lecture has prompted to me to question the world. The most pressing thoughts I have had have been about social constructs. This is a term that is used to describe a concept that is not naturally occurring, but has been given meaning by humans and is accepted as fact. Social constructs influence the way humans interact with one another and also influences the way we make sense of the world. Professor Peterson stated that social constructs are not always false. However, this is misleading because social constructs are not real. Therefore, they are not actually tangible, but they can be true to certain communities that accept them as fact.

Social constructions and socially conditioned knowledge refer to accepted ideas in a community. They differ from group to group, from culture to culture. They are a way for these groups to function together and understand each other. However, this idea of socially conditioned knowledge seems a little like brainwashing to me. What happens if a member of the community has a differing opinion or way of thinking? Will they become a threat to the society? Will the community threaten them? People who abide by the ideals set out by the population are choosing to ignore what they do not like. This does not make for a better world, but a compliant one. If Latour claims that “we are not revolutionary,” then he must be thinking about a time and place where challenging social constructions does not occur. However, the world does not actually function this way. We need to challenge social constructions in order to improve quality of life and make the world safe for everyone. We need revolutions.

Professor Peterson claimed that social constructs are not necessarily false. This challenges the concept that social constructs do not actually exist, although they may seem natural. Yes maybe a social construct makes sense because the community has accepted it and views it as being “true,” but that does not make it real. Maybe the community functions best with these constructs in place, but that does not make them natural. It is true that we can accept and identify with a social construct. For example, many people identify with a certain race or gender, but these are still social constructs. Social constructs exist, and will probably not go away any time soon, but calling them “not necessarily false” is not a constructive way to justify their use. What I took away from this lecture is that we are not modern, we are not revolutionary, and nothing exists. This is confusing and very difficult to accept, but also a good way to challenge how I think. What I think is that we are modern, we are revolutionary, and we do exist.

Revolutions that Count

Are revolutions contagious? It certainly seemed that way in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During this time period, there were revolutions in France, the United States of America, and Haiti. The French and American Revolutions have gone down in history as two of the world’s most famous events. However, we rarely hear about the Haitian Revolution. Many people did not even learn about it in their high school history classes. It seems strange that we are only recently really attempting to learn about this revolution that occurred in the Western world, however it is not that surprising. The Haitian Revolution has been left out of the history books due to poor documentation, disinterest, and the exclusion of people of color from historical discourse.

There are not a lot of written records about the Haitian Revolution. Most of what is known comes from stories passed down through generations. The only written documents are from white French colonists who interviewed Haitian people and wrote their stories down. The majority of the people who are currently studying the Haitian Revolution are not from Haiti. I find this interesting because the same people who are currently studying it are the ones who left the Haitian Revolution out of history. It makes me wonder why Haitian scholars had not done this first, although it may be that their work was left out of history similarly to their revolution.

Because there are not a lot of written first hand accounts of the Haitian Revolution, historians must rely on memories passed down through generations in order to write the history. It is in this passage of information that myth and history blend together to create the legend of the Haitian Revolution. It is sad that we may never know exactly what happened during this time, but, as I said before, it is not unusual for events like these to be left out. History cannot be written without bias. The scribe always has an opinion or perspective that motivates them to write. While memories are also biased, they are human beings’ lived experiences. Unfortunately for the readers of history, we may never get a neutral account. We must read critically and determine what the real truth is for us.

The difference between the motives behind the Haitian Revolution compared to the French and American Revolutions is also significant. The American Revolution consisted of free men fighting to establish their own government. The French Revolution had similar conditions and motives. In the Haitian Revolution, slaves were fighting for their freedom. It was also about upholding the French monarchy and Catholic values. There are very few similarities one can draw between this revolution and the other two. The motives and stakes were completely different and reflect the significant difference between white and black histories in the New World. The fact that the Haitian Revolution has been ignored in history not only leaves out people of color’s important contribution to the development of the New World, but also reflects how they have been treated in it.

More Data, More Problems?

The increase in the popularity and use of data is a reflection of people’s need for visible evidence, rather than just being told something is the way it is. Data is just an illustration of words. It is words put in to simpler context that is much easier to understand. However, data completely replacing words does not seem like the positive route it has been laid out to be. When we replace words with data, we loose the capacity for contextual meaning. It is true that words can be misleading, but so can data.

“Data” is everywhere today. Almost every field of study deals with data and if there is no data, the study is not considered reliable. It is interesting to think that in the past, data was not necessary to prove a point. One could just say that something was the way it is and people would believe them. Obviously there are limits to this power, but it is much harder to pull that off today. People need data, or evidence, to believe a claim and take it as fact. We have become so dependent on data to separate truth from fiction, that we may have become blind to its downfalls.

It is clear from Professor Aaron Hanlon’s lecture that words can be misleading. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it can be a thousand misleading words. Just because there is a picture, does not mean what is being portrayed is accurate. When it comes to art, especially photographs, framing is extremely important for context. We think photographs to be concrete proof with no bias, but it is very easy to manipulate a photograph to portray what the photographer wants. This is true of illustrations, and it is true of data.

It is important to keep in mind that the data presented is going to be biased based on who is presenting it. There is a reason for particular uses of data, and data can be manipulated to reflect the intention of the presenter. Another point from Professor Hanlon’s lecture was that meaning requires context. There are multiple ways to interpret a statement, so one needs some background to infer the correct meaning. This applies to data in the sense that it needs context in order for those interpreting it to make the right connections. In many cases, words are required to help provide this foreground and form the context.

A conclusion from this lecture was that when data becomes the main form of evidence that will be revolutionary. But are there questions that cannot be answered with data? I would argue that yes, not everything can be proven with data. There are other ways to present information and prove findings that are better than data in certain context. Relying solely on data as evidence is irresponsible. I am not saying data is bad. Data is great, but it should not be the method of evidence used. Yes it would be revolutionary for data to become our main form of evidence, but that does not make it the best option.

(R)evolutions in Evolution

Charles Darwin’s contributions to evolution and the life sciences have been the subject of more than one talk in this revolutions themed course. It is without doubt that his work was revolutionary and changed the course of science and society. However, the legacy of Darwin and evolution has not been completely positive. Beliefs around evolution have become arguments for typological thinking and beliefs about race supremacy. This is definitely not the intention of scientists, but their work has been altered to become evidence for these ways of thinking. These misconceptions about evolution include beliefs about variations, the goal of evolution, and typological thinking.

Evolution occurs when variations in a species are better suited for survival and therefore stay alive, becoming the dominant variation in the species. This is the basis of natural selection and is how species are able to evolve and change over time. While variations are vital for evolution, they can be looked at as imperfections. We as a society see differences as a negative thing. They are considered deformities or “weird.” This is a comment on how the society we live in is exclusive and reluctant to change. If we remember that without these differences, humans would not exist, then maybe people would be more accepting and inclusive.

Another important point Professor Judy Stone made was that evolution is not moving towards a goal. Rather, evolution just happens; it is a way to adapt to the current conditions. Like living creatures, the Earth is also evolving. We have changed with our planet to become properly adapted for life on it. If we think of evolution as moving towards a goal, then we assume that it will one day end. However, as long as there is life, there will be evolution. The thought that evolution has a goal also suggests that perhaps there is a species that is better, or more perfect, than another. This type of thinking is dangerous, because it begins to exclude members and suggest they are less than the others.

One thing that was made clear in this lecture was that typological thinking in evolution can be toxic for human interactions. This typological thinking helps to reinforce racial boundaries. Race is a social construct; it is something humans have made up and has no scientific basis. Unfortunately, assumptions about evolution have contributed to phenomena of Social Darwinism, which was widespread in the mid-1900s. Social Darwinism applied the concepts of evolution to humans and our society. Essentially, it was an attempt to provide a scientific basis for racism. While Social Darwinism is not really prevalent today, some of its ideas still linger. These manifest into the problems with the public’s perception of evolution. After listening to Professor Stone’s lecture, I think biologists have potential to be social activists. It is possible to change the public’s perceptions of evolution for the better. With a little bit of education, binary views about evolution can change to benefit society and make it a more inclusive place.

Curiosity and Climate

Revolutions come in in many different forms as a way to bring about some type of change to the current system. The driving forces behind each revolution differ depending on the type of revolution and the circumstances. We have heard many lectures about scientific revolutions this semester. Keri Emanuel’s lecture this week summed up the motivating forces behind revolutions in climate science. The most important motivator for research in climate science has been curiosity. Without curiosity, what we know about the world and its climate would be very different.

Advances in climate research did not happen due to general curiosity about all aspects of the climate. Vital discoveries about our climate have come from very specific questions that scientists wanted to answer. For example, important discoveries about what determines the surface temperature of the Earth were driven by evidence found for large sheets of ice that once covered the earth. Scientists were driven to research climate as a way to explain strange geological occurrences for which they had no answer. These included boulders, or “erratics,” that seemed to have come from somewhere else and scratch marks on sheets of rock. Without the curiosity about these occurrences, we may have never been aware of the multiple ice ages that have happened in the past.

Interest in the Earth’s surface temperature has been around since at least the 19th century. Many scientists used their curiosity about this to drive their research and help to understand what exactly was going on with the Earth’s surface temperature. Scientists built up on the discoveries made before them to come up with the answer. This collaboration of sorts laid out the groundwork for theories about the Earth’s surface temperature, which were in turn tested. This collaboration of curiosities has helped to explain the Earth’s climate as we know it today.

Curiosities are not always popular with members of society. Many people were hesitant to believe that Earth could evolve geologically or that the climate could have changed over time. Following a curiosity and asking questions is generally not met with the support it deserves. However, the ability to overcome this disapproval and find undiscovered information about the world shows the resilience of climate scientists. This was true in the 19th century and is true today. There will always be people denying one’s curiosities, but it is important to follow them anyway.

Curiosity drove research about climate in the past, but now it seems like climate research is driven by necessity. Past research and curiosities have laid down the groundwork for future research and curiosities. Revolutions in geology, physics, and chemistry also made these discoveries possible. We do not know everything there is to know about the Earth’s climate, which means climate sciences will remain an important field of study that will be driven by curiosity. Climate research will also remain and important field of study due to climate change concerns. Without this curiosity, life on our planet as we know it is going to be altered forever.

What Kind of Revolution?

History has told us that Charles Darwin was not the first person to suggest the theory of evolution, but he is whom we credit with this discovery. This is a controversial part of history, but we have seen this happen in other fields of study. Janet Browne was quick to let us know that Darwin was modest about his accomplishments and did not seek all of the attention he received. Rather, other scientists and members of society made him into the representative of what we call the Darwinian Revolution. The Darwinian Revolution was not all Darwin, and, as Browne would argue, not quite a revolution. However, I would argue the Darwinian Revolution was a revolution based on the long lasting implications it has had on society.

Darwin knew that his discoveries would have uncomfortable social and political implications. This contributed to his hesitancy to share them with the rest of the scientific community, and the rest of the world. Religion was the way to explain the unknown, and it governed everyone’s lives. Suggesting that some other process produced humans than creation caused widespread horror. While probably not to the degree it was back then, many people are still outraged by this suggestion. So while the Darwinian Revolution changed science, it also changed religion. Darwin also knew his discoveries would cause a revolution, but not in his lifetime. Even before his death, Darwin had become romanticized as a hero of modern science. His supporters were adamant about keeping his legacy alive. They made sure the theory of evolution was never discredited or considered irrelevant. They were successful, considering we still learn and talk about it today. However, this has continued to be a controversial topic, especially in the United States.

Browne stated that The Darwinian Revolution was long because it lasted more than a few years; one hundred and fifty to be more exact. However, I would disagree with this statement. As we have seen in this course, revolutions often last many years and continue to influence society after they end. The Darwinian Revolution is no exception. The changes that occurred in the scientific world were vast, and this also affected the education system. When it comes to religion, the Darwinian Revolution’s influences are still very prevalent. The decision to teach evolution in public schools in the United States was implemented very recently in relation to the acceptance of evolution as a legitimate scientific theory. The resistance of religious institutions and groups has not gone away, even today. Darwin has become the symbol and hero of atheists. Darwin considered himself to be agnostic, but for some reason many religious people cannot separate science and religion. This is definitely not true of everyone. There are many people who can accept both. When charting the evolution of the Darwinian Revolution, it has changed from a scientific revolution to a religious one. Because of this, I would argue that the after effects if the Darwinian Revolution still play a large role in the questions asked by people about science, religion, and the intersection of the two.

How To Start a Revolution

What’s the best form of social media to use to start a revolution? According to Khalid Albaih it’s all of them. Social media is constantly evolving and becoming more widespread throughout the world. Recently, it was a way for those involved in the Arab Spring to communicate and organize. Social media is a tool that is accessible to many people all over the world and allows everyone to share their opinion, to have a voice. It is an alternative to mainstream media sources that only report one person’s opinion. The ability to voice an alternative opinion and share it with the whole world is, unfortunately, a revolutionary concept for many people.

Khalid Albaih defined a revolution as a series of events that make up a story. Additionally, this story is made up of multiple peoples’ stories. Social media sites provide a platform to share these stories in a multitude of ways. You can learn the story of someone’s life just by going on his or her Facebook page. Snapchat allows users to share what is going in their lives right as it happens. On Instagram, users share a picture that best describes their thoughts or life events. Twitter makes users get their message across in one hundred and forty characters or less. There are so many ways to share a story, but stories are also circulating quicker now. This means they are also forgotten much more rapidly.

We live in a world of constant stimulus, which makes it harder for things to hold our attention. One issue with social media is that it is difficult for one to stay relevant. It allows us access to so many stories and opinions, that we do not ever focus on one. Khalid Albaih has found a way to stay a significant figure throughout all of this. It is because he is constantly on social media: reading, posting, sharing, etc. He lives his life in this online world by commenting on what is happening in the real world in places her cannot access. If someone reproduces his work in a place of conflict, it provides Albaih a way to “be there” without physically being there. This concept allows everyone in the world to become involved with revolutions, not just those who are actually there.

The standard idea about art is that it is something aesthetically pleasing to look at with some meaning, but not always. Art is not typically thought of as a tool for a revolution. However, modern art has become a form of protest and social commentary. Pieces of art in galleries are observations of our world and what has become of it. Nothing is ever just a pretty picture; there is deep meaning behind every brushstroke of green paint and piece of paper cut in a circle. Albaih is a political cartoonist, so his work is expected to have meaning. He has become so influential that people in power are afraid of what he will draw about them. He has truly used the tool of art as a way to start a revolution. The fact that this art can be shared online makes it even more effective. We can literally start revolutions from our living rooms.

Be Prepared

It is hard to deny, although some still do, that the world and its climate is changing. Humans need to adapt their lifestyles to accommodate and even slow down these changes. The eruption of Tambora threw the world into an environmental crisis, which in turn became a humanitarian crisis. This relatively modern event of climate change is an example of what can become of society if the environment in which we live changes too rapidly. The aftermath of Tambora can help serve as learning tool for modern society to prepare for the climate change that we are experiencing. This is important, because the main lesson we can learn from this environmental disaster is that not preparing can be fatal.

Many governments pre-Tambora took a laissez-faire approach to the way they ruled. The welfare of the citizens was not their responsibility. However, the environmental and humanitarian disaster caused by Tambora showed the world that this method was not going to be accepted by the citizens any longer. It is during this time that the responsibilities of many rulers shifted to the welfare of the people. Although reluctant, government officials were forced to help their citizens after riots broke out and it became hard to ignore the starvation and disease that plagued their communities. Modern governments now have the responsibility of taking care of their people. However, as we have seen, in such dramatic conditions it becomes impossible to take care of everyone.

The Tambora period was described by Professor Wood as an “environmental refugee crisis” that caused people all over the world to abandon their homes in hopes of escaping starvation and disease. The modern world has constantly had a refugee crisis for various reasons, some environmental, many not. The world has become a “smaller” place due to globalization, colonization, and technology. The population has dramatically increased since Tambora. The world is not as capable as it once was for dramatic resettling of people. Adding another reason for people to flee their homes and search for a new one is something we cannot accommodate. This is why we must learn from the humanitarian crisis of Tambora and take preventative measures.

Professor Wood also laid out his three states of climate shock response: Creative Sympathy, Proto-Revolutionary Violence, and “Flight into Hell.” The Creative Sympathy state was the way people of high social class involved themselves in the suffering of those of the lower class. These were people who were able to still live comfortably while suffering occurred around them, but not too close to them. The works of Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and other literary celebrities of the time can be equated to the news sources that go in and report about the crisis, but do not offer any help. Acknowledging the suffering of those affected is an important first step, but often times that is the extent of efforts to help by the privileged. This is not an effective response. In order to deal with these issues, everyone needs to help and a plan needs to be formed. As Tambora has shown us, not preparing is simply not an option. We must learn from the past in order to be able to handle the effects of climate change.

Revolution of the Canon

The goal of this lecture was to determine if the Scientific Revolution was, in fact, revolutionary and scientific, as well as unique. The ultimate answer to all of these questions was “yes,” however the “why?” was not completely obvious. The Scientific Revolution is considered by many as the invention of modern science as we know it today. The revolutionary part of the Scientific Revolution was that it was a time for arguing about and challenging the scientific theories that ultimately led to the creation of the modern day canon of natural science. These theories are very rarely challenged today, even though science has evolved since the creation of this canon. However, it important to also consider who and what were left out of this canon as it was being developed and what this means for modern science.

Professor Cohen touched on the concept that what is considered science has changed throughout every generation. What we call superstitions today once were considered facts to be taken seriously by previous generations. Past scientists used rationalizations, some which sound laughable to the modern ear, to explain natural phenomena and make sense of the world around them. Who is to say that future generations will not think the same about our definition of science? We are just explaining the world around us in the most accurate way we can, but it may not be what is absolutely correct. However, the scientific theories agreed upon during the Scientific Revolution are the backbone of modern science today and have not changed, which is a very substantial accomplishment considering how much science has evolved.

My understanding of the definition of a canon is that it is a set of rules or standards required for inclusion within a field of study. These rules have been agreed upon and established by the “greats,” and are generally not challenged. The creation of a canon is something we study, but rarely get to see happen in our life times. A political revolution results in a change in power or organization, so a scientific revolution would have similar implications. The Scientific Revolution introduced changes to the way science had been discussed and thought about and created the canon of natural science, so I would argue that it is indeed a revolution.

When it comes to cannons, there is always a group of thought, type of people, or other group left out. Not all ways of thinking are going to be included, but there are exclusions that do not seem to be based off of merit or intellect. Not being included in the cannon delegitimizes one’s work, can be detrimental to development of new ideas, and limits the discourse around the subject. While the revolutionary part of the Scientific Revolution was the creation and debate about the natural scientific canon, this lecture lead me to wonder who and what were excluded from the canon. Eventually the conclusion was revealed to be anyone who was not a “pale, male, Christian.” Modern science as we know it had already begun in other parts of the world. The Scientific Revolution was essentially when these ideas reached Europe. This says something about the world as whole if this particular time is hailed as “the” Scientific Revolution. It further challenges me to ponder who is still excluded and how this affects science today.