This is (in my opinion) a great article by the pop-culture write Chuck Klosterman about how daunting of a task it would be to have a revolution in America. Written in 2007, I feel it’s very relevant today…what with all the occupy brouhaha.
Here it is, in all it’s glory (stolen from here):
I do not want to overthrow the government. In case you misread that, I am going to type it again, this time more slowly: I. Do. Not. Want. To. Overthrow the government. I don’t want black helicopters landing on the roof of my apartment building, and I don’t want to be hunted by death squads through the jungles of Bolivia. I always pay my taxes. I think paying taxes is fun! If someone asks me if I enjoy the music of Rage Against the Machine, I usually say, “Oh, they were only okay.” Whenever I see people using the metric system, I punch them in the pancreas.
Something has been occupying my mind as of late, and I can’t tell if this thought is reassuring or terrifying: I’ve been thinking about the possibility of revolution, or–more accurately–the impossibility of revolution. I’ve started wondering what would have to happen before the American populace would try to overthrow its own government, and how such a coup would play itself out. My conclusions are that a) nothing could make this happen, and b) no one would know what to do if it somehow did. The country is too large, its social systems are too complex, and its people are too complacent, too reasonable, and too confused. I’ve decided that the U. S. government is (for lack of a better, preexisting term) “unoverthrowable.” And this would probably make a man like Patrick Henry profoundly depressed, were it not for the fact that he’s been dead for 207 years.
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, and his thoughts were far from unique: Almost all of the Founding Fathers were obsessed with the potential for insurgency on U. S. soil. “Future citizens will need muskets to assassinate their oppressive viceroys,” James Madison might have hypothetically remarked during the intermission of a slave auction. “In fact, this is probably the second most important freedom any of us will be able to come up with. Somebody should write this shit down.” Superficially, such preemptive legislation worked perfectly: There are now roughly two hundred million guns in America, and that’s only counting the NBA’s Eastern Conference. We have enough privately owned firepower to instantly kill a billion grizzly bears, plus a few dozen prostitutes. But it’s hard to imagine these weapons employed in any kind of popular uprising, even if a majority of American adults unilaterally agreed that such an event was necessary. Whom would they presumably shoot? Probably no one, and possibly one another.
The central issue here, I suppose, is impetus: Americans are not particularly motivated to overthrow their government. But what if they were motivated? Would that even matter? In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, countless media whores criticized the government for not doing enough for the people of Louisiana. But let’s imagine that the government had done even less; let’s imagine that the president and most of Congress decided that New Orleans was a lost cause, barricaded all the roads into the city, and gave up. Let’s pretend they made no attempts to relocate the survivors or deliver aid, and New Orleans was allowed to devolve into a rogue dystopia that was no longer recognized as part of the union. One assumes this would prompt cataclysmic outrage; it would be no different from the state-sponsored execution of random poor people, which seems like a revolt-worthy offense. Yet if such a nightmare scenario had actually happened, what could the average middle-class resident of Boise, Idaho (or anywhere else), have done? He’d lose faith in the democratic process, and he’d possibly update his blog. But that’s about it. He has no options. He’s twenty-two hundred miles from the ruins of Bourbon Street, he’s twenty-four hundred miles from Washington, D. C., and he’s got to be at work by 9:00 A.M., because he has a house (and he likes his house).
But–just for the sake of argument–let’s assume this man still wants to push the envelope. Let’s assume this patriot is beyond outraged. Maybe he just rented The Bourne Supremacy, and maybe he thinks the time for blogging has passed. Maybe he’s ready to make some really bad choices for some really ethical principles. Maybe Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues” comes on his iTunes, so he loads the .30-30 he just bought at Wal-Mart and walks into the street. What now? My aforementioned question remains unresolved: Whom, exactly, is this man supposed to shoot? A cop? The mayor of Boise? A FEMA employee? Whom would he be revolting against? Is it even possible for the modern man to know?
When trying to overthrow a regime, all those unanswerable questions matter. But then again, maybe they don’t. I doubt most Americans would participate in a revolution, even if they understood (and supported) its cause completely. I was recently discussing this with a colleague of mine over lunch; we were trying to come up with conditions that could ignite a people’s uprising we’d actively involve ourselves with. These possibilities ranged from “massive water shortage” (which could happen in India in the coming decade) to “political infiltration by flesh-eating panda zombies” (which happened in Nepal in 2005). My associate offered this scenario: “Suppose we had evidence that the federal government engineered 9/11,” he said. “Suppose we had indisputable proof that we paid the Saudis to blow up the World Trade Center, and members from both political parties had signed off on it. And the day after this proof emerged, George W. Bush announced that he would give a speech at ground zero explaining why this decision was made. If this happened, I assume there would be a protest rally during his speech. And perhaps some people would start throwing rocks, and perhaps I’d be caught up in the frenzy, and perhaps I would start throwing rocks, too.”
“So you would take part in the revolution’s inception,” I responded. “You would throw rocks at a corrupt president.”
“Yes,” he said. “Maybe. Or maybe not. Probably not. Who knows? I’m not really a rock-throwing kind of guy.”
I’m not a rock-throwing kind of guy, either. Moreover, I assume the type of person who hurls rocks in public is not the type of person I would agree with about anything. Modernity has created a cosmic difference between intellect and action, even when both are driven by the same motives; as such, the only people qualified to lead a present-day revolution would never actually do so. Contemporary leaders are not rock-throwing guys. And this is a problem, because it’s the rock throwers who get things done.
Here again, my feelings are mixed; maybe I shouldn’t have used the word problem in my previous sentence. Perhaps I should have used the word luxury. I’m pretty sure there are numerous countries in this world where citizens dream of a society too rational to be influenced by rock throwers.1 Security has a way of making philosophy irrelevant, and anyone who disagrees is either a liar or a tenured professor. But there’s still something ominous about the reality of our sanctuary. It seems weird that this is the country and there’s nothing we can do about it, beyond participating in the system that’s already in place. It would not matter what the government did or to whom they did it–nobody knows how to change things in any meaningful way, and the only people who’d try are dangerous and insane. We have reached a point where the reinvention of America is impossible, even if that were what we wanted. Even if that were what everybody wanted.
You might think the government is corrupt, and you might be right. But I’m surprised it isn’t worse. I’m surprised they don’t shoot us in the street. It’s not like we could do anything about it, except maybe die.