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.