Sunday, May 31, 2009


Is a revolution a turning back or reversal of course, as etymology suggests?

The kindred word revolt implies a turning against (as against oppressors) or an overthrow (of some established order).

Revolution seems to say more about futurity than about history and implies a breakthrough to a new and better order, at least from the viewpoint of the revolutionaries. Revolution is a word implying progress from a condition that is constricting or stultifying, and implying liberation into new, fresh possibilities, perhaps into more complex and comprehensive forms (as, for example, from the simplistic geo-centric model of the heavens to the helio-centric model of a solar system).

Thomas Kuhn’s concept of a paradigm shift refers to the revolutionary metamorphosis of our conceptual models such as the Ptolemaic versus the Copernican cosmological schemes. Kuhn’s term has since been appropriated (and misappropriated) to describe many other kinds of mental models, metaphors or memes by which we try to make sense of phenomena and conceive of “reality.”

Many revolutions do turn out to be progressive (“provolutions,” so to speak) and lead to valuable novelty, complexity, and comprehensive reconfigurations. Others, though, appear in hindsight simply revolting (pun intended), such as the Russian Revolution that eventuated in Stalinism, or the system now current in North Korea; yet such outcomes as those may be regarded as hi-jacked revolutions, with the ideal of radical democratic equality having been perverted by oppressive reactionary dictators.

The potential for continuous revolution seems implicit in the nature of the cosmos, which appears to be ever-changing and continuously complexifying: from pure energy to the coagulated energy of stars to the exploded energy of stars turning to stardust, the stuff of which we and our geo- and biosystems are made.

Our incipient Rollins Plan general education program studying the theme of revolutions is, I would say, our collective intellectual effort to comprehend the processes of progressive change so that ultimately we may become change-makers able to anticipate, envision and facilitate improvements (wise changes) in our world.