Aristotle attributes the cause of all revolutions to either an inferior group wanting equality or one group equal to another wanting superiority over that group. Aristotle’s definition appears logical in a political or social context, and people during this time period likely only used this word in these contexts. Nonetheless, unit one demonstrates the challenging nature of institutionalizing equality, and the inevitable omission of some from the protection of such institutions causes revolutions to become necessary. Locke’s system of equality, equality based on reason, does not promote an environment anywhere close to true equality (see Humanities definition). Marx, Locke’s opponent, does not propose any system of equality but merely hates Locke’s ideas. Nonetheless, the resulting historical examples that based themselves off of Marx’s ideas stripped people of their individuality in an authoritarian regime to institute equality. Revolutions, consequently, must ask how they can reconcile this contradiction to establish a better system that ensures a just society free from persecution and still protects individuality.
Professor Wills’s guiding question for unit four, about whether revolution as a project fundamentally redefines who is human, provides a better approach to this term. Humanity as the root of this definition emphasizes the simultaneous uniqueness and individual value of each being within their workings together. Nonetheless, an expansion of humanity as a revolutionary consequence would still achieve the practical benefits of an expanded equality. Professor Wills’s guiding question still, however, only focuses on the social and political aspects of revolution. A more encompassing definition posits revolution as the act of fundamentally redefining who is human, how humans relate to each other, or how humans connect themselves to the world around them. Within these components, while not mutually exclusive, a revolution only needs one.
John Locke’s Second Treatise not only marks a revolution in and of itself, as it disavows the form of government that previously dominated scholarly thought, but it also provides a basis for the inherent rights of humanness. After Locke uses his metaphor of the state of nature to establish fundamental human rights of life, liberty, and property, he asserts the imperative role of government in protecting these rights. Locke contradicts philosopher Robert Filmer as he suggests government must come from the people and work for the people. In this popular emphasis, Locke advocates for the consistently equal and just guarantee of rights instead of at the whim of the ruling powers. The rest of this definition for revolution functions under this scheme introduced by Locke, that an upper organ protecting the humanity of all should exist. Nonetheless, Locke makes many assumptions about who fits into humanity that many subsequent revolutions will challenge.
Locke’s derivation of the right to property through possession of the body comes to represent a key idea for all future revolutions. The commonality of the body can become evidence for a need for a more equal treatment of all humans. The documentary on the Bill T. Jones’s dance, The Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land, emphasizes the scene at the end of this performance during which crowds of dancers assemble completely nude. This ownership of the core of humanity represents, for its creator, an opportunity for the audience to look past stereotypes and see the humanness of every dancer. The performance as a whole bases itself on using a myriad of racial and gender identities within its companies to challenge the audience to focus on the events over their preconceived biases about those performing them. This rejection of identity-based thinking reinforces, even today, Locke’s argument about this universal human quality and demonstrates its use in a subsequent revolution.
When the government fails to protect the humanity of all its people, a revolution will eventually occur, either by working within the government or by overthrowing it. Both these methods of change can effectively work to redefine humanity, as changing the scheme, with or without a new name, provides this revolution. Although Lapham argues that the Civil Rights movement does not fit the criteria of a revolution, as it did not overthrow the government of the United States this assertion ignores its elimination of blatant dehumanization. The previous refusal of the white community to share a swimming pool with the black population that they perceived as “dirty” changed due to this historical movement. Although it did not create a new government, this incident, introduced by Robert Williams, represents the change that expanded humanity enacted during the Civil Rights movement.
Many feel that such an interpretation of this movement ignores key contemporary issues surrounding race and the outstanding lack of equality. Angela Davis points out how, when social change creates a new standard for equality, new discriminatory structures emerge within the parameters of this standard. By, for example, establishing the Civil Rights Act of 1963 as the standard for judging racial prejudices, new, legal forms of discrimination come into existence. Society ignores that sharing a swimming pool does not equate to a shared humanity. While Davis presents an incredibly intellectual and valid thesis, her arguments do not strip, for example, the Civil Rights Movement of its status as a revolution. She simply highlights how some issues require a more evolving set of social changes, while others finish after one revolution. Two examples thus far, Lockean government and the Civil Rights movement, exemplify a finished and an evolving revolution. Both acts completely changed the scheme in which they function. Nonetheless, Locke’s model of government has endured for centuries, almost completely uncontested in its respective nations. The revolution within the Civil Rights movement has developed a much more dynamic structure, as a movement for redefining eventually occurs when new methods to limit humanity come to take the place of the old ones. Both of these historical episodes still do embody the definition of a revolution; however, the latter has just not quite yet finished.
The dehumanization within a revolution can also come from the government. In Rwanda, as the Hutu government attempted not only to eradicate the Tutsi population but also to make them less human in doing so. According to Philip Gourevitch, the Hutu execution squads would accept payments for less painful deaths: “if you were willing to pay for it, you could often ask for a bullet” (Gourevitch 22). While this compensation likely proved futile, as the Hutus almost certainly would have raided the property of their victims anyways, the shame in paying for one’s own demise diminishes the humanity of the Tutsis. Gourevitch presents them as helpless victims, exiled from humanity both physically, through murder, and metaphorically, through the humiliation within these murders. Although no longer the case, this revolutionary movement, stemming from the government, ruled Rwanda for a period of time, including only themselves in their definition of humanity. Another revolution, nonetheless, would subsequently occur and eliminate this definition of humanity. This trend demonstrates how a revolution does not necessarily require evidence of staying power. While the ability of revolutionary action to make an impact lasting beyond its time characterizes a successful revolution, enduring influence describes, but does not define such an event. A revolutionary movement that quickly burns out merely indicates a bad revolution.
Bad revolutions do, nonetheless, occur. The Russian Revolution represents a clear example of how a movement can so diametrically alter what comes before it, but for a relatively short period of time. While some of its effects still appear in Russian culture today, the regime that came to exist under Lenin after the October Revolution no longer does. Nonetheless, the elimination of the role of the Tsar and this newfound policy emphasis on the working class go against the Russian political culture characteristic of the nineteenth century. The establishment of socialism and subsequently communism within the nation created a completely new governance structure and the altered emphasis on individual freedoms. As such, this pivotal moment does represent a revolution. Furthermore, particularly under Stalin, dehumanization became a key feature of this revolution. The torture chambers, called gulags, and, as Professor Ewington said, the “important random element of the terror” went against what that the state had experienced previously. While, for similar reasons to the situation in Rwanda, this governmental violence could only be sustained for so long, this brief revolution still qualifies as a revolution.
While all these aforementioned examples of revolution redefine the nature of humanity, revolution extends beyond merely humanity itself. A revolution can also redefine the ways in which those in a pre-established group of humanity can relate to each other, changing the “how” not the “who”. The media, for example, has completely changed how humans receive information and how they understand the world globally and especially those outside of their own community. Sontag points out an important dual role the media has taken on: “there now exists a vast repository of images that make it harder to maintain this kind of moral defectiveness… Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function” (Sontag 114-115). The media documents so many issues about which those in other parts of the world would never learn, and provides crucial exposure and awareness as such. Nonetheless, it inherently comes to report on an extremely large number of tragedies, and the sheer quantity of issues transmitted leads to feelings of frustration and helplessness. This depressing environment and the anxiety it creates often generate complaints about the audience’s complacency. While these interpretations of the media’s value add to society oppose each other, both changes indicated show the fundamental change that this institution has brought to society. Balancing the respective benefits and consequences of awareness of issues that does not transfer into action, a key effect of this development, remains a question for a different definition. Nonetheless, the media indisputably introduces so much more information into the daily lives of its viewers and these drastic increases, for better or worse, have realigned how people perceive the rest of the world, about whom the media reports.
A more direct criticism of technological development manifests itself as Lapham includes an admonishment of this tool’s effects on the human brain. While the psychology behind this criticism requires extremely in depth reports, in short, the author points out that the internet provides positive reinforcement for partaking. The new screen that appears upon clicking a button provides an example of such reinforcements. Nonetheless, these effects create addictions, which neurologically rework the structure of the human brain. In much fancier terms, the author of this source identifies an inability to focus as a primary effect of this restructuring. This change affects how humans interact, limits human connections, and alters human capacity for and tendency towards relationships. Similar to Sontag’s discussion of the media, a normative analysis of the respective benefits and consequences of the internet does not determine its classification as a revolution. The positive analysis that pinpoints how it fundamentally changes the human brain’s function, and consequently how this brain participates in the rest of the world, makes the internet’s invention a revolution.
Beyond changing humans’ relationship to each other, a revolution can also change how one predefined humanity views itself within the natural world. Science often makes up much of these views, as its objective nature gives human understanding a quantitative basis. Notwithstanding, the objective nature of science tends to foster firm beliefs in its principals, and, upon an overturning of any sort of scientific theory, significant opposition occurs. Newton’s scientific discoveries demonstrate this trend, as his “law of universal gravitation obliterated the last traces of the former distinction between terrestrial and celestial physics-the same law governed the revolution of the planets and the fall of an apple. Not everyone was pleased” (Principe 65). The investigations undergone clearly demonstrate a revolution, as they replace a previously held understanding of the human role in the universe with new evidence and a new scheme. Nonetheless, the negative reactions referenced indicate people’s inevitable fear when an understanding they once had becomes false, especially within the realm of science. Because Newton’s field deals primarily with intangible concepts, people struggle that much more to accept a revolutionary discovery that contradicts their previous system.
Other scientific discoveries also clearly embody revolutionary concepts, as the unit six article by Adam Hadhazy documents their fundamental change to human understanding of the world. Within his analyses, Marie Curie’s arrival at understanding how radioactive emissions occurred completely contradicted prior scientific scholarship. Despite previously held theories that these emissions remained contingent on the positioning of molecules within a substance, Curie proved this false. Instead, she came to demonstrate the inherent nature of these emissions exclusively to some elements and not others, regardless of a compound’s molecular structure. Her work, a clear and indisputable new reality overturning previous understandings, clearly constitutes a revolution. By understanding how such emissions work, Curie provided scientists with the opportunity to have control in the situation. This inherent empowerment through knowledge brings them to a point in which scientists can strategize and determine how they interact with and use this matter. This fundamental realignment of the human relationship with the natural world represents a clear example of a revolution.
Furthermore, Plato’s allegory of the cave highlights the personal revolution that knowledge can provide. In Plato’s scholarship, when a human comes up from the cave, leaving behind his previous state of disillusionment, and learns about the outside world, he refuses to descend once again. The ascension to the sunlight represents the personal revolution of this man’s completely altered perspective on how he fits into the world, because he now knows the greater extent of the world in which he lives. Nothing in the cave presented anything false, but it only showed this man a part of the world’s truth. Thus, he now has a greater desire to expand his experiences and exist in this place of sunlight and enlightenment. The change here represents how humanity functions and how education instills these personal revolutions. Education can fundamentally redefine what humans know about the world around them, and, as seen through the cave, a person’s understanding of the world around them controls how they see the world.