Acknowledging the cyclicality of revolution is difficult for me. For this means that just like the change of seasons, the rotation of planets, and the orbiting of electrons around the nucleus, that the suffering and uprising are understood as constant, never-ending, and naturally occurring phenomena. Examples of this include how scholars and historians refer to civil crisis and uproar and the Middle East as the Arab Spring. Likewise, Thomas Jefferson proclaims that the “natural manure” of “the tree of liberty… is the blood of patriots and tyrants” (Lapham, “Crowd Control,” 18).
The circularity that appears in visualizing revolution similarly troubles me. For an object’s 360 degrees (2π radian) orbit around an object(ive) is nothing but a restoration of an initial state, of pre-revolution status. Thinking about revolution as something that takes us precisely where to the beginning we attempt to change leads all the pain, suffering, work and anguish of billions appear futile. The continuous occurrence of revolutions makes it even more difficult to bear the histories and contemporary realities of revolutions without appealing to an existential and hopeless line of reasoning.
What has helped decrease the distress I felt in trying to reason with these two features is discerning the difference between a rotation and a revolution. As Matt Jones puts it:
“A rotation is an object that’s turning around its own axis… A term that might simplify that is: ‘spin’… Revolution is a little different… Revolution is an object turning around another object, [also called] an external axis… So another word for that would be an ‘orbit’. “
Subscribing to this philosophy allowed me to map out distinctions between the two processes. The first being that, while the displacement of an object undergoing either phenomenon is always zero, it is only the object which revolves that travels distance. The second distinction was that the revolving object, unlike the rotating object, does not simply revolve due to its inertia after the collapsing of a nebula (a.k.a: the Big Bang) (Spitler; Cain). The revolving object experiences a pulling force from the other, “causing it to travel around the [other object], in a shape very near to a circle” (Jordan). “If the Sun weren’t there, the Earth would travel in a straight line” (Jordan). Thus, it can be argued that a rotation occurs as a result of lack of force while revolution occurs as a result of an experienced force of attraction.
In evaluating different instances of revolution, I have deduced that this force can be characterized by a rejection of, or at a minimum a lack of complacency with, current paradigms. The following is a brief list of examples that allowed me to reach this conclusion:
- With the case of “socialist revolutionary” Karl Marx came the rejection of bourgeois rule (Marxists.org).
- With John Locke came the rejection of the religious and familial model of politics and society.
- For Jean le Rond d’Alembert and Denis Diderot, they were unsatisfied with the scattered and abstract epistemology of 1600s France.
- Similarly, Voltaire was driven by his rejection of 18th century French philosophy, such as Leibnizian optimism.
These examples have illustrated to me that for revolution to occur, then the people(s) involved must say ‘No.’ to some constant gradient/trajectory of motion, some dominant way of life. And if this is correct, that a revolution is characterized by a rejection of current paradigms, then the force which drives revolution must therefore be an attraction force towards a new or updated paradigm. What is interesting about having initially broken down ‘revolution’ in a physical sense is that it reveals how the revolving object never reaches the entity which it is attracted to, the object(ive) which it aspires. The revolving object, rather than staying on its’ linear trajectory of motion, or moving in a straight line towards the other object, simply orients itself to move around the desired object(ive). This is seen in how the Earth never actually arrives at the sun’s surface, but instead orbits around it. I use this logic to map out how we never truly arrive to a new paradigm, and yet we simultaneously are always gravitating towards the goal of attaining a new paradigm. This is revolution.
As we revolve and gravitate towards a new mode of thought, we witness changes in our day to day lives; whether that be a change in political structure, in what we know about certain things, or how we behave and treat each other. This process, like the ~365 days which the Earth expends to travel once around the Sun, is lengthy. And so, we could conclude that the Earth’s revolution is pretty similar to ours: the only difference being that the Earth does not hurt, bleed, or die as it spins…