Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vive la Revolution!

Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette
So I've been thinking about the French Revolution for the last couple of days. {What's that you say? You were too? Get out!}  The peasants in 18th century France had a legitimate beef with the powers that be. There was the atrocious excess of the aristocracy while their fellow countrymen were starving. There was the enormous national debt fueled by France's participation in several wars.  There was crop failure, there was major inflation on every day goods like bread. There was the whole unfair taxation thing to try and make up that war debt. Louis XVI was often indecisive and ineffectual, often bowing to the pressures of parliament when they opposed his ideas for financial reform. The peasants and the bourgeoisie became angry, resentful, unruly and took to the streets in favor of the Enlightenment ideals of equality and inalienable rights. And with good reason, in my opinion. So there was some discussion of eating cake, some beheadings, some slogans, a few fires and storming of large buildings and hey presto! revolution complete. {I may have simplified this a bit} The evil King and Queen and their wanton, cake-eating, unenlightened ways were overthrown and Robespierre and the extremely egalitarian sounding "Committee of Public Safety" took over and they all lived happily ever after. Right?

Well, not so much. Actually, the strangest thing happened. The idealists who objected so much to the lack of equality in French society became slaughtering imperialist dictators. Enter the Reign of Terror - one of the bloodiest stretches of French history. What in the name of triple cream Brie happened? The same thing that happens when my kids complain that there are too many rules and they can't wait to be grownups so they can boss everyone around and in an act of laziness self preservation self-sacrificing motherhood I give them the run of things for a few hours. They discover that it's hard to run a household. They have to make tough decisions that aren't always popular. They are unprepared for the sudden weight of responsibility and they are exhausted with thinking about it and eventually they just start beating each other up. There's also a bit of that whole "I'm in charge now, so I'm going to exact my revenge for my grievances by being a jerk and see how you like it." {OK, so that may be oversimplifying things, too.}

I'm all about revolution. I think sometimes it takes enough people getting fed-up enough that they stand up together and throw a fit. I applaud people who take action when most of us would rather complain than actually do anything to change the situation. I am right there behind the people who take risks, speak out, camp out, stand out so that others take notice. Without them, we'd all still be colonists or slaves. Revolution is an important part of evolution, and all societies need to evolve.

I believe we are living in a time of evolution and revolution on a lot of different levels right now. As scary as it is at times, I think it's necessary and vital for survival. Any sort of growth hurts a little bit. I think there are some legitimate beefs that must be addressed. Actually, I think there are a lot of legitimate beefs. It's not just a bunch of whiny entitled people with nothing better to do as some would have us believe. But as scary as revolution can be, the wake of revolution can be even scarier. Sometimes movements that are based on a righteous anger can become just angry. Sometimes in standing against injustice, people become unjust. Sometimes after feeling helpless and oppressed and discouraged for so long, it feels really good to shout and oppress and set things on fire. It's hard to run a country. There are a lot of decisions to make, not all of them popular. I'm not saying that things don't need to change, because definitely they do. I'm saying that when the opportunity for change comes, things should really change. Not just more of the same or worse. That's going to take a degree of rationality, intelligence, tolerance, forgiveness and mindfulness that I hope we all can muster. Vive la Revolution!


  1. So many good points. I think we really need to stop seeing the protesters/revolutionaries and their interests as somehow separate from society. The level of desperation that so many are feeling right now is not the problem of only those people and if the issues that contribute to that level of desperation are not addressed, society as a whole suffers for it. As you point out, the backlash can be as bad or worse than the conditions that lead to it. And, as you also pointed out, we're needing a lot of things that seem to be in somewhat short supply: rationality, intelligence, tolerance, forgiveness, mindfulness.

    Maybe this is just the tryptophan hangover talking, but I think smart bloggers should have a crack at running the country. Are you in? ;)

  2. I completely agree with you, especially about seeing the revolutionaries as a separate group of crazy people rather than bold representatives of the whole. I guess the part that bothers me is that yes, we are at a breaking point. One way or another, things will break. How the pieces all fall out depends on some smart, patient people having solid plans for an alternative. It's not enough just to be angry and want things to change. Change into what? What are the solutions being suggested? Let's just say we "behead" the monster, then what? I just don't want a new monster to take its place for lack of proper foresight. Lack of foresight is one of the things that got us into this mess.

    As for running the country... only if I can do it in my pajamas and if they don't do a terribly close background check. ;)


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