How can I stop worrying about the revolution?
June 4, 2012 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Part of my family was butchered by communists in their country of origin. How do I keep from worrying about civil unrest in America, particularly over economic inequality? How valid are these fears?

My family fled to America to escape a communist "revolution." The family members who stayed behind because they didn't want to lose our family home were largely killed when they tried to resist its seizure. The only exceptions were members who went over to the other side to avoid being killed. While I am not personally old enough to remember the conflict, I have grown up hearing stories of bodies on the steps of the family home. My grandmother is getting old now, and sometimes she forgets where she is and thinks she is back there and starts screaming in fear.

It took a while, but eventually my family started doing relatively well here, and now I have a family of my own to worry about. Our combined household income is enough to let us live comfortably, though I definitely remember what it was to grow up poor. Things were great, and I didn't worry too much - until last year, when the Occupy Wall Street movement started gaining steam and London burned.

Particularly with these violent clashes, I have found myself getting more on edge with every time I open the newspapers. When I read editorials in multiple newspapers talking about inequality, I get worried, because my family has told me that this was the atmosphere that led to the revolution. I didn't use to worry about this happening in America - I thought it could never happen here - but I also would never have imagined anything could happen in London, and the rioting and burning there took multiple days to quell. Greece is also out of control.

This is only exacerbated by how my friends talk about this. I identify as largely politically liberal on social issues, so most of my friends are politically liberal overall. I have a lot of friends who are anarchists or socialists. We've managed to avoid economic subjects for a long time, but with the recent rise to prominence of these conversations, they can't seem to contain themselves anymore. They tend to talk with a lot of glee about how "if the Republicans don't give, there will be blood in the streets." Or, "If the rich don't give in to taxation, the people will force them to give." I don't think they know how much it upsets me - they have never had to experience this kind of thing, so I think that this is more rhetoric than anything else - but it makes me wonder if this is in fact likely when even relatively well-off people are talking about it as a possibility. When I try to mention my circumstances to my friends to explain my fears and why I don't like talking about this, they often say that my family deserved it, because they were wealthy in a poor country.

So, my questions are multiple:

How likely is it that civil unrest, riots, etc, will come to places in America if the economy worsens?

How likely is it that people would be forced to give up savings and/or property?

If it is not likely, how can I keep from freaking out about it when I look at the political events of the day?

Is there a way to explain how I feel to my friends without them immediately jumping to blaming my family for former wealth?

Please note: I am not interested in hearing opinions on whether economic inequality is right or wrong. I understand this is likely to be a hot-button issue for many people. I assure you, I have heard enough for several lifetimes of that.
posted by corb to Human Relations (61 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
We can't even muster an effective union movement in this country; a real revolution or organized civil unrest is highly unlikely.
posted by yarly at 6:28 AM on June 4, 2012 [38 favorites]


Is there a way to explain how I feel to my friends without them immediately jumping to blaming my family for former wealth?

Are you sure your friends would do this? If so, they sound, well, like people one might not want to be friends with, regardless of the former economic status of one's family.
posted by Maisie at 6:29 AM on June 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


Hello. My great-grandmother left Russia after her brothers were killed in front of her while she hid in a haystack during a pogrom. Also, my family is Jewish, so I think I can relate your your paranoia. Terrible things have happened to my people and I don't entirely trust anyone or anything.

Here's how I deal with it.

1. Have enough money to get out of dodge if you need to. Canada is close and they seem pretty sane there.

2. Stop watching the news, especially Fox. Don't read papers, or websites. Go on a news diet. Allow yourself as much NPR as you can get during your commute. That's it.

3. I doubt very seriously that anyone is organized enough to pull off an armed rebellion in the US. Think about it, can your Anarchist/Socialist friends even come to dinner on time? No.

4. The riots in London didn't really have anything to do with anything. That was a bunch of kids acting out. It wasn't all underclass kids, it was also privilaged kids who wanted to smash windows and steal shoes.

5. Greece. That is years and years and years of corruption and graft. While our government isn't perfect, we're just not that corrupt.

I may be naive, and if so, YAY ME, but we had riots in the sixties, when there were truly things to riot about, and while it shook us up, it didn't affect me personally. Sometimes you need to remember that.

As for addressing your friends, you need to be able to discuss your anxiety with them, and they should respect your feelings. If either of these things seems improbable, then find some new friends.

You may also want to consider some counseling, what you are describing is catastrophising and it's a sign of anxiety and/or depression. While events may be unsettling, if they are not happening to you personally, you should not be this distraught about them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:34 AM on June 4, 2012 [25 favorites]


They tend to talk with a lot of glee about how "if the Republicans don't give, there will be blood in the streets."

Very calmly and quietly: "I know that a lot of this is hyperbolic or metaphorical, but during the communist revolution in Russia, my family members were murdered, violently, as were many other families and many innocent children. I find the off-hand delight at the idea of violence appalling. I'd rather support equality and change to economic circumstances without advocating violence. I don't think you can have any idea how upsetting I find your casual bloodthirstiness."

If the dickery continues: "You say that the 1% haven't learned from the past and are doomed to repeat it, but you're the one standing here advocating repeating a violent and bloody past."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:35 AM on June 4, 2012 [49 favorites]


How likely is it that civil unrest, riots, etc, will come to places in America if the economy worsens?

This happens every once in a while, but it's usually isolated.

How likely is it that people would be forced to give up savings and/or property?

This is extremely unilkely. When Americans talk about redistribution of wealth, we're usually having a conversation about how much to tax the wealthy, not whether or not we should sieze all their assets. Things would have to be much, much, much worse before this idea would even begin to get tossed around, let alone acted on.

If it is not likely, how can I keep from freaking out about it when I look at the political events of the day? If you're having this much anxiety every time you turn on the news you might want to talk to a professional.

Is there a way to explain how I feel to my friends without them immediately jumping to blaming my family for former wealth?


You're in America. Communists aren't all that popular. Never have been. And just about everyone who immigrated to America (with the exception of Native Americans and African Americans) ended up here because someone in their family was fleeing persection of some kind. I wouldn't worry about being judged too much.
posted by dortmunder at 6:38 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


If your knowledge of your family's dark story is based mostly on your grandmother's traumatized recollections, you might benefit by learning more about the associated political and economic history from objective, academic sources. Your friends who are telling you that your family deserved what it got are spouting stupidity out of ignorance, but maybe that's especially frustrating because you don't know enough to set them straight? My guess is that those situations were very different, in ways you can learn more about, from what's going on in America right now.
posted by jon1270 at 6:38 AM on June 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


...I don't think that any one country is more exempt from civil unrest than any other country; anywhere where people are pushed too far, something snaps.

The thing is, though, is the United States is really freakin' big, and so here, that kind of civil unrest often ends up being isolated incidents just from sheer scale (if you're in Greeced, a riot at the opposite end of the country is at most only a few hours' drive away, whereas if you're in the U.S., a riot at the opposite end of the country is several days drive away). It would be really, really hard to have the kind of mass outbreak of violence leading to a totalitarian overthrow of the government of the sort that affected your family; at least, not without several other earlier such isolated incidents. So I understand that the news may be distressing, particularly given your family's history - but it's far too soon to worry about the kind of thing happening here. When the news starts talking about isolated riots cropping up every other week in various cities across the country, then I'd start worrying, but I strongly doubt we'd get to that point.

More likely, the worst-case scenario is much like what happened in the 60's with the protests againts the Vietnam War -- a number of protest marches, some of which were squelched by police and armed forces; a couple riots in the poorer parts of two cities, that don't spread outside those cities; and that's it.

I also think your friends' reaction to your fears is a separate issue entirely - and that issue is that your friends are being VERY insensitive. No one "asks for" being killed, no matter what the circumstances. Tell them to get stuffed. In fact, you can also tell them I told them to get stuffed (not that they'll care too much what a stranger on the Internet thinks, but that's how mad I am on your behalf).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:38 AM on June 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


When I try to mention my circumstances to my friends to explain my fears and why I don't like talking about this, they often say that my family deserved it, because they were wealthy in a poor country.

First, a hug for the general insensitivity and ignorance that has isolated you in this context.

Second, I found that when I was getting overwrought about 'doom and gloom' about 5 years ago, reading practical help - like Dmitri Orlov's Collapse 'how to guide' was a useful 'worst case scenario' exercise - look at each issue and pragmatically think about how well you and and your family are situated to deal with each of these.

While your 'friends' might consider it foolish, there's no need to share this with them and open yourself to further ignorant ridicule. I have a friend who escaped with the shirt on his back in a revolution during his early teens and this is exactly how he has mentally prepared himself to take care of his family (4 kids and wife). By thinking through each thing as a thought exercise and evaluating how well prepared they are.
posted by infini at 7:03 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I try to mention my circumstances to my friends to explain my fears and why I don't like talking about this, they often say that my family deserved it, because they were wealthy in a poor country.

I would consider getting new friends.
posted by callmejay at 7:05 AM on June 4, 2012 [21 favorites]


What you need are some new friends. Really.

This: When I try to mention my circumstances to my friends to explain my fears and why I don't like talking about this, they often say that my family deserved it, because they were wealthy in a poor country is WILDLY UNACCEPTABLE, stupid, and rude; is not how civilized people speak; is a display of grunting ignorance; and is DEFINITELY not how friends should talk to each other.

I completely understand where you're coming from. My own family comes from Europe; the ones who didn't get out in time were murdered en masse. (As a result, I freak out a bit at right-wing rhetoric from Republicans rather than at anything from the left; but it's all the same thing, really.) I would not, for one moment, spend time with anyone who suggested that the murders were justified somehow. You shouldn't either.

And no, you do not need to worry about violent redistribution of wealth in the United States. Never going to happen.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:05 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


...to elaborate, I'm on the liberal side of the Democratic Party and I've never heard ANYBODY in real life say something so offensive.
posted by callmejay at 7:07 AM on June 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


How likely is it that civil unrest, riots, etc, will come to places in America if the economy worsens?

We can't know that, not really. There are a lot of variables, and a lot of them are fairly low-probability events. Also keep in mind that there are a lot of examples of communities pulling together in troubled times, to counterbalance the examples of communities tearing apart. Keep in mind, too, that just because there is civil unrest somewhere, that doesn't mean it will be at your own doorstep.

How likely is it that people would be forced to give up savings and/or property?

Again, we can't know this. I'd venture that this would probably end up being less likely than widespread civil unrest.

If it is not likely, how can I keep from freaking out about it when I look at the political events of the day?

You take a deep breath, say a prayer or do a little meditation to check in with your body. You notice that your needs are met -- right now, and in the immediate future: your body is intact and not under threat, you have oxygen, you have water, you have food, shelter, people to care for you, intellectual stimulation, more-or-less-meaningful labor. Express gratitude for those things however you can see fit to do so.

Consider that you may have some anxiety just free-floating around as a feeling, and that your brain is trying to explain this feeling. But maybe it's just a feeling. You have anxiety. Things are bad out there and you have anxiety. Your needs are met and you have anxiety. It's raining and you have anxiety. Who knows why you have anxiety? Ultimately maybe you just have it and that's okay, you can just let it be a feeling that you have sometimes.

You can also try weaning yourself off of the news as much. My own anxiety got a lot better after I stopped waking up to NPR.

You might also find some comfort in preparing, either mentally or even physically, for some situations of unrest. There are books on disaster preparedness that can help you think through some of these things, and maybe you can rest easier knowing that you've taken some precautions for the things you could imagine happening, and that there will always be things you didn't foresee but you'll handle them as they come up.

Is there a way to explain how I feel to my friends without them immediately jumping to blaming my family for former wealth?

If you are friends with people who are at all decent, who at all have your health and well-being in mind, you should be able to just say to them something like: "I have anxiety about civil unrest. My family were persecuted and killed in the old country during civil unrest, and I'm worried about it happening here."

Whether your family had wealth and privilege, a hundred years ago and five thousand miles away, has nothing whatsoever to do with how people who care about you will respond when you tell them you are anxious about something that could (remotely) happen to you in the near future. Anybody who blames you or tries to exploit your guilt around that is a bad person and no real friend.

Consider, too, that sometimes immigrants who had wealth and privilege and status in the Old Country hold onto their beliefs about wealth and privilege and status even when they are being shuffled into the ordinary mix of people in America. My own family still talk, occasionally, about having been papal nobility and very well-to-do back in Italy, even though over here we are mostly tradespeople. Maybe her beliefs are a part of who your Grandmother was and she needed to hold onto them for her own feelings of safety. Maybe she needed to believe that she was better than the peasants who killed her family, and she's held onto that belief and even passed it on, and a part of that belief is that anyone who's outside of the family kind of like one of those peasants who might turn on you at any time. And maybe that got taught to your parents, and to you.

Please note: I'm not at all judging your grandmother -- I too would in all likelihood have some prejudice around people, and probably around classes of people, who slaughtered my own family. But, while those beliefs served your grandmother, they might be getting in the way of helping you to express your anxiety in a way that helps you. And it can feel disloyal to the lessons of your childhood to ignore those lessons.
posted by gauche at 7:08 AM on June 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


Don't hang out with assholes who think your family deserved to be brutally murdered. And work for social justice on your own terms; if you are known as an advocate for those without privilege, you'll be safe in almost any context.
posted by anildash at 7:08 AM on June 4, 2012 [14 favorites]


Obviously, you can't predict the future, but we've had all of one large-scale armed insurrection in the entire history of the country. Even during the Great Depression, there were a few incidents of civil unrest, but no mass armed movement, in terms of inequality. Even during the Civil Rights movement and the 1960s when the country was truly divided and there were riots and fighting in the streets, there wasn't an armed, mass movement to overthrow the government.

The upside to the terror and cowardice our politicians display every day is the very instant the popular "uprising" gains enough voting power that they may lose their campaign funds and job, the politicians will start voting the "uprising's" way.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:10 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


How likely is it that civil unrest, riots, etc, will come to places in America if the economy worsens?

Fairly likely, IMHO. The 1968 riots did a huge amount of damage. It's not out of range for the USA, and it is well within range of possibility and consistent with the last century of activism (see the Haymarket Riots, union protests from the 19th and early 20th century, Bonus Army, etc.)

How likely is it that people would be forced to give up savings and/or property?

About zero, particularly given that you don't seem to be particularly wealthy or well off. What will basically happen, if you look at the pattern, is that the authorities will start shooting at rioters, and the rioters will be blamed.

The biggest risk, I think, is for those who make their living in the financial industry, because it is possible (though unlikely) that political events will result in a push to force a massive shrinkage of the financial sector as a percentage of the overall economy. If you work for a hedge fund, the proprietary trading desk of an investment bank, or a private equity firm, there is a small possibility that the methods through which you make a living will no longer be a viable business model in the USA, but that's really the "most extreme" possible scenario.
posted by deanc at 7:15 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


How likely is it that civil unrest, riots, etc, will come to places in America if the economy worsens?

A little bit, but probably not on the scale that you're worried about. The worst that happened during the Great Depression, which was a much less stable period in US history across the board, was a little bit of embarrassing and not terribly un-civil protest in the form of squatters' camps on the Washington Mall. And even there, I don't think things got violent to the point of large scale death.

Keep in mind that the shootings at Kent State in the 70's absolutely shocked Americans, and that's the sort of civil unrest and violence that happens every day in the developing world. We're not a country of violent mobs and general civil unrest, at least not over the last century or more. (The fights between union organizers/workers and the authorities at the turn of the last century were pretty violent, but that's a long time ago and a very different context.)

How likely is it that people would be forced to give up savings and/or property?

Unprecedented. I just can't see that ever happening here.

If it is not likely, how can I keep from freaking out about it when I look at the political events of the day?

Therapy. You don't say in your question whether the events you describe happened in your own lifetime, or to people who are still alive for you to be close to. But regardless of that, it's a lot to carry around with you.

Is there a way to explain how I feel to my friends without them immediately jumping to blaming my family for former wealth?

What does this have to do with anything? I can't think of anyone in the mainstream capitalist US who would say, "well it was your family's fault, they should have just surrendered their property to the government like good communists." I suppose it's possible that you're talking about a minority ethnic group or community of recent immigrants who are still dealing with the fallout of that time, in which case I really think therapy would help a lot with this.

In general, if a friend told me that she was having these worries, I would think she either didn't have a good understanding of American culture and history, or was potentially a little mentally unstable*. I would probably not jump to the idea that her family deserved what happened to them, or whatever you're implying here.

*Which isn't a slight against you. It's just... the most likely reality for someone who worries every day that the government is going to seize the contents their savings account. Sorry if this offends? But seriously, therapy.
posted by Sara C. at 7:21 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


There have been outbreaks of violence in the States, sure - L.A. in the 90's, Newark in the 70's.. Seattle with the WTO protests.. there are always going to be flare ups for one reason or another.

Also, there are your KKK / white supremacist miltias, your doomsday militias, your cults (Waco), anti-government groups, and so on.

Sure - paints a pretty depressing picture.

But - culturally, I don't think it is possible to create a large enough movement, with an armed militia and political backing to take over the government or bring it down directly without a severe patriotic reaction that would counter it and bring it to a halt.

Americans aren't really all that political or patriotic - except when something big happens. The two biggest social movements in the past few years would be, for me, the Tea PArty and OWS movements. The Tea Party you can see making political inroads - that is its focus. I would think it would rapidly loose support if it turned to outright violence or suppression. OWS is built upon people protesting their frustrations without any clear political movement - and it remains disorganized and ineffective on a grand scale. When you have that many people who are taking actions and it STILL doesn't really register on the country's newsworthiness scale, or make any significant impact (in a relative sense) I think you can use that as an example that even with concerted effort, it is very difficult to turn the battleship that is America into a banana republic run by the likes of Stalin or Pol Pot.

Ghostride The Whip's points on other major movements are good as well.

Again - I think it is cultural. Russia, South America, China, Africa, Europe - all have history of monarchies, fuedalism, dictatorships, or other forms of a populace submitting to powerful rulers/conquerors, and people holding fierce alliegence to a group or movement.

For better or for worse, Americans are rather selfish, lazy and blase on that front, and at the end of the day, I think they'd align with "Don't Tread on Me" (NIMBY!) much more rapidly than some shared movement of violence of subjugation.
posted by rich at 7:23 AM on June 4, 2012


Okay, I can tell you something from within the radical left, based in many years of experience:

No matter what Fox says or how the media tries to spin it, there is absolutely zero fucking traction on the left for mass violence against people. Some activists may tussle with cops, some windows may get broken, people could conceivably get into fistfights...but there is a very, very substantial consensus that you don't hurt people. That is, there is a really bright line between "I would be comfortable breaking a Starbucks window under the right circumstances" and "I would be comfortable beating a Starbucks executive in the street for being a capitalist running dog".

The left here has plenty of problems about not being effectively anti-racist, but we are not a movement whose solidarity is built on white racism or anti-semitism. (Although I would argue that some union movements in the US in the past have been.) So there really isn't the emotional impulse to, like, blame all our problems on immigrants/ POC/the Other.

The left here was also mostly formed in response to or in criticism of state communism. Sometimes that is wishy-washy liberalism that thinks capitalism can be reformed. Sometimes it's anarchism, which is organized specifically against the mass violence and authoritarianism of state communism precisely because a lot of anarchists got it in the neck too. Not to say that we are all awesome, but the idea that it is effective to hurt a lot of people is pretty much dead in the water.

Also, we are not armed and it's extremely unlikely that we will ever be armed effectively enough to be an armed resistance - weapons technology has changed so much even in the past 20 years. That's even if there were ideological traction, which there isn't.

What I'm saying is that political conditions would have to change massively in this country for there to be large-scale violence. And I would expect that violence not to be between the left and right but to be either between factions of the right and center, struggling for power, or by the government (whether Democrat or Republican) against some useful internal enemy.

It might reassure you to read a little bit about the history of radical activism in the United States - I think you'll quickly see that mass violence or violence against random strangers just doesn't have political traction. People do not generally want to commit it, it does not win over converts - even a Red Army Fraction-type scenario would not play very well here. That's not to say that there has never been political violence by the left, but the Weather Underground, for example, wasn't a patch on the Red Brigades.

My personal opinion? With the exception of Eastern Europe under the Soviet Union (when the USSR itself could come in and impose political violence just as the Nazis could), you get serious political violence by non-state actors when serious political violence is used against the populace. You didn't get the Red Brigades until you had the corrupt, violent, disgusting Italian government of the 60s and 70s; you get Mao after you've had the monstrous Nationalist government, the trauma of the war with Japan and the civil war. The best guarantor of minimal violence and political suffering is when there are not conditions of violence, poverty and inequality imposed by the state and the elites.

In short, don't worry about Occupy. Really, don't. I know plenty of those people. In general, we would be appalled and saddened by your family's history, no matter what we thought about your family's wealth.
posted by Frowner at 7:27 AM on June 4, 2012 [28 favorites]


Oh, and chiming in about your friends: I used to be a hard core black bloc anarchist who entertained the notion of violent revolution, and I still never heard anybody say anything as awful as what your friends have been saying to you. You need new friends.
posted by Sara C. at 7:30 AM on June 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'll add a couple things: first of all, it's sort of uncouth to maintain nostalgia for how prosperous your family was in the "old country", especially if you're in the USA working the same middle class job that everyone is working in. It comes across as sending off a vibe is, "sure, we might do the same work, but I'm better than you." Next, the relatives who experienced that unrest and dispossession directly are always going to be a bit paranoid about it happening again, even if such concern is unwarranted.

Next, the economic dynamics of our economy vs. the economies that suffered communist revolutions were quite different-- ownership of land meant a lot more there and then than it does here and now. No matter who angry and radical some violent anarchists are, they have absolutely no interest in dispossessing a Wall Street executive of his vacation home in Vail. We're not dealing with the inherent tensions of a peasant/sharecropper economy vs. landlords. We're dealing with the reality of regulatory capture, corruption of our political process due to concentration of wealth, economic disruptions due to speculation, etc. It's hyper-simplistic to say, "this is just like when the Communists took over!"
posted by deanc at 7:32 AM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, you might find it reassuring to read some histories of indigenous resistance movements or radical activism in Latin and South America. I'd say those are far better parallels with the US, or far better aspirations for US radicals - and even under an authoritarian like Chavez, no matter how the elites whine and complain they still, like, own most of the TV stations and have lots of money.

But my point is in Mexican and South American history there have been many, many instances of contentious, occasionally violent but basically acceptable acts of radical transformation.

I would argue that state communism as it appeared in Eastern Europe, China, Korea and Vietnam was very much a response to internal conditions (very poor countries ruled by corrupt elites, in the aftermath of war and famine).

Seriously, the best guard against an army of angry, starving peasants headed by the red flag is to keep the peasants from starving and getting screwed by the state - that's why Mao was an effective organizer, because he worked with the peasants and saw how they were being brutalized and starved. Would you feel better if you were able to take some concrete political steps to forward stability? Maybe get involved in local reform efforts?
posted by Frowner at 7:36 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, I know I keep commenting....but the acts of mass violence in US history are mostly by white folks against people of color - race riots like the Tulsa riot. Mass violence in the US has historically been a tool of the populist right, not the left, and it's been in the service of maintaining economic inequality by creating white racist solidarity. In this country, mass political violence has been mostly slavery, reconstruction, relocation of indigenous peoples (which was horrendously violent, even here in Minnesota where it was mostly nominally "peaceful"), race riots, incarceration of Japanese Americans...This may seem like a funny answer to your question, but I think it's worthwhile to be aware of how mass violence has played out in the US.

(Also some violence against union organizers - IWWs getting lynched, strikers getting shot - but that happened plenty in E Europe before communism as well, so it's not unique.)
posted by Frowner at 7:42 AM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


How likely is it that people would be forced to give up savings and/or property?

the adequacy of FDIC's financial backing has come into question

More likely than seizure is the bank holding your savings fails and legislators upset with the cost of the last several years' bailouts and the rise in the federal budget deficit will refuse to bail out the FDIC or require that it pay cents on the dollar. That, or inflate the dollar to do the same thing. Not very likely, but slightly more likely than seizure.
posted by morganw at 7:57 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


During the LA Riots, plenty of small shop owners saw their livilihood destroyed (except for those with guns) but they were nearly all insured. i don't recall any homes being looted, but cars were certainly torched. Once again, insured. The US legal system is not perfect, but I think that even in the rare event of wide-spread civil unrest, the injured would be able to seeks justice and recompense through that system--too many people work in this system for it to just crumble away. Millions of people would have to be enlisted in the cause for the entire legal system to be dismantled, even by force.
My former BIL is Cuban, and he certain recalls the day his family business and home was confiscated. And while this is not a popular suggestion, many, many people have guns in the US.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:04 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


If it is not likely, how can I keep from freaking out about it when I look at the political events of the day?

It's pretty hard not to freak out when you look at the news. A lot of it sounds catastrophic to some extent. I am guessing you've isolated a particular worry-- and one that objectively is pretty far down the list-- because it feels personal to you. And why not? The reality is your family members were displaced or killed within recent memory. But if, say, you think about an earthquake happening, even if you fear it you probably don't think of it as aimed specifically at you. The worry about political upheaval is more personal, intimate and intense. I don't think you can really stop that feeling altogether but you can keep telling yourself that even if happened, it wouldn't be your fault or a deserved punishment.

Your friends are being jerks and they're feeding into this idea of catastrophe being personal, even an earned punishment. For sure, people do a certain amount of invidious comparing. My in-laws who were thrown out of Eastern Europe have always talked about the circumstances in which it happened and in their minds some circumstances seem to be better/more honorable than others. But the kind of talk your friends are engaging in is really pretty stupid and I would think about finding new friends. If you must remain friends with those people, I'd try turning the conversation around on them, like by asking them how their families came to the US (assuming that they came to the US). Or ask them, out of all the people displaced by war in the last century to list the ones that "deserved" it. I don't think you could prolong that conversation very far without exposing vast areas of thoughtlessness on their parts.
posted by BibiRose at 8:17 AM on June 4, 2012


Okay, mefi rote answer - have you thought about therapy? It's got to be pretty traumatic growing up in a family driven out of their country by violence, even if that was in your grandparents' generation, and it's obviously affecting you out of all relation to real political chances. And hearing your grandmother screaming in fear - that's got to be awful. Really horrible.

If therapy isn't realistic for you, I'm sure that mefites could recommend many useful books about dealing with trauma. Also, journalling is something I've found far more helpful than I thought it would be - it helped me to unpick a bunch of intertwined feelings. (I'm sure your feelings about this are much stronger precisely because it is so hard to hear your family's terrible memories and to hear your grandmother afraid - even if there isn't any immediate risk to you, it must bring up incredibly strong feelings.)

As far as your friends go - you might usefully remind the anarchists about Kronstadt, or about Emma Goldman's and Alexander Berkman's experiences in the USSR. Or heck, about how labor organizers get treated in China. Everyone always thinks it will be other people's blood flowing like borscht in the streets, but it so seldom works out that way.

I bet your friends feel embarrassed about their comments when you bring up your family's history and then they get defensive and stupid.
posted by Frowner at 8:21 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Frowner makes good points.

There won't be a revolution of any kind, at least for a long-ass time. Most of the "kill the rich" types of revolutions have been with the support of and encouragement of larger more powerful countries.

There is a sort of romanticizing of the idea of revolution in the US subconscious because that's how our country came to be. Lots of people talk a big game about it, the anarchists on the left, the gun nuts on the right, but these are small minorities of the overall populace, and the ones who have the means and motivation to actually try to start such a revolution will be quashed by the vast majorities who don't want any such thing.

Also, your "friends" are dicks.

(And I'm not trying to de-legitimize your fears, because I get the same creeping willies whenever I see people talking about revolution. Again, whether it is the right wing "take our country back" kind of talk, or the left wing "take our money back" bluster. They might just be doing it for the lulz, but over time it *could* develop into more. Over generations, I fear that the population will be more distanced from the pains of revolution, and conditioned to think in a revolutionary way. In short, the more we convince ourselves that forcibly taking things from "the bad guys" is the way to solve problems, the more likely someone is to start doing it.)
posted by gjc at 8:23 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


And honestly, you have a gift to offer radicals of a younger generation. As poisonous as the anti-communist rhetoric was in the US during the Cold War, people grew up with some knowledge of how bad mass political violence was. I think the younger generation has maybe not learned some of that. You are someone who is living proof that mass political violence is destructive in its time and long after, no matter who perpetrates it.
posted by Frowner at 8:26 AM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


i'll leave the likelihood of a US revolution to people who know more about it. I personally think it's very low-to-nonexistent even now, for the same reasons given by others. A London perspective -

1 - don't use the 2011 riots as a data point in whatever calculus you're undertaking. There was almost zero political involvement; individuals and informal social groups (and, to be fair, the police) were involved in the genesis of the problem in Tottenham, which had specific personal and historical conditions. Subsequently, a larger number of people became locally involved as happens when your local town centre is full of police and individuals throwing things at each other. The city-wide (not everywhere by any means, but dispersed enough to cover the city diameter) outbreaks of arson and looting were driven primarily by the recognition that if you really push a non-military police force into dealing with multiple incidents, it runs out of manpower. Consequently, it became apparent over 24 hours that you could literally walk into a shop and take things, and noone would usually be there to stop you. The rioting was not, categorically not, a political response to inequality or injustice by day 2.

2 - Geography matters, and the history of uprising in the US is local. Further, the places involved were known to be potentially problematic to residents and civil authorities for many previous years. If you live in a dense urban environment where there (not causal, symptomatic) is significant unrest, unemployment, casual property crime or homelessness, where movement from one complex of buildings to another is relatively easy on foot, and if you have significant financial investment in a physical property in such an area (either a home or a business) you might want to think about checking your insurance levels, and making sure your fire suppression and emergency exits work. This is just good practice, not a response to a worsening societal crisis.

The American suburbs and the country are not well-suited to rioting on foot or bicycle, and rioting is not effectively carried out from a car.
posted by cromagnon at 8:29 AM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just popping in to clarify (though thanks for so many well thought out responses)

We're talking about Central/South American revolution here. My branch of the family got out ahead of the violence, taking in a few stragglers who left mid-ways. I was alive during the time some of my family was being killed, though I didn't personally experience it. It's also one thing that makes it harder - it's a very romanticized revolution. While there's definitely a lot of conflict in the super-minority ethnic community (we're talking, like, "Your father killed my uncle" type stuff), I don't hang out there, so I don't hear it there. Just mostly from leftists. Nostalgia isn't "A hundred years ago, our family was kings!" But more like, "The home I grew up in was ransacked and ruined, and we barely got out alive."

I do suffer from PTSD, which I'm in therapy for, which does make this anxiety worse. It's one of the reasons why I want to know how much of my fear is valid.

I do engage in social justice type work, which is honestly where a lot of my conflict comes from - friends who I'm used to working together for change with, now saying things like, "Haha, you counter-revolutionary, you're going to be first against the wall when the revolution comes THIS IS SO FUNNY, AMIRITE?" So a vast majority of my associates are kind of super-lefty, which is normally fine, but not on this. Though there may be valid points about "maybe a bunch are just assholes."
posted by corb at 8:39 AM on June 4, 2012


Occupy Wall Street movement started gaining steam and London burned.

Particularly with these violent clashes, I have found myself getting more on edge with every time I open the newspapers. When I read editorials in multiple newspapers talking about inequality, I get worried, because my family has told me that this was the atmosphere that led to the revolution. I didn't use to worry about this happening in America - I thought it could never happen here - but I also would never have imagined anything could happen in London, and the rioting and burning there took multiple days to quell. Greece is also out of control.


There has been minimal violence associated with Occupy Wall Street on either the side of the protesters or the police. The minimal violence has been usually associated with anarchists from the Black Bloc, who represent a tiny, tiny minority of the protesters.

There is no danger of a communist or other revolution in the United States. Like zero.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:40 AM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


but with the recent rise to prominence of these conversations, they can't seem to contain themselves anymore. They tend to talk with a lot of glee about how "if the Republicans don't give, there will be blood in the streets." Or, "If the rich don't give in to taxation, the people will force them to give."

As a person with many years experience watching the US political system, this is pure fantasy.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:45 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


And another thing: I was actually in Greece during part of the riots. For the most part, you had a million people out in the streets (peacefully) protesting because their livelihoods are going down the tubes. Then you go up to the front of the protests by the parliament where the riot police are lined up, and you have a few dozen violent anarchists who are the ones throwing rocks and molotov cocktails, and they travel throughout Europe from protest to protest in search of places to cause trouble.

Then by the evening, the police, not wanting the protests to continue through the night, started shooting off tear gas to clear out the main square and surrounding streets. After day after day, month after month, of this, you would have an occasional spasm of real violence and destruction where a building would get burned to the ground. Once you leave the capital, life continues as normal. And that is the worst that it's gotten anywhere in the western world.

So in a country where the economy has absolutely imploded, the people are literally starving, the government has gone from being a democratic representative government to being a client state of the EU and German policy prescriptions, you have the capital engulfed in protests, a couple people killed (one of a heart attack because he was old and out in the sun all day), and property damage consistent with a minor hurricane. I don't want to minimize the situation, but we're not talking a collapse into anarchy and business owners being lynched in the streets.

Sure, in some country or another, under our noses, things could change on a dime without our expecting it. But those sorts of things are by their nature very rare-- if they were more common, we could predict it.

Insofar as your wealth might be confiscated, it could happen because the banking system could collapse and the government would lack the will and/or resources to organize another bailout, like what happened with IMF Global, but with rank-and-file bank account and money market fund depositors, rather than investors.
posted by deanc at 8:49 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


What yarly said in the very first comment. The left in the US hasn't even been able to sell the notion that "things just ain't right" these days.

RE taking property from the wealthy - not in this lifetime. Hell, a huge percentage of the 99% are totally OK with letting the 1% continue to accumulate wealth at an unprecedented rate.

Christ almighty, Ronald Reagan is all but worshiped, George W was re-elected in 2004, an Obama is called a "socialist"!

Re your friends, they are mean-spirited and not very well informed. I mean, "if the Republicans don't give, there will be blood in the streets." Really?? And just who will drawing this blood? The Democrats? OWS?? (It seems that those most likely to cause blood to run are the right-wing militia types - and I don't see them taking up arms en masse against the Republicans.)

Unless you are on an "all Fox/all the time" news diet, I disagree with those who say you need a break from the news. The last thing this country needs is another uninformed, disengaged citizen. Get involved. Work for justice. Try and fix this mess.
posted by she's not there at 8:50 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it possible, corb, that in your workplace that you come across as unsympathetic to the plight of a lot of OWS protesters and the issues of income inequality during the present era of high unemployment and economic problems? Do you find yourself complaining that they're just a bunch of overprivileged leftists who are too lazy to go out and get a job? Are you lecturing everyone about how anyone can come to this country and be successful, like your family did when they fled the violence in your home country? Because possibly your coworkers are amping up their needling of you as a means of retaliation, but they're not aware of how personally sensitive you are regarding this.

(Also, if you have PTSD, obviously treatment is the best solution)
posted by deanc at 8:58 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the US-left perspective on the Central and South American politics of the past few decades is kind of under-informed and over-romanticized. And I say this as a United States person whose politics skew left.

But that still is no reason for your colleagues to be scoffing at your very real, first-hand experiences. They are indeed being assholes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:59 AM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I stopped getting my news from the popular American sources - BBC and NPR are less "Oh My God The End Is Near" than ABC, CBS, CNN, and FOX. I am MUCH less anxious and yet still informed.
posted by _paegan_ at 8:59 AM on June 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


As others have said, stop listening/reading so much news. It gives a disproportionate picture of reality. If you want to keep on top of politics, watch CSPAN and print out various politicians' notable speeches (i.e. State of the Union, maybe transcripts of Presidential candidate debates). Sign up to get email updates of legislation you care about following I'm not suggesting sticking your head in the sand, but just suggesting that reality is NOT the 24/7 news cycle, whether it comes from NYTimes, FOX, CNN, NPR, NBC or InfoWars. I do like monthly periodicals, since the reporting tends to be more nuanced and thorough, since there is more time to research.

It is not your family's fault they were killed, no matter your ethnic or economic background, so ignore comments here that suggest that.

No political corner has a monopoly on violence. People just like to be in power and get revenge and generally act bad when everyone else around them is acting bad and no one can stop them. So saying we should watch out for the [fill in the blank with your least favorite political movement] is a good way to miss a threat from another corner.

Seconding cromagnon's comments about local unrest and maintaining "good practice," including neighborliness. Just be responsible and care for those around you.

I do think it's bad practice to always be poo-pooing and "lolz: conspiracy theorists!" whenever someone raises concerns about Something Bad happening. I gotta say, the "When the Revolution comes, you'll be the first..." crap is in poor taste. I had not heard the phrase before I joined Metafilter, so maybe limiting MF use would help your anxiety, too.
posted by katyh at 9:08 AM on June 4, 2012


Corb - just read your note re "I do engage in social justice type work..." Good to hear that you haven't been totally burned out by your family's history/experience.

Comments like "Haha, you counter-revolutionary, you're going to be first against the wall when the revolution comes THIS IS SO FUNNY, AMIRITE?" have nothing to do with being a "super-lefty".

I'm with those calling them "assholes."
posted by she's not there at 9:09 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


While your friends are insensitive to your plight and first hand experience, you should remember that most anyone you come across in the States will have no frame of reference at all about what you went through. And more often than not, their frame of reference will be shoddy action-comedies about banana republics and Arnold storming dictor's cocaine-funded compounds.

(so I'm agreeing with EmpressCallipygos here)

Comments such as "You shall be first up against the wall when the revolution comes!" is basically direct pop-culture from the days when Americans were wringing their hands over our involvement in Central and South American cold-war conflicts through our traditional Hollywood movie escap-ism that made it seem like we were totally in the right.
posted by rich at 9:09 AM on June 4, 2012


We're talking about Central/South American revolution here.

Not to in any way justify your friends' horrid behavior, but part of me wonders if this explains some of that.

As you might already know, the US backed all kinds of terrible right-wing authoritarian governments and counter-insurgencies in Central and South America during the 80's. This happened under the (Republican) Reagan administration, and during most of the decade support for Central and South American socialist uprisings was the cause of the American Left. Most of the current major thinkers on the Left either came of age in that political context or were already major players back then (Chomsky especially), and any thoughtful person who wants to learn more about radical movements in the US will very quickly run into the rhetoric of that particular moment in US Leftist culture.

As such, you probably have a lot of friends who are inclined to (retroactively) take the side of the villains in your family narrative. Which is fucking HARD, even if your friends are awesome people who are great at cognitive dissonance. And it seems like you have at least a few friends who are blowhard idiots who can't see all the nuances, or even see that there are nuances that need to be negotiated with tact and sensitivity.

If I'm on to something here, I think your best bet is to table all discussion of Central/South American political movements among your circle of friends, at least when you're around. Just say something like, "The whole Sandinista thing is way too close to home, guys, sorry..." and then change the subject. If your friends are even remotely humane and normal people, this should be all they need to hear. If they try to make you out to be a bad person because of that simple, tactful, adult approach to the topic, drop them like a bunch of hot rocks, seriously.
posted by Sara C. at 9:33 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know how you feel. My family is Cuban and they lost everything in the revolution. Even the family members who fought on the communist side were eventually branded as counter-revolutionaries and thrown in prison camps. Most of them eventually found their way to the United States.

Here is the story of my Abuelo's escape:

He was alone in Cuba, having sent my father and grandmother ahead of him, trying to rally forces to take the country back from Castro. As everything started to really collapse he was smuggled out posing as a bongo player in a band. The airport was chaos and all luggage and bags were confiscated from everyone before they could board the plane, so he only left with what he was wearing and his musical instrument, which he couldn't really play.

One of his friends had taken him to the airport but was worried that everything had been taken and my Abuelo would have nothing with which to start a new life in the United States. But my grandfather saw this coming and hid all of his money in a hole in his shoe. As the plane pulled away he put his shoe on the window so his friend would see it and know that he made it without having his last resources taken away.

Maybe you grew up feeling like me. I grew up with a nice, comfortable life, one eked out by the hard work of my parents, but there was always this feeling that we always needed to be careful because it could all evaporate instantly. I never felt like I could trust that my safe home would always be there and I was always prepared, even as a tween, to pack a bag and leave on short notice. I was scared and worried a lot of the time.

But as an adult I feel like I can learn from how my family survived losing almost everything they had and started over. I know that I come from a long line of survivors, from their experiences I've learned that sometimes the best thing for survival is learning to be resourceful and using your forebrain to plan, plan, plan.

I know a lot of people here are saying that everything is probably going to be okay, and they are likely right, but that doesn't make a difference if you've spent your whole life anticipating bad thingsā„¢. There is always the threat, however remote, that everything could get out of control, and once in a blue moon crazy things do happen. I say this as someone who lived in DC during 9/11, Anthrax, and a sniper. However, instead of getting overwhelmed by all of the noise and the giant WHAT IFs that are always looming in the distance, I choose instead to embrace that indeed sometimes shit does happen and channel my nervous energy into being a resourceful, organized, informed person who will be prepared if things do go wrong.

And by "things going wrong" I don't just mean communist revolutions, but also things that like tornadoes, major fires, floods, winter storms, or nuclear disasters, aka things that are more likely than a complete overthrow of the government. I've learned first aid, how to start a fire, how to shoot a gun, how to ride a horse. I know where the things I value most are in my home, I have my money in multiple banks. I have food and water stored. I hope I'm talking about a reasonable level paranoia, not quite to the level of Doosday Preppers.

I know this only provides the illusion of control, but it's enough to keep me functioning as a normal human being. And I hope if I'm ever confronted with real danger I hope I'm half as clever as my Abuelo and keep my money in my shoe.
posted by Alison at 9:39 AM on June 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


I recommend the book The Fourth Turning on this subject.

Short version: As generational cohorts age, they shift the societal mindset/zeitgeist. This societal shift then affects the younger generations coming of age. This feedback loop runs in 80-100 year cycles. The Romans called this period a saeculum (root of the word "secular").

Each American saeculum goes in a sequence of four "Turnings": High, Awakening, Unraveling, Crisis. The resolving of the Crisis sets the stage for the new High. Each Turning is associated with a different generational archetype: Hero, Artist, Prophet, Nomad.

We're right on schedule for the Crisis. Our latest Saecula has been The World Wars (Crisis), Postwar (High), the 60s/70s (Awakening), the 80s-early 2k (Unraveling)... we're just entering the new crisis period. Problems that have been pushed aside while things were good can no longer be ignored, the old order collapses, and we face ~20 years of things coming apart. I consider the possibility that at 43 I may see the break-up of the US as a non-zero likelihood.

The upside is that like Spring after Winter, this Crises get solved and society will enter a new high. After a while people will start thinking they need to start thinking about more important, spiritual/moral issues. Another generation and things, while still good, will start souring, people will wonder why things aren't Like they used to be, why are the kids today so stupid and lazy, remember how it used to be when Grandpa & Grandma's generation banded together and did that Big Thing... and then it'll all collapse and reset again.

The book doesn't predict specifics of "This war will happen or this economic crisis will happen". But it speaks about how the societal mindset reacts to events and situations. And societal "Winter" is upon us.

I find being able to expect Spring makes the Winter more bearable.

How likely is it that civil unrest, riots, etc, will come to places in America if the economy worsens?

Absolutely possible. I consider them likely w/in the next 20 years, but things will have to get REALLY bad first. Greeks rioted because they're European-style welfare state was taken away from them by the bankers. Americans are raised to believe that hard work and diligence are rewarded, so the poor deserve what they get. More importantly, the RICH deserve what they get because they earned it. As John Steinbeck put it, " Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."

Once Americans come to really accept that the American Dream is either dead or has always been a lie (or a combination of both), that "getting ahead" is not really in the cards for them or their children, they'll riot.

How likely is it that people would be forced to give up savings and/or property?

In the case of a general Collapse, property rights won't be defined by paper. But that's the MOST EXTREME case. As far as "Will the gov't confiscate private wealth in order to redistribute it?"... One of the things about reading The Fourth Turning is the idea that a "Crisis" rewrites the societal rules in a very large way, because the old way of doing things has ceased to work.

If the United States ceases to be and breaks up into a series of smaller nations... quite possible. But even that's a worst-case scenario. Today there is discussion of a "Fair Share Tax for millionaires. Does that count?

If it is not likely, how can I keep from freaking out about it when I look at the political events of the day?

Honestly, I recommend going back to the 80s & 90s and reading Cyberpunk fiction. William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and those cats. Corporations running the world, environmental degradation, private mercenary armies, maladjusted hackers declaring private wars as the closest thing we have to good guys...

Yeah, we don't wear mirrorshades or jack out brains directly into the net, but a lot of what they were writing about is really good context for thinking about today. Cory Doctorow wrote an excellent piece on how Science Fiction gives us a vocabulary for discussing the future. And Harlan Ellison reminds us that SF is the only genre of literature that posits the idea that no matter how fucked up it may be, there will be a tomorrow, some people have thought about it, and some of that thinking has been "How could this be made to suck less?"

Is there a way to explain how I feel to my friends without them immediately jumping to blaming my family for former wealth?

Get new friends.

Seriously, anyone who says "Your family deserved to be murdered for being rich" is no one you need to associate with. Drop these assholes like 3rd period Chemistry class and start associating with people who demonstrate a little human decency, even when heated political topics are on the table.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:49 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


How likely is it that civil unrest, riots, etc, will come to places in America if the economy worsens?

Everyone is going to estimate this probability differently, all we can do is speculate. My own opinion is that the probability is pretty low but not tiny. But I also think if we get into any serious unrest, as in repeated instances people dragged out of their homes and slaughtered, you'll see martial law real quick. There's practically no chance of sustained civil unrest.

How likely is it that people would be forced to give up savings and/or property?

I think a combination of higher taxes and cuts in social services are both very likely, but I don't think that's what you mean by giving up savings and property.

If it is not likely, how can I keep from freaking out about it when I look at the political events of the day?

Find a relaxation method that works for you and practice it. Diversify your savings. Maybe keep a week's worth of food and water on hand.

Is there a way to explain how I feel to my friends without them immediately jumping to blaming my family for former wealth?

If they're willing to say your family deserved death to your face, I don't know what you can say to them. They may well change their own minds over time, but someone who takes that extreme of a position is typically not open to correction. Either give them a pass and refuse to discuss the subject with them or find new friends.
posted by BigSky at 10:11 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, here's something:

How do you in your heart feel about your family's background in South/Central America? Don't answer here! But I wonder if there's some cognitive dissonance - I mean, I've met the descendants of some rather unpleasant political figures myself, people who were bad political actors, people who were union busters, people who were out there profiting from the starving peasants right up until the bitter end. (I don't hold these descendants accountable for that!) The point is, it seems like it would be pretty hard to get your head around the two parts of "I love my family and they love me" and "my family could potentially have not been such politically great people". That kind of thing is tough enough for, say, the children of ordinary rich industrialists in the US, never mind wealthy people who could potentially have been tied in with some very, very unpleasant business.

(It's worth noting that in certain political contexts, "being rich" doesn't necessarily mean "operating a chain of profitable department stores"; it can mean "being best buddies with the generals and owning a mine where folks get worked to death". I would never, ever say - or even feel - that someone's family should be hurt or killed for those things; let those who commit crimes be accountable to society in public and when blood has cooled, that's what I say. But under certain circumstances it might be a little chilling to realize that nice Mrs. Cruz is the daughter of General Cruz, the terror of the barrios, or whatever.)

(Have you ever read Tariq Ali's memoir, Street-fighting Years? He has all these connections to both right-wing and reform Important Political People in Pakistan and it sounds like a real head trip. )
posted by Frowner at 10:12 AM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


(That sounded a bit cold...my point was absolutely not "you should feel okay with what happened to your family" but rather "what happened to your family happened in a complicated political situation and unpicking all your feelings about that must be really hard".
posted by Frowner at 10:18 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


How likely is it that civil unrest, riots, etc, will come to places in America if the economy worsens?
How likely is it that people would be forced to give up savings and/or property?


Extremely likely, IMO -- but I've been expecting such for 40 years, and instead we keep muddling through like there's a tomorrow. Being a doomer can make one feel like a chump, sometimes.
posted by Rash at 10:18 AM on June 4, 2012


the most likely reality for someone who worries every day that the government is going to seize the contents their savings account. Sorry if this offends? But seriously, therapy.

I disagree. If you look up the various laws that were passed during the Bush era, foreign born residents of the United States (citizens, PR or no) can have their bank accounts seized on the flimsiest of premises. One of the reasons I left the US in 2007, after 10 years, was the increasing underlying hostility against anyone looking remotely like me. fwiw
posted by infini at 10:31 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


American culture and society is fundamentally strong, stable and secure in a way that few places are. There is much less chance of violent revolution here than in most other countries. I think our heritage of a legal and political culture that places extremely strong emphasis on protection of individual rights has something to do with this.

In fact, American culture is so strong and stable that it allows people, by and large, to forget about history and politics if they so desire. You clearly have a sense of history that gives you some insight about the actual consequences of political movements that use mass murder as a method of political organizing. To your friends, history is a big joke; they have no real experience with or knowledge of the fragility in other cultures of what we as Americans are privileged enough to take for granted. Their political opinions are cosmetic and are largely driven by fashion and self-presentation issues. What drives them to choose their politics is thus not all that different from what drives them to choose their clothing, or their hobbies, or the model of car they drive. Your friends who joke about glorifying the murder of entire classes of people have revealed only that they are deeply, deeply shallow.

I am so very sorry for your loss, and I am sorry about the obnoxious behavior of your friends. The second problem is relatively easily fixable: develop new friends. Take pleasure in living in one of the safest and most popular cultures in history: American civilization that is the beneficiary of extremely broad popular support because it gives (and has given) so much to so many. Be careful about the advice given above that you pay less attention to news, lest you adopt some of the qualities of your friends you have complained about. You are safe here.
posted by Mr. Justice at 10:46 AM on June 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


When I try to mention my circumstances to my friends to explain my fears and why I don't like talking about this, they often say that my family deserved it, because they were wealthy in a poor country.

*cold stare*

"Did you just say that you think my family members deserved to be killed? This acquaintance is over. Goodbye."

Seriously, that is so, so far outside the bounds of reasonable behavior, I'm appalled (and I generally describe myself as a "flaming pinko-commie bleeding-heart liberal no-TV car-free tree-hugging sort").
posted by Lexica at 10:46 AM on June 4, 2012


P.S. I think you're brave to even bring this up, either here or with friends. A lot of people would try to suppress thinking about the issue of their friends' behavior and pretend that it isn't a problem. It is a problem.
posted by Mr. Justice at 10:51 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I try to mention my circumstances to my friends to explain my fears and why I don't like talking about this, they often say that my family deserved it, because they were wealthy in a poor country.

How do you describe your family's circumstances and what you're scared of? What do you/they mean by "deserved it"?

Are your friends saying your family deserved to die because they were wealthy in a poor country? Because yeah, that just pretty much seems like your "friends" are irredeemable and you need to find new friends. Totally beyond the pale.

Or are your friends saying your family deserved to lose their home and their wealth? Because while that's arguably not the most sensitive thing to say to your face, that seems like a pretty understandable political opinion, and it seems only mildly assholish to respond to "Hey, can we not talk about this? I'm sensitive because we lost the big family plantation/mansion" with "Oh come on, you guys made all that money off the backs of the poor and you deserved to lose it." Especially among leftists, you are going to get way less sympathy around the loss of property/money compared with the loss of life.

Is there a way to explain how I feel to my friends without them immediately jumping to blaming my family for former wealth?

Assuming your friends are decent human beings, it seems to me like the best way to approach this is to try to meet them partway. Explain to them "Hey, look, I'm really sensitive to some of this stuff because a lot of my family members died or almost died after economic inequality led to a revolution, and so I get scared thinking about it-- can you please try hard to lay off talking and/or joking about violent upheaval when I'm around?" That seems totally reasonable and if they're not cool with it, I don't think they're really your friends. But on the other hand, I don't think it's reasonable to make all discussions of economics and economic inequality a forbidden subject-- so you say something like "Honestly, I have a hard time with any discussions of economic inequality at all because of my background, but I know it's kind of extreme and I'm working on that in therapy." Don't put it on them to never talk about economic inequality ever, but if they're considerate they'll try to do less of it around you, and then on your end work on getting to a place where you can tolerate general conversation about current events that relate to economic inequality.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 3:36 PM on June 4, 2012


Or are your friends saying your family deserved to lose their home and their wealth? Because while that's arguably not the most sensitive thing to say to your face, that seems like a pretty understandable political opinion, and it seems only mildly assholish to respond to "Hey, can we not talk about this? I'm sensitive because we lost the big family plantation/mansion" with "Oh come on, you guys made all that money off the backs of the poor and you deserved to lose it." Especially among leftists, you are going to get way less sympathy around the loss of property/money compared with the loss of life.

It's bad either way. Injecting a political opinion into a real life and death scenario is just not kosher, and not something friends should be doing. Even without the context of a family massacre, saying someone deserves to have their home taken away is just not cool. It's NOT an understandable political opinion, it is childishness. Even if they were the beneficiaries of a corrupt system, taking away their stuff is worse.
posted by gjc at 7:40 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Very sorry to hear about your family. As far as your first question goes, this article might help:

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/04/23/120423crat_atlarge_lemann?currentPage=all
posted by jessca84 at 8:29 PM on June 4, 2012


How likely is it that civil unrest, riots, etc, will come to places in America if the economy worsens?

Extremely unlikely for at least the next ten years or so.

How likely is it that people would be forced to give up savings and/or property?

There could be confiscatory taxes placed on investments or retirement accounts, but I think that's the extent of the danger.

If it is not likely, how can I keep from freaking out about it when I look at the political events of the day?

Reduce your consumption of alarmist media. Change the channel on the TV and close that webpage. These are not reasonable fears, so there's no point taking in media that feed them.

Is there a way to explain how I feel to my friends without them immediately jumping to blaming my family for former wealth?

If they see you as a class enemy because of your family's former wealth, they're not your real friends. Talk about your concerns. If your "friends" can't understand, ditch them.

I have three suggestions:

1. Stop worrying. There won't be a revolution in the United States in the foreseeable future.

2. Buy a gun and learn how to use it. I've had one for more than two years and I feel a peace of mind knowing that I can defend my home in the event of a riot.

3. Like others in the thread have said, riots in the US are local rather than generalized. If you can, move to the wealthiest, most crime-free neighborhood that you can afford.
posted by John Farrier at 9:03 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your friends like to make dramatic statements to make themselves sound hardcore. Don't confuse the bluster of a few jackasses with any sort of realistic picture of what's happening in this country.

These "tough guys" have no relevance to even the left leaning political movements in this country. Right now are pretty conservative times in this country. There is no where near the level of radicalization now as there was in the 1960s and 70s; and we failed to have a revolution then, didn't we? Bear in mind that, even with the recession and growing income inequality, America is still a very wealthy nation with a large and prosperous middle class. Most of Europe, which is not in the grips of socialist anarchy, would kill for our unemployment rate. Recessions don't lead to violent overthrow of stable democracies.

You should be relieved to learn that your concern is entirely and completely unjustified. You should be horrified at the company you keep. Stop hanging out with faux-radicals who like to talk big to stroke their ego.
posted by spaltavian at 9:40 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the Communist Party USA. We're a relatively small group and I spend a lot of time with other present day communists. If it offers you any comfort, I recall sitting in a Marxism workshop and how silent it became when another participant (not a party member) alluded to violence being a possible solution to the myriad of social issues that the Communist Party focuses on these days. Everyone seemed to lean away (literally and metaphorically) from him as someone said, basically, "That's pretty much the opposite of what this is all about."

My point is that, for a lot of people, organizations like the CPUSA are, seemingly, groups of crazy radicals hellbent on [possibly violent] revolution but, in actuality, we organize around the fact that all human beings deserve a world without racism, sexism & war- a world with good jobs, health care, adequate education, and decent shelter. So we have a lot of community events and potlucks and give and receive (yay!) a lot of hugs. And yes, we talk about a redistribution of wealth, but it's mostly an intellectual discussion with an undertone of [possibly naive] hope that one day people will come to the realization that capitalism really just totally sucks and will want to work for a peaceful democratic change.

But, as it stands, leftist organizations in the present day are much more focused on making life comfortable for people who are currently struggling and overthrowing the government is not on our agenda. Honestly, in all of my far leftist travels, and there have been many, I have rarely encountered anyone who thinks violent action is a good foundation for the sort of society that we crave. The idea that violence results in anything beneficial is the mindset of the other guys.
posted by eunoia at 8:26 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Personally, I dearly wish that insurrections of various (non-violent) kinds would have a much greater effect on the United States, so keep in mind that my perspective may be very, very different than yours. But you have my respect for asking a question like that, and I have to say that I find the discussion here very good and very heartening.

So...

I have a perspective that could be characterized as "semi-doomer" - take Spengler, Toynbee, Joseph Tainter, and a grab bag of metahistorians, sociologists, and philosophers, add a huge helping of ecology and the very basic fact that there are limits to things, whether or not we like to believe in them, and there you go. To overuse an overused analogy, I think that global civilization, in very broad outline, is at a stage much like the late Roman Republic. Sure, the grandeur of the Empire was in its future, but a lot of its basic societal indicators were already in serious trouble even before the Empire was declared. Decay had started even as the legions pressed forward into Germany and Mesopotamia, even as great palaces went up on Rome. The main difference between them and us is that there was a whole world outside of the Mediterranean. Our new global civilization seems to have an almost desperate need to bring every tiny village into its maw - there is no outside anymore. I don't believe that tomorrow we'll all wake up in "The Road Warrior", and I think survivalism (in the American context, at least) is pathetically misguided (they'd be much, much better served by getting to know their neighbors, joining the local Elks or Masons, or going to their local church than moving to isolated areas with bad soil, boxes of ammo and hundred-pound bags of beans). John Michael Greer's notion of a sort of stairstep collapse over decades or even centuries seems much more convincing, and, I truly think, accurate.

I'm not too bothered by this, actually, and for a couple of reasons that you might find helpful.

1) These things happen. There are a lot of people who like to imagine that God (or Progress, or the Divine Market, or whoever) has ordained that this moment is the best of all possible worlds, the orgasmic culmination of human history, and that this is as it should be. It's a slight variation on the just-world hypothesis.

These people, however, are completely wrong. Every civilization, every institution, every thing changes. Some die. Some don't. Some die and are reborn. But all change, often in ways that would be unrecognizable. This is simply part of the nature of existence - it's not something to get angry about. In fact, one could embrace it, or at least accept it. There's a good bit of East Asian philosophy and spiritual writing that does this - you don't have to be a Daoist to appreciate the Daodejing. Knowing that a flower will die does not have to make the flower any less beautiful - that knowledge could make it more so.

2) Knowledge of how things work can help a lot, and can help not only accept the fragility and impermanence of things, but also how to be resilient. My survivalist example is precisely the wrong way to go about it - it involves digging in, trying by force of will to create a miniature world that can be controlled. But sometimes it's the hardest things that are the most brittle. A reed can bend at angles that would cause the thickest stone walls to come crashing down. Knowing this can give you more of a sense of control and agency - one that reflects reality more so than others.

3) It may be hard to realize this due to your family history, and there's a very strong strain of conventional wisdom that reinforces the idea that existence is a cruel and vicious place, that relaxing your guard for a second will result in unspeakable tortures, that every other country in the world is waiting for a sign of weakness to attack another... but, to borrow a phrase from Porgy & Bess, "it ain't necessarily so". There's an increasing amount of accessible literature describing scientific research that is puncturing that sort of Hobbesian vision of reality. Frans de Waal would be a good place to start. Rebecca Solnit's "A Paradise Made in Hell" might be ideologically hard to swallow for you, but it's worth it. People are better than they think they are.

4) Talk to people. Your coworkers sound like assholes, so talk to other people. Try to understand why they're angry. And talk to them like a human being. Let them know by your life that their prejudices aren't always right.

I hope something I wrote helps.
posted by jhandey at 12:26 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I may be a little late to answer, but I thought you might find it interesting that my SO's family actually comes from the other side of the spectrum. Their friends and family were tortured, raped and murdered by anti-communists in Yugoslavia. They were brutally attacked by religious right-wing groups, and then he came here as a refugee.

We are socialists and sometimes hearing right wing people (specially Fox News people) is really hard to us (to me because I know how he feels about this), and we deal with it by realizing that people just don't k now what "blood on the streets" means until it really happens. They can naively call for "armed struggles" because they are blissfully ignorant of the horrors of violence under any kind of ideology.

It's easy to say "ARMED REVOLUTIONNN!!" when all you know about revolution comes from movies and videogames; and specially when the "enemy" is an ethereal being without family, loving relationships and redeeming qualities.

I suggest that when some says somehting in support of violence, you politely offer the following statement.

"I respect how committed you are to your beliefs , but as a survivor of horrific violence done to my family in the name of political ideology, I ask you to consider whether you would support the killing of actual people with lives and families, just because they disagree with you. "
posted by Tarumba at 11:24 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


* Also, if it makes you feel better, you will be doing a GREAT service to humanity by talking about the non-glamour of violent conflicts. Even if people do not respond to you, they are very likely to reflect on it later.
posted by Tarumba at 11:30 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Everyone, I'd definitely like to thank you again for some really, really great responses. This whole thread is just chock-full of best answers, and even ones that weren't marked often had some useful commentary inside. I especially appreciate those people from the left who were able to point out that this behavior is in fact not okay.

In regards to the "friends" situation, I've decided to do two things: first, start challenging the way that people talk about bloody revolution by directly bringing it up when these sorts of things are mentioned. Secondly, by making a firm line that anyone telling me my family deserved to be killed or dispossessed, particularly after I've asked them not to do things like that, is in fact not my friend, and I'm going to cut their acquaintance if I don't work with them. If I do work with them, I will simply ask them not to speak to me on non-work related subjects.

In terms of worrying about civil unrest, I definitely found the advice on how to prep very useful - this way I can at least know I've done as much as I can for the potentially unlikely circumstance. I will probably also be applying for a gun permit, and am going to start having a "go bag" packed. Even if it's just something that lives in my closet, if it lets me worry a little less, it may be well worth it.

Again, thanks all, this has been a really great conversation.
posted by corb at 7:09 AM on July 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


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