Social Evolution vs. Political Revolution

For the past few weeks, the concepts of evolution, as in social evolution vs. revolution have occupied my mind. It appears to be on many people’s minds, unconsciously if not in those exact words, this American political season.

Bernie Sanders calls for revolution; Hillary Clinton for evolution. Trump calls for revolution, Marco Rubio, evolution.

Social evolution comes into “Big History...and emphasizes long-term trends and processes rather than history making…” says Wikki.

Revolution, on the other hand, suggests radical changes, sometimes with violence, sometimes not. Now! Well, maybe sometimes not is overstating. For the most part, political revolution in its radical-ness is noisy in one way or another.

And there’s always a backlash to revolution. In the American Revolution, the leaders had to acquiesce to the Southern states regarding slavery. Which led to the Civil War. Which we’ve not yet recovered from and put behind us as a nation.

I was part of the 60s Revolution and protested against war, for civil rights, and for women’s rights. We made a lot of noise. In 1968, the Beatles sang:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world….

We want a revolution…Now! …. yeah. I remember all that.

And then there was the backlash: Martin Luther King assassinated, riots, more hangings or burnings in the South. The war ended and Vietnamese refugees poured into the country and were segregated and hated. A woman’s right to choice was slowly, state by state, curtailed, and equality in pay is still a dream. Now the United States is an ally of Vietnam, politically and economically, and the U.S. has moved on to bigger wars in the Middle East; abortion rights are once more heading to the Supreme Court, and voting rights are being constrained and into the courts.

Gay rights is more in the social evolution camp. Yes, there were loud leaders, and the war against AIDS was fierce. Nancy Regan came out in support of gay rights and convinced her husband. But then, he had a gay son. Gay rights were close to home. Now, marriage equality is in the law.

Smoking pot was pretty common in those 60s years and many smoked openly and grew two or three pot plants in converted gallon milk jugs in a sunny window. And then Ronald and Nancy came along with the War on Drugs, drugs went underground and cultivation into other countries, and we ended up with cocaine and heroin and home-made crack and drug wars–and money, big money–now, slowly, legalization of marijuana.

That’s an example of revolution leading to evolution.

Revolutions are usually bottom-up, not top-down. In a New York Times editorial, the editor writes, “Ilya Sheyman, the executive director of…is confident that movements like Occupy Wall Street, the Fight for $15 minimum -wage campaign, and Black Lives Matter will eventually propel young progressives into elective office.”

Those are “movements”–or one could say, “revolutions”–that will propel young people into the fields where they can make changes on the state and local level and eventually national. That takes time. That’s revolution into evolution.

Seth Godin, a blogger I follow, writes, “As soon as self-awareness kicks in, it’s possible to be more discerning about what you believe and why.”

Revolution was more attractive to me when I was younger and impatient for change. Now that I’ve seen changes, many changes in my lifetime, and way too much war, I am more patient.

Evolution doesn’t go backwards–once you grow an elbow, you’ve got an elbow–but I’m not so sure about revolution. It seems to take a huge leap only to back up to evolve.

I guess what I’d like is a social evolution. Something lasting as befitting the human condition of growth and evolution. I’d rather not have to wait the millions of years it takes to grow an elbow, but maybe, just maybe in my lifetime, it will arrive.



11 thoughts on “Social Evolution vs. Political Revolution

  1. Belatedly commenting (on the eve of another political convention….) I read this post as one of hope- thank you! Appreciated your observations of effort towards change (sometimes successful) in our lifetimes as part of the continuum of change that takes time…. let us be patient, engaged and compassionate.

    1. It’s always lovely to hear from you Ellen, belated or not. I’d seen in your post that you were traveling. What a fabulous trip.

      I expect my being patient with change is the change that comes with getting older. I can remember how upset I was at George McGovern’s loss and how I vowed to stop manning the barricades after that. And in fact, I may have to offer my volunteer services, at least to drive people to the polls in November, which will be my first direct involvement in a campaign other than voting since McGovern. But then, several of those years I was in Europe or Mexico, so perhaps I can be forgiven. But now, so many years after fighting for women’s rights in the 70s, maybe it’s time to work on getting a woman elected. I’m certainly not of an age to go door to door, however! Some things one gets forgiven for in one’s elder years! Lol. Hope you’re well.

  2. I like your post on this topic especially since it’s so relevant for what’s going on here at home but also around the world. People are tired and weary of been hindered/ blocked from accessing means to live productive and fulfilling lives. It’s about having skin in the game; if you’re the top 0.01% you’re comfortable with the status quo, for the rest of us not so much….

    1. Thanks so much for commenting! I’m glad the piece resonated with you. I tell you, this has been the most perplexing political arena I’ve ever seen or followed. I so appreciate the moments of wisdom or sanity that leak through from time to time. I’ve mostly been watching from the sidelines but in writing of revolution and evolution, it’s helped me clarify my thinking some. And I’m certainly not comfortable with the way things are. It’s the first election cycle in so long that I’ve stood on the sidelines and simply watched. I have no answers, although the tipping into anger and bigotry is a definite on where I DON”T want to go.

  3. Interesting ideas. I think the world will grow that permanent elbow in due time, and then another one when all else fails. It all seems an unending spiral of evolution no matter what revolutions occur.

    1. Well, you’ve got a point there. I suppose part of what I was figuring out is where I stand on all the rhetoric going on. And of course you’re correct…whatever is going on is part of that spiral.

  4. Plenty to mull on here 🙂 In some areas change seems so slow .. in others too fast and in yet others non existent. eg Sharing, equality, wealth distribution, protection of environment – too slow. Technology, science, genetics, weapons of mass destruction – too fast ? Human nature … very little obvious change 🙂
    Great post …lots more to think about.

    1. Thanks Rose. And you’re correct part is slow and the other part fast. Hard keeping up with it all.

      Glad it gave you something to mull over. That’s pretty much what I was doing. … mulling over. 🙂

  5. A very good post about how change happens. Quite interesting. Enjoyed reading this. I just don’t want a revolution happening if an extreme radical is elected. I have been predicting for years, that our country is headed for a revolution. I pray it will not be a bloody one.

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