Two qualifying events in 340 years is a 0.5882% annual chance of nationwide violent revolution against the ruling government

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

Hydrologist BJ Campbell looks at the surprisingly solid mathematical case of the tin foil hat gun prepper:

While we don’t have any good sources of data on how often zombies take over the world, we definitely have good sources of data on when the group of people on the piece of dirt we currently call the USA attempt to overthrow the ruling government. It’s happened twice since colonization. The first one, the American Revolution, succeeded. The second one, the Civil War, failed. But they are both qualifying events. Now we can do math.

Stepping through this, the average year for colony establishment is 1678, which is 340 years ago. Two qualifying events in 340 years is a 0.5882% annual chance of nationwide violent revolution against the ruling government. Do the same math as we did above with the floodplains, in precisely the same way, and we see a 37% chance that any American of average life expectancy will experience at least one nationwide violent revolution.

This is a bigger chance than your floodplain-bound home flooding during your mortgage.

It’s noticeably bigger.

Following the same procedure, we can see that even over an 18-year span we have a 10% chance of violent revolution, which is an interesting thought experiment to entertain before you have kids. It’s also important to note that a violent nation-state transition doesn’t just affect people who live in a floodplain. It affects everyone stuck in the middle. Especially the poor and defenseless.


Since our 1678 benchmark, Russia has had a two world wars, a civil war, a revolution, and at least half a dozen uprisings, depending on how you want to count them. Depending on when you start the clock, France had a 30-year war, a seven-year war, a particularly nasty revolution, a counter-revolution, that Napoleon thing, and a couple of world wars tacked on the end. China, North Korea, Vietnam, and basically most of the Pacific Rim has had some flavor of violent revolution in the last 100 years, sometimes more than one. With Africa, it’s hard to even conceive where to start and end the data points. Most Central and South American countries have had significant qualifying events in the time span.


  1. Bomag says:

    And how do we count uprisings?

    Aaron Burr had a thing going on.

    Andrew Jackson was kind-of a thing: ramping up the Indian wars into an existential struggle.

    The Progressive era that gave us suffrage and prohibition.


    The sixties…

    Mainstreaming of gay marriage, transgenderism.


    Maybe not a direct gov’t overthrow, but they significantly changed the mission of gov’t.

  2. Graham says:

    With continent-spanning empires you have to qualify these things- you might only have two that divide the entire entity-as-it-is and affect most of the population, but there were many more localized violent outbursts that had major impact on the people of that region.

    There were probably regions -meaning here already settled by Europeans- of the 13 colonies and of the then-US that not only saw no fighting in either the revolution or civil war, but saw little disruption to their way of life. Maybe even no one went off to war, although that would narrow it down. Whereas those same regions might have been torn up by some local intercolonial war or land dispute and seen villages burn and families killed off. Or Indian war with the same effect.

    Same goes for other large continent-states like ancient Rome, various Chinese and Indian empires. Some people in some areas might have to go to the mattresses while others, under the same broad political umbrella, experience little to nothing.

    Alternatively, there’s the overthrow of the state at the center that, from time to time, happens without too much disruption even in other cities, let alone the provinces. I’m not sure America is set up to allow that, but maybe. It’s happened in other systems often enough.

  3. Lu An Li says:

    One reason for America being such a success story is no war on American territory in 150 years.

  4. TRX says:

    Tell that to Hawaii.

    They were a territory instead of a state, but they were still American citizens on US passports.

  5. Graham says:

    IIRC a little bit of war on the Alaska Territory too, plus there was a bit of war across US borders in the SW during the Mexican revolution, resulting in Pershing’s expedition.

    Not a lot in those examples, mind you, but also affecting US citizens and, in the 1916 case, in members of the Union.

    Still, the US has done well by luck and its own efforts to keep it to the margins.

  6. The odds are probably worse than that, because we’re near the collapse end of a cycle of empire. Lector at Men of the West has a nice write-up, summarizing ideas from The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival by Sir John Glubb.

  7. Isegoria says:

    I’ve mentioned Glubb quite a bit here, too, including this summary of The Fate of Empires.

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