At that time, it certainly seemed that things had been turned topsy-turvy. There were frequent allusions to the generation gap, the sexual revolution, the decline of the family. Certain previously disenfranchised groups (people of color, women) were gaining a little more power, rights, and respect. Some of the silent people were finding their voices.
Based on my limited memory, the 1973 cultural landscape looked different than it had when I was a young child. So were these changes revolutionary? Today, I don't know how in the world I thought that I was qualified to answer this question - I don't feel qualified to do so now. Keep in mind that in 1973 I was all of 20 years old, and that all I knew was what I had lived - a middle-class middle-sized life in the middle of Kentucky! And yet, I somehow gamely took it on.
My response then, as I recall, was that the changes, while perhaps experienced by individuals as revolutionary, were not evidence of a social revolution. A true revolution involves forcible overthrow of all aspects of an established society or government, and a replacement of what is overthrown with something new and markedly different. Power changes across the board are felt. Decisions are made using significantly different processes. New institutions replace old ones. A revolution, in my mind, is an intentional act, a focused movement resulting in pervasive change. What we were experiencing in 1973 felt more like social evolution, incremental changes within many populations and institutions that led to a sum greater that its parts - but these changes were occurring under the same government operating under the same Constitution.
Believe it or not, nerd that I am, I think about this question often as I watch what is going on around me, locally and globally. I think about it as I read and talk with others about environmental issues - climate change, global warming, sustainability, social justice. It feels like there is an accelerating rate of change on this earth in many areas - in information processing and sharing, in levels of consumption of material goods, in changes to the earth.
Or is it my age, my stage of life, that makes me notice things in this way? I see bubbles of revolutions happening in different parts of the world - think of the spring of 2011 in the Middle East and Africa. But it all also seems gradual and incremental - an overthrow of a government does not result in the immediate establishment of the new government - there is lots to do to get there, if ever, if the old government does not come back and grab power.
In 2008, entrepreneur and environmentalist Paul Hawken wrote Blessed Unrest, his documentation of "the largest social movement in the world." He told stories of how millions of groups of people, from corporations to governments to small NGOs to community groups, were working to address the related issues of environment and social justice. Millions of groups and people across the world, not necessarily connecting with one another in any way, but nevertheless having significant impacts. I think of the recent March on Blair Mountain. Focused change, intentional effort - but not yet revolutionary in a large sense.
Others, like Bill McKibben for example, write about what will happen to the earth and human existence if energy policies, practices, and uses do not change - it is not pretty. Millions of people across the world are trying to do things differently, but the pace of change, of environmental degradation, is so rapid, that it might sometimes feel like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it.
Are revolutionary acts required to mitigate or reverse climate change, to establish fully sustainable living practices that do not compromise the needs of future generations? What would those acts look like? Or will small but significant and cumulative changes make the difference - whether they be moving to local food production and distribution or dealing with corporate financial influence on the political process? Do individual actions matter? Can the small tremors caused by the millions of people involved in "the largest social movement in the world" result in a beneficent cultural earthquake? Evolutionary or revolutionary?
Another question - do hard changes come only when our backs are pushed to the wall? Like, when gas prices rise to $10/gallon - or when clean water is so scarce that communities fight over it. Or can we effect change when our lives are good?
I certainly don't have the answers. But I think about work done by Canadian psychologist Catherine O'Brien in 2008 about sustainability and happiness. She describes two conventional beliefs that present challenges to moving people toward more sustainable living - one, the belief that economic growth is synonymous with happiness and two, that consumption of material goods results in happiness. And I think about how pervasive these beliefs are in our culture and how they influence our daily thoughts and behaviors - mine included.
I don't think there are easy, black or white answers. I'm just thinking out loud and hoping to hear from others.
Oh. The radish. It's from my garden - just a little piece of my own tiny slow evolution - best eaten, according to Steve's mom, with a little butter, coarse salt, and a crusty baguette.