In the Bicentennial year of 1976, my Sociology professor proclaimed, “The United States won’t have a revolution; you can’t have a revolution in a country where 70% of the people are satisfied.” His statistical construct may be correct. What’s no longer valid: the percentage of satisfied Americans.
I recently rode my bicycle to the 48 contiguous states and asked everyone I met, ‘How Will We LiveTomorrow?’ My non-scientific survey registered satisfaction levels well below 70%. So deep is our angst, revolution is brewing. Not today perhaps, not tomorrow, but in a foreseeable tomorrow.
A tomorrow that will resemble Game of Thrones’ long winter more than the warmish Decembers changing climate bestows.
Revolution is integral to organized society, the wildfire that cleanses excess underbrush, corruption, and injustice. In theory, revolution redistributes wealth and power more equitably. More often, it delivers death and destruction only to replace a dictator with a despot. Strong arms fill vacuums more swiftly than sound reason.
To a guy on a bike, American’s are a bifurcated bunch: rugged individuals who crave community. We disdain elites. Not the wealthy—we love them. The educated are our elite. We conflate belief with fact, unable to debate the ramifications of God, guns, or Google, because we stake positions as immutable truths, rather than opinions to consider.
We’re a continental manifestation of Newton’s Third Law: every action is countered by even more extreme reaction. In physics, action/reaction guarantees equilibrium. But in society, ever more extreme positions spin us like a centrifuge, separating us into component parts; highlighting differences that obscure all we hold in common.
We live in a derogatory era. Our leaders thrive by sowing fear, hate, and division. The United States is fast moving away from being a majority-white nation, but disproportionate wealth and property enable white males to maintain power well beyond our numbers. Demography is destiny; eventually we’ll loose our grip. But the longer, tighter, we hold on; the less chance our nation can navigate toward justice and equality peacefully.
The gloom I encountered across our land is real, but not so dour to offset the endorphin joy of cycling fifty miles a day. Our country’s natural beauty, generous people, and our noble aspirations buoy my spirit; we can transcend this mean moment.
Middle-aged people often told me their children and grandchildren will lead diminished lives; younger people rarely expressed the same concern. They may have less stuff than their parents, but accumulation isn’t their measure of success. They desire travel, not car ownership; being surrounded by people, not things; high-fiving their neighbor, not fearing his shadow.
A guy travelling ten miles per hour for over a year knows one thing for certain: the wealthiest nation on this planet has enough resources to provide food, housing, education, healthcare, old age security, you name it…to everyone, with plenty left over for incentives. We just have to decide to do it.
Our collective dissatisfaction may not be deep enough for revolution—yet—but we’re trending in that direction. If we model upheaval on our revered revolt of 250 years ago, Minutemen and muskets will become brigades and bombs. We’ll annihilate ourselves.
I suggest another precedent, more recent, more relevant; revolution couched as transformation. The Gilded Age, the Roaring Twenties, periods of unbridled excess so like our own, gave over to the Great Depression, until the New Deal stifled revolutionary rumblings and ushered in history’s greatest period of equity. It wasn’t perfect: white men still floated to the top. But it spread wealth—and respect—to more people than anything we’ve ever done.
I accept that revolution is coming. My task is to revolutionize how it takes place. To turn confrontation of might into conversion of values; to encourage human resources rather than military ones; to move beyond power transfer, toward power sharing. The pressure for change is real; it will keep growing. But I believe it can be smooth if us white guys stop grasping for more, and discover the satisfaction of living with, not above, everyone else.
Winter is coming, no doubt. It’s up to us to decide whether we keep warm by throwing each other on a pyre, or gather together to share our collective heat.