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You Say You Want a Revolution
Well, you know, it ain't gonna happen. Not here.
By Chuck Klosterman
I do not want to
overthrow the government. In case you misread that, I am going to type it again, this time more slowly: I. Do. Not. Want.
To. Overthrow the government. I don't want black helicopters landing on the roof of my apartment building, and I don't want
to be hunted by death squads through the jungles of Bolivia. I always pay my taxes. I think paying taxes is fun! If someone
asks me if I enjoy the music of Rage Against the Machine, I usually say, "Oh, they were only okay." Whenever I see people
using the metric system, I punch them in the pancreas.
Something has been occupying my mind as of late, and I can't tell if this thought is reassuring or
terrifying: I've been thinking about the possibility of revolution, or—more accurately—the impossibility of revolution.
I've started wondering what would have to happen before the American populace would try to overthrow its own government, and
how such a coup would play itself out. My conclusions are that a) nothing could make this happen, and b) no one would
know what to do if it somehow did. The country is too large, its social systems are too complex, and its people are too complacent,
too reasonable, and too confused. I've decided that the U. S. government is (for lack of a better, preexisting term) "unoverthrowable."
And this would probably make a man like Patrick Henry profoundly depressed, were it not for the fact that he's been dead for
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," wrote
Thomas Jefferson, and his thoughts were far from unique: Almost all of the Founding Fathers were obsessed with the potential
for insurgency on U. S. soil. "Future citizens will need muskets to assassinate their oppressive viceroys," James Madison
might have hypothetically remarked during the intermission of a slave auction. "In fact, this is probably the second most
important freedom any of us will be able to come up with. Somebody should write this shit down." Superficially, such preemptive
legislation worked perfectly: There are now roughly two hundred million guns in America, and that's only counting the NBA's
Eastern Conference. We have enough privately owned firepower to instantly kill a billion grizzly bears, plus a few dozen prostitutes.
But it's hard to imagine these weapons employed in any kind of popular uprising, even if a majority of American adults unilaterally
agreed that such an event was necessary. Whom would they presumably shoot? Probably no one, and possibly one another.
The central issue here, I suppose, is impetus: Americans are not particularly motivated to overthrow
their government. But what if they were motivated? Would that even matter? In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, countless
media whores criticized the government for not doing enough for the people of Louisiana. But let's imagine that the government
had done even less; let's imagine that the president and most of Congress decided that New Orleans was a lost cause,
barricaded all the roads into the city, and gave up. Let's pretend they made no attempts to relocate the survivors or deliver
aid, and New Orleans was allowed to devolve into a rogue dystopia that was no longer recognized as part of the union. One
assumes this would prompt cataclysmic outrage; it would be no different from the state-sponsored execution of random poor
people, which seems like a revolt-worthy offense. Yet if such a nightmare scenario had actually happened, what could the average
middle-class resident of Boise, Idaho (or anywhere else), have done? He'd lose faith in the democratic process, and he'd possibly
update his blog. But that's about it. He has no options. He's twenty-two hundred miles from the ruins of Bourbon Street, he's
twenty-four hundred miles from Washington, D. C., and he's got to be at work by 9:00 a.m., because he has a house (and he
likes his house).
But—just for the sake of argument—let's assume this man still wants to push the envelope.
Let's assume this patriot is beyond outraged. Maybe he just rented The Bourne Supremacy, and maybe he thinks the time
for blogging has passed. Maybe he's ready to make some really bad choices for some really ethical principles. Maybe Neil Young's
"Revolution Blues" comes on his iTunes, so he loads the .30-30 he just bought at Wal-Mart and walks into the street. What
now? My aforementioned question remains unresolved: Whom, exactly, is this man supposed to shoot? A cop? The mayor of Boise?
A FEMA employee? Whom would he be revolting against? Is it even possible for the modern man to know?
When trying to overthrow a regime, all those unanswerable questions matter. But then again, maybe they
don't. I doubt most Americans would participate in a revolution, even if they understood (and supported) its cause completely.
I was recently discussing this with a colleague of mine over lunch; we were trying to come up with conditions that could ignite
a people's uprising we'd actively involve ourselves with. These possibilities ranged from "massive water shortage" (which
could happen in India in the coming decade) to "political infiltration by flesh-eating panda zombies" (which happened in Nepal
in 2005). My associate offered this scenario: "Suppose we had evidence that the federal government engineered 9/11," he said.
"Suppose we had indisputable proof that we paid the Saudis to blow up the World Trade Center, and members from both political
parties had signed off on it. And the day after this proof emerged, George W. Bush announced that he would give a speech at
ground zero explaining why this decision was made. If this happened, I assume there would be a protest rally during his speech.
And perhaps some people would start throwing rocks, and perhaps I'd be caught up in the frenzy, and perhaps I would start
throwing rocks, too."
"So you would take part in the revolution's inception," I responded. "You would throw rocks at a corrupt
"Yes," he said. "Maybe. Or maybe not. Probably not. Who knows? I'm not really a rock-throwing kind
I'm not a rock-throwing kind of guy, either. Moreover, I assume the type of person who hurls rocks
in public is not the type of person I would agree with about anything. Modernity has created a cosmic difference between intellect
and action, even when both are driven by the same motives; as such, the only people qualified to lead a present-day revolution
would never actually do so. Contemporary leaders are not rock-throwing guys. And this is a problem, because it's the rock
throwers who get things done.
Here again, my feelings are mixed; maybe I shouldn't have used the word problem in my previous
sentence. Perhaps I should have used the word luxury. I'm pretty sure there are numerous countries in this world where
citizens dream of a society too rational to be influenced by rock throwers.¹ Security has a way of making philosophy irrelevant,
and anyone who disagrees is either a liar or a tenured professor. But there's still something ominous about the reality of
our sanctuary. It seems weird that this is the country and there's nothing we can do about it, beyond participating
in the system that's already in place. It would not matter what the government did or to whom they did it—nobody knows
how to change things in any meaningful way, and the only people who'd try are dangerous and insane. We have reached a point
where the reinvention of America is impossible, even if that were what we wanted. Even if that were what everybody
You might think the government is corrupt, and you might be right. But I'm surprised it isn't worse.
I'm surprised they don't shoot us in the street. It's not like we could do anything about it, except maybe die.
¹Although I can't be totally sure that this is true, as these are all countries I will never, ever
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