By Sonny Scott
It was a hot July day as a foot-weary group of teachers trudged down the city street. I heard one remark to another: “When the Revolution comes, the People can have my bank account, my car, etc., but I do hope they’ll allow me to keep my shower!”
I chuckled to myself. “Sure,” I thought. “When the balloon goes up, one of those guys will be at a baseball game, and the other in a bar.”
Those of us schooled in the humanities in the ’60s were inured to talk of “Revolution” – as evangelicals were to the “Rapture,” and neo-Confederates were to “peaceful secession” from the Union. It was part of the self-gratification of our generation, and few took it seriously.
America is a conservative society – optimistic, aggressive, and perennially positive. And why not? After five centuries of plundering the riches of the New World with no guilt about the dispossessed aborigines, the mantle of world leadership fell on us when the European powers self-destructed. However repulsive we found the implications of scientific Darwinism, the implications of pseudo-scientific “Social Darwinism” stroked our collective ego, and we shouldered “The White Man’s Burden” of telling the world how to live.
Now, I’m not so sure.
I’m talking real revolution here – not the contest between ambitious colonials and Parliamentary conservatives (as in 1776), or forward-looking capitalists (who wanted labor to be a commodity like any other) and wannabe lords-of-the-manor (with their fantasies of an agrarian society on the order of Medieval England) in 1861. No, I’m talking a national “flash mob” – a frenzy of retribution and revenge of those excluded from the “American Feast” – those whose expectations have outrun the likelihood of fulfillment. I’m thinking class warfare, as in the French Revolution and its descendants.
Our underclasses have been fed on an unrelenting diet of consumerism and had its expectations jacked up by the rising living standards since World War II. We have spent mega-dollars on public schools and done our best to get the poor in them, even as the privileged quietly sent their own kids to better schools. Those impatient to get on with it and those with no self-direction and less parental direction ditched school at the first opportunity. Those with less imagination stayed the course – only to find hordes of graduates with devalued and meaningless diplomas and degrees contending for marginal jobs.
Many (most?) of these newly minted graduates with their new diplomas devalued by grade inflation and dumbing down of the curriculum are deeply in debt. While they pursue a series of jobs that promise more than they deliver, and garnishments for student loans and child support pile up, they notice those who ditched school for the streets flash wads of cash, drive flashy cars, and sport bling. Is it any wonder they wonder who made the wise choice?
And then, there’s prison. It’s increasingly likely that our new yeoman has a first-degree relative who is a guest of the state. How long will it be before the public realizes that it cannot afford (nor is it morally acceptable) to confine every recalcitrant citizen behind the concertina wire?
When do we reach the “tipping point?”
History teaches us that revolution happens not when conditions are worst, but rather when expectations exceed the possibility of their realization. We have had times of desperate poverty and mal-distribution of wealth in this country, but there has always been hope of a better tomorrow.
Revolution? God forbid! History shows us that revolutions consume their children. As Howard Zinn observed in another context, “…victims themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.”
When social rot, family disintegration, and violence were confined to the underclass, the middle class were not concerned. Now that social pathologies threaten the McMansions on the cul-de-sac and in the gated communities, will we realize that the chickens are coming home to roost, and alter our behavior?
SONNY SCOTT is a Chickasaw County resident and a community columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.