Monday, May 7, 2012

Revolutioinary Notes #2 - What is a revolution?

Before going too far on this topic it is important to step back and clarify what this subject is about. To first ask 'What is a revolution?'
     Tseu-Leu asked: If the Prince of Mei appointed you head of government. to what wd. you first set your mind?
     Confucius: to call people and things by their names, that is by the correct denominations, to see that terminology was exact.
     "You mean that is the first?" Said Tseu-Leu. "Aren't you dodging the question? What's the use of that?"
     Confucius: You are a blank. An intelligent man hesitates to talk of what he does not understand, he feels embarrassed.
     If the terminology be not exact, if it fit not the thing, the governmental instructions will not be explicit, if the instructions aren't clear and the names don't fit, you cannot conduct business properly.
     If business is not properly run the rites and music will not be honored, if the rites and music be not honored, penalties and punishments will not achieve their intended effects, if penalties and punishments do not produce equity and justice, the people won't know where to out their feet or what to lay hold of or to whom they should stretch out their hands.
     That is why an intelligent man cares for his terminology. 
Some people in the past have recognized the importance of tending to their words. As the quote above illustrates Confucius saw definitions as an important factor in maintaining the stability and cohesion of a society. Something often lacking in his Greek counterparts. And where we see Confucian ideas taking root and going into action for 1000's of years, no one has ever set aside the smallest piece of land to try out Plato's republic.

The co-opting of words and their meaning has also long been recognized as a powerful tool in any war over the minds of humanity. In the public debate over climate change one side can be seen very successfully taking the words of the other an imbuing them with new meaning, making them terms of derision. In the ongoing conflict between the US government and inter-state Middle Eastern paramilitary groups, the latter have increasingly adopted the language of the former in an attempt to widen the definition of their words so that they apply equally to state organized, and independently organized militarized groups.

The word revolution has met with a similar treatment. Below are a few examples of the word in common usage:
  • This is Apple's most coherent effort yet to bind its family of screens closer together and to bring its revolution to the TV set. 
  • NEW YORK Chevrolet's American Revolution campaign has been arevolution of sorts in the advertising world. 
  • How to Manage and Measure the Word of Mouth Revolution...
  • ...and so Febreze, a product originally conceived as a revolutionary ... 
Revolution has clearly entered into the lexicon of product marketing. It is at this point that I must confess that my heart grows cold to society at large when I contemplate the intention behind the high-jacking of this word.

The word 'revolution' has been chosen specifically because it is a powerful word that has overwhelming connotations of drastic change. It appeals to youthful energies, and our sense of justice.

Then diluted and applied to convince people to buy computer software.

Or skateboards.

Or watch more television.

Within the context of social change, the word again has a range of meanings. From minor political change that leaves the host system intact, to the social revolution which by definition means:
the reorganization of the industrial, economic life of the country and consequently also of the entire structure of society
From here forward when the word revolution is used, this is what is meant. I would see the term mean not a revolt, but a turning of the wheel so that a completely new side is shown.

Leave nothing intact.

For more posts in this series see:

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