Tin Revolutionaries

Apropos of the discussion here and here.

If you ever have to rely on the Second Amendment to save you from a tyrannical government, you’ve left things too late. Several decades too late, in fact.

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but the world has changed since the days of the Revolutionary War. Most of these changes are improvements, such as the availability of clean, safe water and the ability to communicate nearly globally nearly instantly. Some changes, like a globalized food chain, are more a matter of cost improvements. Whatever the reason for the changes, they’ve come, and dragging behind them have come the changes in our infrastructure to support them.

Changes, not additions. We’ve dismantled the older, simpler structures that we used to rely on, abandoning redundancy for efficiency. How many people can still draw water from wells if they want to? How many have even a kitchen garden? How much commerce can we still support via unpowered water travel? How many people know what to do about a high fever in the absence of NSAIDs or how to know when a doctor is really needed without referring to the internet or a nurse line?

Not to belittle the sacrifices and hardships of the American revolutionaries, but by virtue of their decentralized infrastructure and economy, they didn’t face the same kind of collapse that we would under a modern armed revolutionary scenario. There was a time when the question of who was in power made so little difference to the average citizen (i.e., peasant) that revolution was a game for only nobles and anyone unlucky enough to be drafted into their armies. That time is no more. Any militia that wanted to overthrow our government by armed force would have to be very well-organized indeed in order to avoid a massive humanitarian catastrophe.

They would need to have a plan in place to keep the water flowing, the lights turned on and supplies coming in from outside. (Napoleon’s problems in Russia were nothing compared to our global, just-in-time supply organization.) They’d also need to be able to communicate that plan convincingly to the rest of the population. If they didn’t, the population would–rightly–view them as nothing more than criminals willing to sacrifice everyone else’s lives to further their own cause. The revolutionaries would very quickly be fighting on two fronts.

In other words, in order to be successful, any revolution would have to be so well-organized as to be the thing it wanted to replace. It would have to be a true revolution of the people, even if it were directed from above.

What would a popular revolution look like? In fact, I’ve seen one take hold during my lifetime. The regressive movement that sought to undo the cultural changes accompanying our switch from an agrarian to an industrial economy and to roll back the economic regulation designed to keep industrialization from reinstituting oligarchy showed the true shape of a modern American revolution. The conservative movement, as they prefer to be known, seized power in this country through the perfectly legal means of making sure they had representatives at every level of government, from schoolteachers to city clerks to the Supreme Court. Nary a gun in sight.

Sure, political and bureaucratic takeover isn’t as sexy as a cold, sleek piece of metal that makes noise and holes, but it’s the reality. Eric Rudolph didn’t change anything for any length of time except his own address. Same with the mountain militias. Same with every idiot who ever shot a government agent performing their duties.

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols did make a difference, but it was only to persuade others to allow more restrictions in movement around and access to government buildings. They ultimately increased the number of people and vehicles subject to government searches. That wasn’t what they were after. That isn’t what anyone who points to the Second Amendment is after.

No, the people who have done the most to fight the tyranny of the U.S. government in my lifetime have used other amendments in their cause. They have spoken. They have assembled. They have reported. They have filed suit over unreasonable search and seizure or over unequal treatment.

More recently, they have staged the beginning of a counter-revolution to remove the regressives from power. Again, it was done without guns. It did, however, provide a glimpse of what the American populace thinks of having its infrastructure and economy threatened. Ask McCain or the wave of retiring Republican representatives about the kind of political support offered to anyone associated with a person or movement responsible for jeopardizing people’s standard of living. They’ll tell you how quickly decades of popularity evaporates and how loudly the hounds bay for blood.

And that’s a lesson to which any would-be revolutionary should pay attention.

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