The Revolution Behind the Attempted Revolution
By Frank Sobchak
(Editor’s note: We realize this is a complex time in America. SWJ does not publish overtly partisan pieces but will publish objective analysis about current events such as this essay which is designed to drive critical thinking and discussion)
Was the Capitol Riot America’s equivalent of the Reichstag Fire? Or were the shots fired there more akin to those of Fort Sumter, presaging a second Civil War? Making a comparison to other singular micro events in history is often problematic due to the many differences in each case. But exploring the causes behind the revolt, especially the macro events that shaped the environment in which dissent, anger, and frustration have festered, is far easier. The insurrection that played out across the offices and hallways of the U.S. Capitol was not just a reflection of the anger and seditious behavior of some Americans, it was a symptom of the fissures wrought by the information revolution which has been tearing the fabric of global society apart for the last few decades.
The information revolution is not the first time when innovations created a turning point in history where nearly every aspect of daily life was radically altered. During the Industrial Revolution, the shift from skilled craft workers and agriculture to factories and mass production led to massive disruptions in people’s lives. Unable to adapt quickly enough or lacking the required skills for the new economy, many people lost their jobs and livelihoods. Working conditions in the new factories were often horrific, and unskilled workers could be replaced with relative ease- further threatening their very existence.
In addition to those economic impacts, the Industrial Revolution drove considerable political and social change. Economic disruptions and abuses gave rise to the political ideologies of communism and socialism. Anarchists provided their own nihilistic solution to the revolutionary changes, aiming to bring down the new order through assassinations of political leaders and bombings of state institutions that they blamed for their misfortunes. The Industrial Revolution also drove social change, often empowering those who previously had no voice through unions, suffrage organizations, and civil rights movements. Those changes challenged the existing social order, which created additional friction and led, at times, to violence.
We are experiencing a similar type of change today, if not more intense. Like the Industrial Revolution before it, today’s information revolution has created massive social, political, military, and economic turmoil. But because the impacts of the Industrial Revolution were spread out across nearly a century and a half, its effects were diffused and somewhat easier to process. Today’s changes are amplified by the speed of technological transformation and are occurring at a much faster pace, creating even more disruptions and disorder.
Paralleling the Industrial Revolution, the information revolution has created intense political, economic, and social turmoil. As those changes scythed across America, they left economic destruction in their wake, creating a “rust belt” where factories now lay idle and jobs were lost as work was downsized and offshored to new global companies. Mass production of goods could be done with fewer workers due to technology while computer, technical, and service jobs replaced only a portion of the lost industrial era positions. Many lacked the skills to compete for those new jobs. Former industrial giants such as IBM and GE are now feeble, and the dais of business is now occupied by Apple, Google, and Facebook. Old political parties which once represented the majority are beset by their own internal rebellions and are fracturing into splinter elements. Social movements clamoring for more freedom, representation, and equality are challenging established elites- both peacefully and violently. Information which had been previously only disseminated by hand or through established media outlets that rigorously reviewed accuracy and sources now can be spread by anyone who can set up their own YouTube channel or website.
Revolutions such as those we are now experiencing are difficult for humans to navigate as change occurs faster than our cognitive abilities to adapt at the individual level. Governments are even less capable of addressing those changes, and when those changes result in economic upheaval, they are rarely able to put in place programs quickly enough to adapt and cushion the blow. Even private enterprise often is too slow to navigate the changes, and many traditional companies from the previous era collapse or stumble. In their place, new companies often aim to cement monopolies or near monopolies over their respective business sector.
In Ted Gurr’s classic treatise, Why Men Rebel, he argued that the potential for violence is causally related to the difference between what people believe they deserve and what they think they are capable of achieving. Frustration, when experienced over a long enough period of time, can lead to bloodshed. Because the information revolution has occurred so quickly, the relative sense of deprivation between what many Americans feel they deserve, because they experienced the bounties of the American dream in their own lifetime, and what they believe they can now achieve is great. In a phrase, many Americans note this degree of relative deprivation when they call for “making America great again.” The growth in media outlets and development of social media has highlighted that disparity to many of those who were left behind by the economic changes of the information revolution. Programs focused on wealth and million-dollar mansions have allowed the struggling under class (many of whom were not part of that strata until the arrival of information age disruptions) to see how other Americans are living in comparative opulence. Such experiences serve as bitter reminders to the relative deprivation they are experiencing.
For those who have the skills to navigate the changes of the information revolution, they will be economically successful and those changes are little more than a personal annoyance. But for those who don’t have those skills, they are abandoned by the modern economy and the “brave new world.” Unable to recognize society around them due to the pace of change, and likely struggling to maintain work, they become angry and lash out at those that they feel should have protected them. Joining fringe political movements seems to be the only way for them to regain their former status. Ashli Babbitt, a casualty of the Capitol uprising who struggled after her military service and saw her business fail, is exemplary of those who tried to adapt but were left behind. In an odd and perverse way, the information revolution also served to help connect those in that group and amplify their anger and ability to plan their counter revolution against the “new world order.” Ample evidence existed of disaffected segments of society funneling their anger from these changes towards the symbolic event of Congress certifying an electoral college win on January 6th that would seemingly upend their attempts to return to an earlier “greater” era. Disruption, unrest, and violence was a foregone conclusion.
While it is easier to assess the tectonic forces at play that have led to these events, it is much harder to chart the course forward and to try to predict what will happen next. Despite many assurances that the Republic will hold and that good will triumph over evil, history is replete with examples of the opposite and it is far from certain what will be the long-term impact of these momentous days. To tamp down the caustic effects of the information revolution and prevent future “6 Januarys,” the U.S. government should immediately begin implementing programs to minimize the impact of those social and economic disruptions. More efforts should be made to try to help those who have been left behind to catch up to the changes that have occurred. Because if we don’t, this will likely be just one in a series of more serious tumultuous events that undermine the foundation of the Republic.