The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

“You can drive out Nature with a pitchfork, but she keeps on coming back.”

Horace

 

For centuries, philosophers have discerned the hidden structure behind our seemingly chaotic existence. The great Islamic scholar Ibnu Khaldun, for instance, was one of the first thinkers who theorized a pattern in human history. According to him, the cycle of history moves in four generations:

  • The first generation has the burning desire to radically break away from their past. They are the revolutionaries. They discard their old values and establish new ones, even if it means causing some chaos in their process of doing so.

  • The second generation desires some sense of order. The impactful burns of the revolution itself still lingers amongst them, as they had experienced it at an early age. With that, they seek ways to steady the world that they live in by establishing more laws and conventions.

  • The third generation is not as directly related to the revolution’s founders, so they are far less passionate about it. They are not so motivated by ideas, but by more materialistic and individualistic concerns. They are preoccupied with building new things, as they desire to make their own lives as comfortable as possible. In the process of doing so, the spirit of the revolution peters out.

  • The fourth generation tends to be rather cynical. They feel that society has become hollow, and they look for ways to fill this gaping hole in their lives. They start to question the conventions and values that they have long inherited, to the point where they don’t know what to believe in anymore. Eventually, the cycle of history continues, as they demolish the old order, and replace it with something new.

With this theory in mind, a question arises — one that is similarly presented by George Orwell in his classic novella Animal Farm, and that is — Is a true revolution possible?

Perhaps not. Because no matter how large a scale to which a revolution is waged, it is inherently imperfect. There is no perfect philosophy, and no human being is free from mistakes as well as their own dark impulses.

In Russia, the wealthy Tsarist regime was overthrown due to Tsar Nicholas II’s lack of care for his people’s wellbeing. The people were poor and starving, and Nicholas II reacted to these problems mostly by ignoring them — occasionally sending off troops to quell riots. The Bolsheviks seized power, and communism was practiced. Then everyone suffered only in different ways, most notably due to the cruel rule of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. 

In Indonesia, Sukarno famously led his nation towards independence and became their first President. Over time, he was known to be a megalomaniac, as he appointed yes-men as his subordinates, neglected his nation’s economy and education, and made poorly-weighed decisions like launching a military operation against the newly-formed Malaysia, and withdrawing Indonesia from the United Nations. He was eventually usurped by his general, Suharto, who went on to lead the nation’s social and economic reforms. Yet, his downfall was contributed by him being one of the most corrupt leaders in history, having embezzled about 35 billion US dollars during his long presidency. 

In anxious times like these of not knowing what might happen next for my country, I’ve learned not to expect too much, nor to be riled up by any coming news. I’ve turned to the past instead, and from that, I am reminded that life would go on anyway. We’re all somewhere in the cycle of history, as we undergo the same patterns as those before and after us.

Life would still be the same, albeit in a different way. 

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