Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Could the Yukons or anyone like them ever rule America?

In my first sci-fi novel Fitzpatrick's War, the English-speaking world of the 25th century is ruled by a cabal known as the Yukons, who originally came to power in the late 21st century. One of the questions I have been asked by the few people who have read the book is: Could a secretive group like the Yukons ever take over the US or any advanced industrial nation? I have to answer that there is a good reason successful revolutions of any sort have in recent history taken place only in backward nations. (And Russia in 1918 and China in 1948 were decidedly backward, impoverished states.) Actually there two good reasons that come to mind: one, there are no rebellious groups in any advanced nation which have the economic, social, political or cultural independence to overthrow the present order, and--two--despite protestations to the contrary, very few people living in modern industrial states are so estranged from the present civilization they would wish to see it come to an end.
In the heated aftermath of the Los Angeles riots of 1991 I heard some individuals who should have known better claim that this outburst of lawlessness could presage a race war in the U.S. Similar nonsense was said about the white guys in camo who were tramping about the national forests ten years ago and calling themselve militas. Any day now, according to certain voices in the media, we were going to be confronting some type of domestic warriors in a terrible fight for our survival. Now, while certain angry young men can commit individual crimes or acts of terrorism (witness the events in Oklahoma city), they presently lack the means to fight an effective war against the U.S. Army. Today there is no potential rebel group that can feed itself, arm itself, organize itself into a military force, or make its members endure the hardships a revolutionary war would entail. To put down any uprising the government would only have to surround the rebellious area and await the rebels' surrender (or their eventual starvation). For the nation's founders to fight a successful war against the British in 1776 they needed to have most of the southern and western countryside on their side and to have a functioning (if much reduced) economy, to say nothing of foreign assistance. The Confederacy had many of the same advantages in 1861, plus the lion's share of the best military officers, and yet they could fight for only four years. Any present day revolutionaries would have practially nothing working in their favor other than their anger.
The late Abbie Hoffman said many foolish things in his lifetime, but one thing he said that was true was: "To be a revolutionary in America is like being a wallflower at an orgy." The truth is, as much as some Americans claim to dislike their homeland and the modern world in general, they in fact love the personal freedom, the wealth, the social and physical mobility, and even the constant entertainments one enjoys here. They are not going to give up McDonalds and porn on the internet to go live in a cave where they can feast upon tree roots and ideology. Try to imagine your neighbor or the chap in the office cubicle next to you going off to fight in the wilderness, and you will see what a ridiculous notion an uprising in modern America would be. Even the angry people who immigrate here are usually quickly seduced by the easy life we have, and they are not going to throw that life away.
So, I would have to say, no, the Yukons are not currently a possibility. While I do think we will see a rise in secrect societies in our near future (during chaotic times, people find comfort in such groups; witness the mystery cults of the Hellanistic and late Roman eras, and the secret societies of the Italian Renaissance), but for one of these societies to come to power, the government would have to become much weaker than it presently is and the people much poorer. Such a group would also have to become a nation unto itself and able to tend for itself in every way. My imaginary Yukons do that, but it takes them three generations to become that strong, and they are the benefactors of a number of technological discoveries a real group would probably never have.


Chuang Shyue Chou said...

Hello there,

I would just like to tell you that I found 'Fitzpatrick's War' to be a compelling read.

And I had read your second novel 'The Martian General's Daughter' too.

Yes, I read Greek and Roman history and your novels do resound in a sense.

For a blog to be successful, it is not merely content apparently, one needs to self-promote, exchange links and so forth. Belonging to a SF writers' cabal can assist too.

R. C. A. O'Neal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R. C. A. O'Neal said...

You assume that revolution must be undertaken by way of violence, but having witnessed this year's non-violent revolution in Egypt first hand, I know that this does not have to be the case. The necessary ingredients for such a revolution include a high rate of joblessness coupled with a high rate of education, a general belief in the illegitimacy of the government, and a lack of willingness on the part of police and military to fire on their own people. Of course, being a small country helps. In Europe many people are afraid of the rise of racist organisations, such as the BNP. Fortunately, as was the case with the BNP, the policies that these organisations promote are so radical that they serve only to alienate themselves.

In the United States, being the empire that it is, it would be much more difficult to coordinate a massive revolution. However, I suspect that if basic utilities, particularly media, were to break down, as could happen if the country fails to prepare properly for the end oil, the union could collapse, resulting in factional violence.