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March 12, 2020 / Congau

Social Disruption

A revolution is a brutal intervention in history. Whether it is good or bad, a new spring or an utter disaster, it interferes with what might be called the natural course of events. There is something psychologically disturbing about the active and conscious interference with nature.

Of course, we humans do that all the time and history of mankind is exactly about this interference, but it’s somewhat comforting to think about history as a sequence of rather inevitable events. Sure, it’s about human beings and this species has a peculiar tendency to act willfully and not at all according to pre-programmed instincts. Still, we fall into habits, and on a large scale, groups of people acquire modes of behavior that even extend over generations; that’s what is called a custom.

Customs ensure that we don’t have to think through everything we do and constantly invent new solutions for how we organize society. It’s a substitute for the animal instincts that free will has taken from us. The ants of an ant hill always know what to do; we have created customary ways of behaving that make society, if not an ant hill then at least something that looks like an organic whole.

Then sometimes revolutions occur; the hill receives a kick and the ants swarm out in orphaned confusion. Obviously, the destruction of society, or of anything else for that matter, could never be good in itself. And what is more, unlike ants we wouldn’t immediately resume our activity and build a new structure in the image of the old one.

Any revolution would seem like a break with nature. In fact, every time social decisions are made that don’t appear to follow smoothly from what we are already doing, a somewhat uncomfortable break with our social organism occurs.

Conservatives dread this. They think all our customs are worth preserving. Are they?

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