2019 Focus: Rebellion

The American Revolution seems to have turned out pretty well so far. The Russian.... well maybe not so much. The Chinese? Seems like the jury is still out. What accounts for these differences? What inspires a man to take up arms in the first place?

2019 Focus: Rebellion

Truth, Justice, Faith.  That was my original plan.  When I started choosing annual reading themes two years ago, I congratulated myself on my pursuit of this lofty and glorious philosophical trifecta of enlightenment.  How noble!  How wise!

And then Year 1 happened.  For the general theme of "Truth," I narrowed my focus to the "Integrity of Western Science" with a particular interest in the reproducibility crisis and "bad science."  In my professional life, I spend a lot of time thinking about measuring and monitoring the natural environment, so I was excited to learn more about modern climate science/policy controversies too.  And thus began my descent into the dank dungeon of epistemology and the philosophy of science.  It got real heavy, real fast.  And alarmingly, there didn't appear to be a solid bottom.

So Year 1 was intellectually challenging and gave me some new tools for seeing the world, especially the framing of climate policy as a continuation of the classic Malthusian vs. Cornucopian debate.  But was it fun?  Well... a very Type-2 kind of fun.  Good learning, but not so big on the thrills.

For Year 2: Justice, I contemplated with horror the prospect of a year of dusty law books and more piles of dense philosophical tomes.  Thank you, next.  It looked a lot more fun on the dark side.  And thus was born the idea of flipping Justice on its head and doing a year of "Financially-Motivated Crime" instead.  And let me tell you, it was a hell of a ride.  If you want to see where the real heists of the 21st century are taking place, I suggest that you Google "monetizing the state."  And yes, Goldman has an entire group dedicated to this entirely benevolent and above-board provision of liquidity to honest and selfless public officials across the world.

Next up, Faith.  The Year of Crime had re-energized me and I was ready to really buckle down and tackle a survey of world religions and really dig into Biblical hermeneutics.  Just kidding.  Hot off a Year of Crime, I was thirsty for a topic that would accelerate hard enough to, as fighter pilot John Boyd said, "roll my goddam socks down."  

What ideas are you willing to die for?  This question grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go.  It shook me around like a rag doll as I scrambled to find any halfway compelling personal answer.  I terrorized friends, family, and random people sitting next to me on airplanes with pointed questions about the existence of principles they'd lay down their lives for.  "Family" was basically the only thing that people could come up with. And it struck me.  The Western world sucks at this question right now.

I fumbled around trying to find a more focused topic than "ideas people are willing to die for."  I wanted a variety of perspectives from different cultures around the world.  I wanted to analyze success and failures.  I wanted clear examples of people who put it all on the line and didn't back down.  I wanted well-documented, clear statements of their motives.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted a Year of Rebellion.

Because political (and sometimes religious) rebellions are aimed at the state and the state theoretically claims a monopoly on violence, death is almost always involved.  The scale of political rebellions forces individuals to move beyond familial or tribal loyalties and find more general principles to devote themselves to.  And there were plenty of rebellions to choose from.  America has both the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars and a number of quashed rebellions (Wikipedia has a whole page full).  Across the world, nearly every country has had a significant (although not necessarily successful) rebellion in the last 400 years:  Russia, China, Britain, France, Cuba, Iran, Egypt, Haiti, Czechoslovakia, Spain, South Africa, Italy, Ireland - and those are just off the top of my head.  

Not all of these have been the glorious successes that the people were promised.  The American Revolution seems to have turned out pretty well so far.  The Russian.... well maybe not so much.  The Chinese?  Seems like the jury is still out.  What accounts for these differences?  How do the stated goals of the revolutionaries match up with their real-world performance?  How do existing governments prevent rebellions?  How does a revolution that seizes power with a sword make the transition to a government of laws?  What inspires a man to take up arms in the first place?

Buckle up.  We're going to find out.