(Roughly) Daily

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”*…

Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix, 1830 [source]

Social disruption– the imposition of a shift so radical that a society cannot go back to the way it had been…

Such disruptions don’t just happen randomly. There is a set of conditions required to launch them, and there are particular circumstances in which the initiators of the disruption tend to succeed in their aims.

The core characteristics of the kind of disruption I’m describing, as we’ll see in the historical episodes that follow, are that it: 1) stems from a loss of faith in a society’s central institutions; 2) establishes a set of ideas from what was once the fringe of the intellectual world, placing them at the centre of a revamped political order; and 3) involves a coherent leadership group committed to the change. These disruptions are apparent in, but not synonymous with, some of the events commonly called revolutions. Disruptions don’t always change who is in charge – they are, in fact, sometimes necessary to preserve a government that is on the verge of failure. But they will at the very least change the way that a governing group thinks and acts.

Disruptions bring a profound shift in people’s understanding of how the world around them works. They contrast in this way with less radical societal changes, based on an existing thought system: for example, the English ‘revolutions’ of the 17th century, which changed the balance of power between king and parliament without altering the basic system of government. Ideological change is crucial for major societal change, such as that pursued by Lenin, because societies promote ideologies that support their way of doing business – and if the way of viewing the world doesn’t change, the way of doing business isn’t going to change either. It’s easy enough to look to the past to find discarded ideas that were once central, such as the theory that kings rule by ‘divine right’…

What I am suggesting is that, when a political system is undermined by events such as economic failure, defeat in war or environmental catastrophe, that political system is going to have to change or fail. Success or failure depends on the choices that leaders make, and the ability to give people a fresh set of ideas that will help them see a new way forward.

The outcome of a disruption is often completely unexpected to contemporaries, and that is precisely because ideas from outside the mainstream were used to shape the solutions to the problems of the time. We can’t know in advance exactly how a disruption will end. What history can teach us is what the circumstances are that lead to a disruption. It can make us realise what we might be facing as a result of the situation we are in today…

Major disruptions in world history follow a clear pattern. What can upheavals of the past tell us about our own future? “How disruptions happen,” by David Potter in @aeonmag.

* John F. Kennedy


As we contemplate change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1921 that Karel Čapek‘s R.U.R.— which coined the word “robot”– premiered in Prague in an amateur production (that preceded the play’s official debut at the National Theater later that month). An immediate hit, it has become (in the words of Luciano Floridi) “a classic of technologically dystopian literature.”

In 1938, a BBC adaptation of the play became the world’s first ever science fiction television program.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 3, 2022 at 1:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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