Author: mahurl20

Revolution is Collective

Marcos Perez explained the psychological mechanisms behind the revolutions we have been studying when he discussed why some people decide to participate in revolutions and other do not. Regardless of how passionate people are about a certain issue or movement, some desire to actually participate more than others due to differing perceptions of their place in the revolution. The opposing forces at work in the mind may be explained by two concepts Perez mentioned: the collective action dilemma and the principle of collective effervescence. Whether or not people experience one or the other of these may be a refection of the degrees of selfishness humans can experience.

The collective action dilemma is often the reason people choose not to participate in revolutions, or to fight for change in any capacity. This is comparable, for example, to the reason many people choose not to take action on behalf of the environment. Many people assume that because they are just one person among so many, if they decide to produce excessive waste or overuse resources, it does not cause significant damage and if they chose to change their ways it would not result in significant improvement. So, the incentive to improve conditions disappears because of the misconception that one person’s contribution will not help. In the case of revolutions, this is detrimental when it is, as it usually is, very widely held. This is also often a manifestation of human selfishness. The collective action dilemma happens because people realize that they may not see or reap the benefits of their actions on a movement, so they decide simply to not participate. The movement drastically suffers if too many people subscribe to the collective action dilemma.

On the other side of the spectrum is the principle of collective effervescence. This is the other end of the human psyche, the side that has driven humans to initiate change that has been the cause of much of the progress throughout history. Collective effervescence is the desire of an individual person to be part of something larger than themselves, so they participate in a movement to affect change that will impact lives beyond their own. This is a reflection of human selflessness, because even though individual participants may never benefit from the work they put into furthering a movement, they still participate for the betterment of something beyond themselves. This requires an insightful perspective that subscribers to the collective action dilemma lack, a perspective that provides the incentive to participate in a revolution and causes significant amounts of people to be so passionate about something they may never benefit from. The greatest revolutionaries throughout history most possessed this desire to be part of a larger change. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. devoted his life to the fight for racial equality even though he was never alive to truly benefit from his work. However, millions of people would have suffered for much longer had King not revolted against a system he disagreed with.

The opposite results of following the collective action dilemma or the principle of collective effervescence teach a lesson about revolutions. One should never discount the value of their individual actions on a larger movement, because, like King’s, they have the potential to deeply reverberate through history.

The Nature of Revolution

Keith Peterson introduced an entirely new side of the revolutions theme when he referenced Bruno Latour’s idea that humanity may never have been revolutionary. This concept is a blow to humanity’s collective ego, as much of the supposed superiority of man rests on this idea that humans are able to make revolutionary changes in order to improve their society while other species do not have the capacity to do so. However, Peterson also explained the difference between naturalism and sociology, which seems to suggest that humans are much more closely connected to the rest of nature than we often remember.

Peterson explained that sociology is the concept that society is a microcosm of nature, and explains nature as a whole, while naturalism is the idea that nature explains society. This topic warrants more discussion, as it is important to understand, or at least debate about, whether society reflects nature, or nature influences society and makes it the way it is. This connects to the common argument of nature vs. nurture. Do beings behave the way they do because of their inherent instincts, or because society has conditioned them to do so and thus shaped their nature? This may aid in explaining whether or not humans have ever been revolutionary.

Nature has never been considered revolutionary in itself. The constant changes undergone by the natural world have been explained by science, a result of the natural progression of evolution. Evolution is not considered a revolution, but a result of natural selection and genetics, processes that are no longer shocking or novel because they have been explained so thoroughly and become so widely accepted in the scientific community. So, if the principle of naturalism is true and society is simply another facet of nature, than changes that society endures are a natural progression similar to the evolution of the natural world. Therefore, society as explained by nature is not revolutionary, because change is simply a natural process that sustains life.

However, if the principle of sociology is more correct, and nature can be explained more thoroughly by its reflection in society, perhaps society is revolutionary. The way change manifests itself in society may be a reflection of the nature of change as a whole. Based on precedent, it seems the the overlying trend is that change is usually difficult to accept by society, often causing discontent or uproar because it represents such a strong diversion from the norm. This suggests, then, that perhaps this change is not a natural process, because if it was it would be more easily integrated into life.  If society explains nature, society seems to be explaining that change is unnatural and unusual, and thus revolutionary.

All of this rests, however, on how one defines revolution. If revolution is defined as a change or new development that is so shocking and novel that it is difficult to accept, then naturalism would suggest that humanity is not revolutionary while sociology would suggest that humans are. However, if revolution is defined, perhaps, not by the reaction to a new idea but to the nature of the idea itself, it is more difficult to group revolutions into one category.


Historical Bias on Revolutions

Revolutions often entail violence, but do not always leave a legacy that incorporates this violence. Revolutions, at least those in the Western world, are usually remembered for the change they brought about, the people championed and the resulting political improvement. The violence and risk that went into bringing about those revolutions is usually not a central aspect of their history. However, revolutions that occurred in less developed countries often include violence as a central element in their history, and this may be due to biases in primary accounts of the revolutionary events.

Popkin pointed out that violence is a central component to the history of the Haitian Revolution. The revolution is remembered for its violence, but its motives can be forgotten. The goal of this revolution, for example, was a moral one: the abolition of slavery. Insurrectionists were fighting toward this goal, and violence did follow, but it was not pointless violence. This inconsistency may be attributable to the fact that most first person accounts of the revolution were written by white witnesses of the events. There may be, then, a bias in the history of this one revolution which points to a potential bias in all of history- the group able to record conflict often favors their own side.

Conversely, Popkin explained how violence is remembered as a byproduct of the French Revolution. This is interesting due to the gruesome aspects of this time period in France. For example, guards’ heads were cut off and paraded around on stakes when the Bastille was stormed, and “The Terror” was a time of rampant execution. The French Revolution, however, is mostly remembered as a political revolution that inspired the disenfranchised around the world to fight for their rights. It has come to represent the triumph of the lower classes, a victory for human rights, despite its alarming dark side. Perhaps this is because most dominant accounts of the revolution were written by its participants, who were able to suppress opposing voices.

While the French Revolution inspired worldwide revolt, the Haitian fight against slavery seemed to only immediately have a local impact. The Haitian Revolution had the positive impact of ending slavery in all French colonies in 1803. Unfortunately, however, slavery persisted in the United States until 1865. This may be due to the reputation of violence the Haitian Revolution garnered. Perhaps if the revolution was publicized more for its true purpose and moral goals, it may have had a more immediate, larger impact. This would also require, however, that slaves in other places had a means of receiving news from far away in order to be inspired to revolt.

The Haitian Revolution compared to the French Revolution is a perfect example of bias in history. History often favors those who are able to record it. This is important to remember when studying history; the full story may not always be the one given by primary source accounts or even written in history books. Bias is almost always a factor that is important to take into account.

Uncomfortable History

Throughout history, monuments have been erected to commemorate victories, honor powerful leaders, or serve as the symbol of a movement. However, when the victory was gory or unfair, the ruler corrupt, and the movement immoral, the monument becomes uncomfortable and alienates the people who did not benefit from the event depicted. Especially as populations become more socially aware of this phenomenon over time, there are calls to remove certain monuments. However, as a monument is closely equated with history, it is dangerous to simply remove the past instead of understand why it can be unsavory.

Uncomfortable monuments are important to understand for the same reason is is important we learn about history. Granted, monuments certainly should not exist for the purpose of honoring a genocidal ruler or an unfair, bloody battle. Similarly, history should not be taught in favor of immorality. However, if we simply removed all such monuments, we may forget that events that like this did happen, and were not okay. The presence of these monuments reminds people of injustice and incites action against its repetition. People are driven to understand immorality and work to prevent it, just like history is taught in part to teach a moral lesson based on the mistakes of our predecessors.

For example, the monument at Bolzano commemorates Mussolini’s transition to dictator and the Italian annexation of South Tyrol, Austria following World War I. This “Monument to Victory” has been a point of contention between German and Italian people living in the area, because for years the monument still served as a symbol of Italian superiority. Before the monument was renovated, it simply perpetuated national divisions and caused ethnic tension. This shows the negative impact uncomfortable monuments can have if the reason for the discomfort is not formally addressed.

The growing discontent with this monument was eventually addressed. The monument was not simply removed, though. Instead, Schnapp and his team built a museum underneath the monument and altered it slightly. This informs visitors of the dark history behind it instead of simply destroying it. This also bridges the gap between the two feuding groups, as one gets to keep their monument but information about its corruption is included to appease the other group. Similarly, history should be taught including this moral lesson. Unlike a monument, history cannot be removed. All that can be done to counteract negative historical events is to teach about them.

Monuments are important because they capture significant moments in history, even if those moments are not incidents that many want to remember. The “Monument to Victory” at Bolzano is an important example of this. Monuments are also especially important because they often signify turning points in history, revolutions. The discontent with many monuments prove that not all revolutions entail progress. A revolution in this case is defined as a dramatic change, whether that be regressive or progressive. However, these revolutions can be made progressive if they are renovated like the one in Bolzano was, and be made to teach a moral lesson.

Revolutions Among Revolutions

Data is essential to the acquisition of new knowledge and the accurate transfer of this knowledge to wider audiences. In his lecture, Hanlon defined data as “a thing given.” This is accurate, because data is so often taken for granted. The research and intent behind data collection is forgotten as the numbers, percentages, and predictions are blindly accepted. It is easy to forget that before data was widely used, illustrations and descriptions were the main form of evidence, making knowledge much more difficult to convey with accuracy. The more unsavory aspect of data revolutions, as Hanlon mentioned, is the accompanying decline of the meaning associated with the numbers.

Hanlon cited Robert Hooke’s Micrographia as an example of the pre-data depiction of research. Hooke used images from a microscope to explain his findings, and directed readers to the image when words did not suffice. This combination of images and written explanation requires readers to think more deeply about the information presented, whereas facts and statistics can be glazed over and easily forgotten. Since the information is more difficult to thoroughly present this way, more thorough thought is required to understand it. If a researcher has to interpret a picture or long explanation, the information is much more powerful.

Today, however, information is conveyed much differently. According to Hanlon, the use of the words “data” and “information” increased significantly around the year 1950, and there was no accompanying rise in the use of the word “meaning.” This suggests that data and information are becoming more prevalent, which implies progress and an increase in research and applicable science. However, meaning is becoming detached from these words. Just like the graph Hanlon presented, where the line representing “data” sloped upward and the line representing “meaning” remained stable, data and its meaning are diverging.

The trajectory of this graph can perhaps be attributed to trends occurring in contemporary society. The data revolution, it seems, can be connected to the technological revolution. This is possible because the use of the word “data” increased around the year 1950, which is about the same time as the invention of the computer. These revolutions may have built on each other, and together contributed to a rising impersonality of information. The computer, for example, made immeasurable amounts of data available at the click of a button; it became easy to find the information one sought. Similarly, as data revolutionized from words and images to numbers and statistics, it became easier to digest- researchers did not have to read deeply as frequently to seek out the purpose of the information. This detaches researchers from the process behind the acquisition of knowledge, the connections behind different pieces of information, because bits of data are so readily available.

The data revolution encompasses the progression from image and written observation-based information to graphs and numerical data. This is scientific progress and shows a growing understanding of information- on the part of those who actually collect it. Those who digest it, however, are discouraged from thinking deeply about it because they do not have to.

The Dark Side of Darwinism

Revolutions are often considered progressive, as the birth of new thought and ideas moves society forward and compels citizens to be more open minded. However, some revolutions can be twisted to aid regression, and science can be used to support pseudoscientific, backwards thinking. This was one unfortunate result of the Darwinian Revolution. While Darwin’s research undoubtedly brought essential scientific knowledge to light, it also gave rise to Social Darwinism and ushered in a flawed method of scientific thought. Therefore, this revolution simultaneously propelled society forward and backward.

The Darwinian Revolution encouraged “typological thinking” in which evolution is thought of as a logical progression, moving in one direction, instead of the complex set of interrelationships that it is. This is problematic because it reduces the complexity of evolution, rendering one of the fundamental tenets of science overly simplistic. Scientific findings that build off of evolution, then, are also simplified. For example, evolution suggests that after humans evolved, they no longer mated with their chimpanzee ancestors and continued to evolve as an isolated species into modern humans. However, more recent findings suggest that early humans continued to mate with early chimpanzees for so long that a species of remarkably human-like chimpanzees actually evolved. These findings are so recent because evolution has not always been viewed as a complex, branching ancestry but a simple ladder-like progression. Other developments have also possibly been delayed due to this way of thinking.

A much more unfavorable result of Darwinism was Social Darwinism, where the concept of natural selection was applied to the human population to justify racism. While this has now been identified as pseudoscientific and been discredited, it caused immense pain as it was used to justify injustices such as eugenics and the outlawing of interracial marriage. This was only due to the unethical and incorrect appropriation of science, but shows an important aspect of revolutions. This new knowledge most directly resulted in scientific progress, but was also used to perpetuate social inequality and give it a scientific basis. This is especially dangerous because it makes these racist assumptions more credible to the public; scientific knowledge can, surprisingly, be antithetical to social progress in some cases.

However, it must not be assumed that these results of evolution were all-encompassing; not everyone even accepted the theory. This is another negative impact of the revolution because it seemed to place people in two camps, based on whether they would accept the concept and use it to their advantage or deny it altogether. Many religious groups initially decided evolution contradicted their beliefs. This even divided people who belonged to the same religion, though, because Social Darwinism was used to justify imperialism. Imperialism was also in line with religious beliefs because missionaries could christianize colonized areas. Therefore, the pseudoscientific application of the novel theory could be advantageous to some religious groups while the theory itself contradicted their beliefs. This most likely created internal strife and confusion.

While it led to future progress, it seems that Darwinism was not entirely beneficial throughout history. It inadvertently encouraged a limited way of thinking about science and a backwards view of the social realm. Religious confusion arose regarding whether acceptance of the theory would be beneficial to the spread of western religions or chafe too strongly with Christian beliefs. This side of Darwinism shows how not all revolutions transfer into uninhibited social progress.

The Darwinian (and others) Revolution

Darwin is often hailed as the sole founder of evolutionary theory, but Janet Browne’s lecture emphasized that his theory was based not only on his own observations, but also years of research by preceding scientists. Today, however, Darwin has become so famous that mountains, cafes, and even a city are named after him. Conversely, the scientists that made his theory possible are not household names. The Darwinian Revolution, then, is not a revolution that can be attributed to one person. It may not even be able to be considered a revolution at all.

This is not to say that Darwin was not a brilliant scientist, because he was. Modern science would not be as advanced as it is today without his research. However, it is also important to remember the other scientists that shaped his work. For example, Alfred Wallace also put forth the theory of evolution by natural selection, and some of his work was published with Darwin’s, but he did not receive nearly as much credit for the theory as Darwin. Herbert Spencer and Robert Chambers both wrote about evolution before Darwin but also have not reached the same level of fame and are not credited with the idea. It can be argued that Darwin’s Origin of Species is the most famous account of evolution by natural selection because it was supported by the most evidence. However, is Darwin a revolutionary if his evidence is based of the forgotten works of his predecessors and not entirely his own findings?

The Darwinian Revolution can be compared to the Scientific Revolution in that it happened over more than a century of time and thus its status as “revolutionary” is contested. Darwin devised his theory of natural selection years after his voyage on the Beagle, during which he simply collected evidence but did not yet fully understand what it meant. Even Darwin’s most notable work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, did not put forth the entire theory of evolution; it provided evidence for the theory of natural selection. All of evolutionary theory was not put together until as late as the 1950s, despite the fact that Darwin’s book is often credited with explaining the theory in its entirety. The now renowned symbol of “Darwin’s finches” was not actually made famous until the 1950s. All of this now seems like overwhelming evidence that the Darwinian Revolution was not an immediate revolution, but a gradual accumulation of evidence and ideas from different sources over about 150 years.

The remarkable fame Darwin has acquired over the years is an interesting phenomenon, perhaps explaining a certain characteristic of human nature. Humans seem to have a tendency to idolize one person within a movement, to designate one figure the “hero” they decide to revere. However, the Darwinian Revolution, and all revolutions and movements, are almost always based of the work of many. “Heroes” have to draw inspiration from somewhere, learn from someone. Revolutions and drastic changes in thought do not come out of nowhere, so it is important to study a revolutionary’s predecessor and give them credit.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Wars

Art is a universal language, but it is spoken more often in some places than others. Khalid Albaih uses art as a means of exciting the masses to revolution. Even under an oppressive government, art can be spread through social media, graffiti, and other platforms to escape the grasp of the political sector. Despite the internet’s pervasiveness, despite the near certainty that information will reach the government, Albaih was able to successfully spread revolutionary information through his political cartoons. The necessity to evade government interference in his art is an indication of Albaih’s culture, and ultimately shows the glaring discrepancies between his situation and conditions in the United States.

Albaih acted as a participant in the Arab Spring, a movement protesting dictatorial governments in the Middle East. He had to find a way to publicize his art without being persecuted. For people who have lived in the United States their entire life, the possibility of government suppression of free expression is a foreign concept. Art is a universal language, but Albaih was forced to find a way to make it heard. This is a cultural difference because even the most radical news articles are not suppressed in the United States, so it is difficult to conceive of a culture in which they would be.

This explains why Albaih had to use art as a sort of code to avoid censorship. As Albaih mentioned, this is not necessary in the United States because information is not highly censored. Albaih had to develop his art so it was understandable to the public but also could avoid being viewed as a direct threat by the government. While this is an unfortunate situation, it is likely that it spurred his artistic creativity. The conditions he was in required novel thinking. The revolution in which he was participating allowed him to create revolutionary art. This is an example of strife and conflict actually facilitating progress in a certain field.

Like art, social media also transcends borders. Albaih mentioned that social media is not considered a threat by Arab governments and thus it is overlooked. It can therefore be used to spread important revolutionary concepts and incite the public to action. This is surprising, considering our cultural perception of social media in the United States. Here, it is usually a form of entertainment, filled with mindless images and humorous texts. Though it is common for politics to infiltrate social media in the United States, it is still rare for worthwhile messages to be spread on these platforms. In places where it is a necessity to spread information in the most inconspicuous way, however, the social internet is used to its full potential.

The origins of “Khartoon!” and the difficult conditions in which it exists indicate cultural differences between Arab nations and the United States. When viewed from the perspective of a resident of the United States, Albaih’s cartoons are clearly critiques of his political environment, but also seem relatively innocent. Political cartoons in the United States circulate without significant backlash. However, once one is educated about the suppressive conditions faced by Arab nations, it is understandable that Albaih’s undertaking is a dangerous one.


The Silent Eruption

The Tambora eruption was, according to Gillian Wood, a defining moment in the history of civilization. Unfortunately, this event is rarely talked about and not widely known. It seems that it has been pushed aside, that despite its significance it has never been at the forefront of public consciousness. One can draw parallels between this phenomenon and the current issue of climate change, as both have not been given the attention they deserve. This is ironic considering the cultural advancement that resulted from the Tambora crisis and that may result from climate change, as well as the discrepancy between urban and rural responses to these crises and the commentary this makes about society.

Devastation can often produce innovation. Woods cited multiple examples of social progress that occurred as a response to the Tambora eruption, including literary greatness such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Byron’s poetry, the invention of bicycles, and the advent of public works programs to aid the less fortunate. If, as Woods suggests, this event is comparable to today’s climate change crisis, it is worthwhile to consider cultural advancements arising in response to climate change. This does not excuse the devastation caused by climate change, nor do these results of Tambora pardon its severe impacts. However, scientists’ responses to climate change have included technological developments that may not have occurred otherwise. This is a cruel irony, because scientific progress is positive but not worth the destruction it owes its existence to.

Rural and urban areas respond to crises very differently due to varying available resources. Urban areas have sufficient media outlets and closely packed populations that facilitate a quick and thorough spread of information. Rural areas, conversely, have neither significant media attention nor high populations. In the case of Tambora, this is evident because urban areas were rife with food riots and violence, while rural areas seemed silent despite the fact that significant amounts people living there were starving to death. It must have seemed like the cities were the only places suffering, while the silent may have been in more pain. Today, we again think we hear about all climate change related suffering through media outlets, since media is so pervasive. However, there could be lower profile, perhaps geographically smaller areas suffering immensely that we simply do not know about, that media outlets have not even been aware of. We assume we know everything going on in the world, just like those during the Tambora era may have assumed they understood the desperation of the situation, though the extent of our knowledge is actually uncertain.

Progress resulting from crises often occurs in cities, where the impacts of the crisis are most concentrated. However, rural areas are often not aided in the face of  a catastrophe because their strife is not heard. This, understandably, occurred during the Tambora eruption due to the lack of technology available to  inform the masses of their situation. However, today it is easy to assume we are aware of all suffering, when we may not be. Therefore, while it is undeniably important to aid specific areas suffering due to climate change, we must also address the problem in its entirety. There are silent sufferers, whether they be humans or an obscure animal species. We still must help those we cannot hear.

The First Scientific Revolution

The Scientific Revolution occurred over a span of many years, but marks a drastic shift in thinking that altered public perception of the world. Humanity’s position within the entire universe even changed as a result of new scientific developments, which is undeniably innovative. This revolution was revolutionary, because science was not only modernized, but social and religious mores were also challenged and ultimately upended.

Ideas that had long been accepted as fact were invalidated over the course of the Scientific Revolution, proving that even “facts” are not unchangeable. Copernicus, for example, proved that the sun is at the center of the universe, not the earth. The public then had to grasp the idea that the planet is in constant motion, and is simply a speck of dust in the scope of the universe. One can assume that confusion, conflict, and widespread denial ensued as people tried to understand this earth shattering concept, this proof of human inferiority. There was social upheaval resulting from this, and also religious confusion as this conflicted with long held beliefs about earth’s favored position in the universe and centralization among the heavens. Something that seemed unquestionable was questioned and disproved. Thus, what do we now accept as fact that could be eventually proved wrong?  Could there be another revolution, in which the modern world’s extensive scientific developments are rendered obsolete? Viewed through the lens of modernity, developments as substantial as Copernicus’s would undoubtedly be considered revolutionary today.

However, Copernicus was not the first to suggest a heliocentric solar system. Ancient Greeks had made significant discoveries that Scientific Revolution-era scientists drew upon to form their theories. This does not make the Scientific Revolution less revolutionary, though. In the time of the Greeks, these discoveries did not make enough of a social impact to be carried on through history, and were thus replaced in popular opinion by models of the universe that aligned with accepted beliefs. During the Scientific Revolution, science carried enough weight to make a lasting social impact. Whether new discoveries were accepted or not, they were remembered. This in itself is revolutionary, because science came to the forefront of public consciousness.

Perhaps the reason the Scientific Revolution was able to be so revolutionary is because it was largely unprecedented. There were not yet strict laws dictating what is classified as pseudo-science or sound theory. For example, Newton discovered the laws of gravity but also practiced alchemy. Kepler justified his discovery of the elliptical orbit of the earth in part with the belief that the ellipse was a more “worthy” shape. The discoveries of these scientists still survived in history despite later understanding of pseudo-science. This attests to the effectiveness of scientific freedom, the progress that can be made when laws of right and wrong are not defined. Since any such laws can be shattered by new discoveries, they seem merely restrictive.

Due to its scientific novelty and social impact, the Scientific Revolution must be classified as revolutionary. At the time, it must have been disorienting, as humans began to understand the vastness of space and the laws governing it. For now, the Scientific Revolution is “the” revolution in science, not just “a” revolution. However, that may someday change.