Revolution: An emotionally charged term, which, translated in different languages, is used by people of all civilizations and cultures.
However, what is a revolution?
Let’s start from a more specific context, which might sound more familiar, to gradually move to a holistic definition of the word. So, in political context, the word revolution, means:
The massive uprising of the people in a certain society, with a goal to cause a change in the way they are governed.
In this respect, a revolution can occur in cases of people belonging to a certain race or nation, revolting against people belonging to a different race or nation, which govern them, because the latter have conquered them in the past.
Therefore, a revolution could be a violent uprising. An example of that is the Greek revolution against the Turks which ended 400 years of suppression, where Lord Byron lost his life in April of 1824 (Lapham p. 63). Another example would be the example
Image of notes from Lapham’s Quarterly that I am soon going to upload
At the same time, a revolution can occur when people belonging to a certain social group rise against individuals perceived as superior to them, in order to change the way society is structured. However, there is a difference between the war of independence referred to as a revolution in the previous case and the uprising with the goal of social reformation, that is described by using the term in this case. Whereas both instances of revolution refer to a physical, violent event, the latter is characterized by another characteristic, which the former most of the times is not necessary to possess: it requires a substantial change in the way of thinking, which will allow individuals to acknowledge that the uprising will be to their own interest.
An example of such a change in the way of thinking was discussed in Unit 1, as caused by John Locke’s theory of the social contract. Through his revolutionary essay “Two Treatises of Government”, Locke illustrates the absurdity of the view that a governor’s power derives from God. By presenting society as the result of a compromise between individuals to give up part of their total freedom for peaceful social co-existence to be attained, the British scholar highlights that the sole purpose of society is to improve the well-being of the individuals comprising it. This view, together with Rousseau’s radical view that when suppressed by the government, it’s a natural right of the individuals to revolt with the purpose to change it, led to the French Revolution of 1789. This is an unquestionable example of this type of revolution. This change in beliefs of the French masses caused them to revolt against their government, bringing the political system of democracy back to Europe after it was abandoned for more than two thousand years.
Image of notes from lecture about Locke’s social contract that I am soon going to upload
Also, the Civil Rights Movement we analyzed in Unit 4 constitutes a revolution. In fact, the graphic novel “March 2” we read was nothing less than a chronicle of this revolution. The difference between this revolution and, for instance, the French Revolution mentioned above, has to do with the results, as well as the causes of the revolutionary movement. Whereas the masses in France demanded to be handed the power, John Lewis and his fellow freedom riders, as well as all the civil right activists to follow, did not demand political power, but a transformation of society in such a way that they would no longer be deprived of their human dignity in everyday basis. They wanted a social change and not a political one, manifested through the adoption of ideas supporting equality of races by the social body. Therefore, a broader definition of the term “revolution” would be more appropriate, in order to encompasses the complexity of its meaning.
A revolution is a major shift in the status quo.
The term “major” is used to signify that a revolution affects a society as a whole, or even the entirety of the globe.
The term “status quo”, refers to the set of ideas that are considered as holding, or describing, the truth, in a way considered unquestionable. It can refer to truths about the physical world and the laws that govern its function, or truths about morality, how individuals should behave towards and interact with one another.
And the key term, is that the revolution is a process that “shifts” the existing order. An old set of ideas is abandoned, and another one takes its place, transforming the society. Even the most “revolutionary” idea, does not cause a revolution until it is adopted and implemented in everyday practice, changing how individuals view the world around them. Even the most “revolutionary” invention, will cause a revolution only by the time is put into use, and alters the way in which people manufacture, travel, build, paint, etc.
That is the reason the steam engine is revolutionary. It completely changed the way people travel, as well as how trade is done. With the use of steam-powered trains, the distribution of products was made a lot easier. This enabled an increase in their production, as now they could be sold and consumed not only by people living in the nearby area, but also by individuals that live far away. And this technological revolution was one of the deciding factors that led to the Industrial Revolution; a complete shift from the agricultural model of society to the industrial, that re-shaped the image of the globe.
Image of diagram of steam engine from Lapham’s quarterly that I am soon going to upload
Therefore, we can say that revolution is a collective process. It involves many people that adopt and act on the basis of the new idea that is brought forward. That is why a political revolution that results in the loss of the individuals revolting should be considered an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow a government, but not an unsuccessful revolution, although that is how we refer to it in everyday conversation. The reason is that although in the physical level, the revolution may have failed, in the level of mind, or the level of ideas, it has been more than successful: the revolutionary seed has been planted and has bloomed in this society, and individuals are looking for the next given chance to transform their society in accordance to those ideas.
An example of such a silent revolution is described in a short story from Bertolt Brecht’s “Gesichte von Herr Keuner”. In this story, the government has imposed a law, according to which a government’s official has the right to occupy a person’s house and demand that the person becomes their servant. When an officer enters a man’s house, he tells him: “From now on, this house is mine. Will you be my servant?”. The man did not answer. From this moment, he would serve the officer and do exactly as he orders him to. After twenty years pass, the officer becomes ill and dies. The man silently buries him and then answers: “No”. That is why the original definition of the term was incomplete. The revolution is in fact a state of mind, and it does not necessarily include a physical or even visible part.
That can also explain why, whereas we usually have revolution in our mind as something rapid, it can also be extremely gradual and slowly progressing. So slowly, that while it happens, people do not even realize a change is taking place. Such an instance is the scientific revolution concerning the change in beliefs about the structure of the social system we discussed in Unit 2. Because of Nikolaus Copernicus’ and Galileo Galilei’s work, the new scientific knowledge revealing the truth about the model of the solar system closer to reality was out there. However, both scientists were highly criticized, and their work originally was discredited and perceived as mere nonsense. If you asked the people of this time period, or even the majority of the scientists, they would answer that the current model of the solar system will remain unchanged as it describes reality, and would dismiss the newly found theory. At the same time, the heliocentric model was gradually being further examined and shed light into, with the eventual result that we are all aware of: its adoption by the whole scientific community, which revolutionized the way we look at the sky.
Image on notes from lecture about solar system models that I am soon going to upload
In Unit 3, we came studied Gourevitch’s revolutionary chronicle of the Rwandan genocide. This book is revolutionary because, through describing the unfolding the events comprising this tragedy, it forced for the first time in a mass scale, the western world to look itself in the mirror and face its wrongdoings. The powerful narrative busted the myth that events of mass violence happen in underdeveloped countries simply because the people “are like this”, and “this is what they do to each other”, that for years had helped the West keep its conscience clear. It spread the revolutionary idea that in fact, actions of the western countries are the major cause of this tragedy. Of course, the book did not go unnoticed; it ignited an extensive scholarly conversation about both the messages it presented, as well as ethics in journalism, portion of which you can read in my revised version of paper 2.
The humanities and the Humanities
The humanities are sciences that try to solve the mystery of human nature. Their development accompanies the development of mankind, and their goal is to understand the determinants of human behavior and the mechanisms of human thought. There is a reason that the humanities are in plural number. With the human nature being as diverse and consisting of so many different elements, its study needed to be broken up into more specified sciences that closely study different fields of it. In essence, they are the systematic effort of humanity to understand one of the most troubling, yet intriguing parts of reality: itself.
In Unit 1, we engaged with the fraction of the humanities that deals with self-perception, how the individual views themselves and believes they are viewed by society. We shed light into the problematic situation that arises when the aforementioned views are in clash with one-another. A great example of this was provided by Amin Maalouf who shared his personal story. The scholar was born and raised in Lebanon and later moved permanently to France, so he considered both countries to be a part of his identity. This belief is juxtaposed with the view of the individuals around him, that consider natural for a person to eventually choose only one national identity that matters to them. In his text, Maalouf provides a powerful insight to the violence and feeling of uncertainty this force to pick only one identity creates to the individual that experiences it.
Image with notes from the Maalouf reading that I am soon going to upload.
In Unit 2 the part of human nature many consider the deciding factor that led to our progress as a kind is examined, our logic. Based on the question of how we judge something as correct or false, the main concept discussed is the nature of truth. Should truth be considered objective, or undeniable, or is it relative to the way we view reality? This led to the examination of two schools of thought that hold opposing views towards the issue, realism and pragmatism. The pragmatistic view was extensively analyzed in Borges’ description of the country of Uqbar, where individuals referred to the world around them only by how the different aspects of it influence themselves. If one cannot feel something, this something does not exist, or, there is no meaning in even considering whether it exists or not. On the other hand, Edison J. Trickett develops an argument against strong relativism by using the example of translating a sentence to a different language; if the new sentence that is produced is an accurate translation, then it conveys the same meaning, the same statement about reality. Therefore, thinking that the original sentence had this meaning only in the first language and not in the language it was translated to is absurd, since it’s the same reality the sentences are describing.
Image with notes from lecture about realism and pragmatism that I am soon going to upload.
In Unit 4, we analyzed dignity and the need of one to feel that their humanity is recognized through the examination of the Civil Rights Movement, the mass effort of African Americans to obtain equal rights with the white citizens of the United States. The book “March 2” we read in this unit illustrates how their peaceful fight for equality took place, and eventually led to the desegregation of the South. Through their patience and perseverance and despite all the violence they faced, as vividly highlighted in the book, the African American activists succeeded in convincing a whole nation of the obvious fact that their rights should be respected, because they are no less human than the rest of the population of the U.S. And the recognition of this in the level of society, simple as it might seem, in fact affects terrifically the psyche and well-being of any individual.
Image with notes from Prof. Willis’ last lecture which I am soon going to upload.
A meaningful insight to the deepest parts of human nature was offered by Susan Sonntag in her book “Regarding the pain of others”. The author stated the opinion that there is a part of the human nature that actually gets aroused when one is facing images depicting death and physical pain. Although many scholars perceived this idea as far-fetched, or even inappropriate, Sonntag supports it by saying that the intense corporeal feelings that one experiences when confronting extreme pain are not so different than those deriving from the most basic human instincts imprinted in our biology. The individual has a natural tendency to look when another person is in pain; it makes them feel content, for the reason they are not in the position of the other person, and at the same time their pain is eroticized, viewed as the utmost genuine and deep expression of the human nature.
Image with notes from the Sonntag reading, that I am soon going to upload.
Both the humanities and the Humanities have to do with the study of mankind, however there is a major difference between them. As mentioned above, the humanities tend to divide the human nature and individually examine each segment of it. On the other hand, the Humanities have to do with synthesis; the merging together of different views, opinions, experiences and schools of thought, with the ultimate goal to form a holistic image encapsulating what it means to be human. By analyzing and juxtaposing different concepts to one another, the Humanities are trying to create a map; a map that can help others navigate successfully through the diverse and unique characteristics of humanity. For the Humanities, the focus in only one particular trait of human nature seems almost meaningless. Where they gain their importance from is the free and natural drifting between concepts and ideas that enables one to accurately interpret and put into context new pieces of information and alternative views, in order to enrich their understanding of what humanity looks like. The Humanities, through comparing and contrasting, create a model about the structure of the psyche that enables us to get to know the essence of human nature, so in great extent, to get to broaden our knowledge about ourselves.