The NEW age of revolution

There’s a video I shared on Facebook. Its purpose: to explain to the world the real purpose behind the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement in France. The speaker in the video calls it “the revolution”. 

We live in a revolutionary age. It’s not something we can escape. Marshall McLuhan, writing long ago, observed that when the medium of communication changes, the entire world—social, cultural, political—shifts. In his book The Gutenburg Galaxy he offers evidence for his position, exploring in particular how the shift from script-culture (when books were handwritten) to print-culture (when writing could be mass-produced) bore fruit in the various revolutions of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He also demonstrated how the shift to broadcast media from print media (he lumped film in with print, but radio and television with broadcast media) had a similar revolutionary impact.

So it should be unsurprising that actual political revolutions are now happening—on both the right and the left. It should be unsurprising, indeed expected, that these revolutions are protests, one way or another, about the representative government associated with today’s democracies—protests about the way in which the people we elect to represent us do NOT represent the people who elected them.

I’ve argued elsewhere and I want to argue again that it’s time for us to rethink democracy. Not to get rid of it, but to re-tool it. Questions will arise. Print and broadcast culture flattened the world, created a shared culture that could be experienced by many people at once. The digital world ruled by clustering algorithms has retribalized society. There is absolutely no need—indeed, there is little space at all—for people with different views of the world to interact at all, much less discuss/debate their differences. But democracy is founded upon dialogue and debate. How do we keep our democracies alive when the world is being fragmented by algorithm into groups of people who consume the same things and think alike?

Discuss. And to get you started (or to finish you?), check out this experiment. To find out more about it in real time (which is how I got started), check out this podcast.

5 thoughts on “The NEW age of revolution

  1. Insightful article!
    You got me thinking about how “revolutionary groups” used propaganda intentionally to advanced new ideas and ideologies, and the varied formats they used: newsletters, pamphlets, books, music albums, and now social media. This is my immediate response.
    By the way, my high school teacher was Keva Bethel. Aren’t you a relative?


  2. I don’t for a moment believe that democracy is the best form of government. I do think it is the most equitable. Rule by fiat has its uses, but is prone to bias.

    Silos of like-minded thought appear to be on the rise, wherein the extreme left clashes with extreme right. I have often thought too much of a good thing doesn’t have the same feel or effect on social and cultural norms, e.g. too much freedom can lead to anarchy and chaotic reactionary forms of thought (and speech). I.e. bad. The freedom to express an opinion has been limited to politically correct and narrowly virtuous ideas. SJW as the new thoughtspeak.

    What is the solution? Perhaps not more debate. Debate doesn’t shift ideologues too stubborn to allow others points of view. Democracy has to be fed from the blood of revolution from time to time I think.


    1. Chris, I totally agree with you about revolution, and also about the silos. Not just the silos of extreme left and extreme right but also silos of any constellation of identity. Centrists have their own silos. Feminists have them, the military, bigots, liberals. Silos are the new normal — what I call retribalization.


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