Revolutionaries sees the potential in human beings—they see our world’s potential to become something vastly better than it is today.
We don’t have the historical, scientific, moral or spiritual context to see that these destructive forces are created by people—which means that people can end them.
A revolutionary is, of course, someone who wants to overthrow the existing order. We need such people. The current order is unsustainable. It is destroying the planet and creating inequality so severe that society is becoming unstable. It’s an engine for human misery on a massive scale.
Three things separate a revolutionary from most other human beings of conscience. The first is knowledge—specifically, knowledge of the many harms our current system inflicts on other beings and on the planet.
The second is context. We assume that the world we see is the world as it has always been and always will be. Capitalism, which has only existed for three or four centuries, is considered as immutable as the Laws of Thermodynamics. Warfare, a phenomenon that ebbs and flows, is considered a basic part of human nature. Roles of class, race, gender, and sexual expression are considered fixed, when they have evolved and shifted over time.
We don’t have the historical, scientific, moral or spiritual context to see that these destructive forces are created by people—which means that people can end them. Anthropologist David Graeber is quoted in the new Adam Curtis documentary series: “The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is just something we make, and could just as easily make something different.”
Knowledge and context give us the mental tools we need to reject the existing order. But we put the idea out of our heads, because it’s overwhelming to contemplate the vast canyons of oppression and loss that surround us. There’s nothing we can do about it, so why even think about it?
Which gets us to the third thing that separates revolutionaries from other good people: community. Revolutionaries aren’t alone. Even if they’re isolated in some remote village, they have the gift of knowing that others are on the same path. They know the struggle will go on, even if they die. The revolution can succeed, even if they fail.
Knowledge plus context plus community equals power. Take any one of those things away, and a person is likely to fall into despair or denial or bitterness. This is why I don’t reject anti-left centrists or Trump voters unless they behave in truly unconscionable ways. If they have a conscience—and many do, despite the “deplorables” myth—they’re revolutionaries waiting to be born.