8/5/2002

 

The ‘60s

 

Last time I said I would explain how liberal and conservative interests overlap, that I would first need to explain the ‘60s since that is much of the basis for the left today, and that I would be focusing on those who sincerely tried to make things better, not on the hangers-on who just wanted to party.

 

In part, the ‘60s (and early ‘70’s) were a coincidence of movements few people would argue with today. The Viet Nam war was a mistake. Civil rights did need expanding. The environment needed to be treated better. The government lied to us and was corrupt (e.g., Nixon).  It was also the time of the first generation (just coming to that age of independence and rebellion) that had been raised on media and also had such a presence in media. For the first time a generation could become aware of how many others had the same concerns. Media became a feedback loop that allowed a subculture to develop around shared views.

 

But besides the concrete issues such as Viet Nam there was another, more nebulous issue. To those who clearly remembered the ‘40s, the affluence of the ‘50s was our just reward for having saved the world. But to the children of the ‘50s, all we had known, all we could see in adulthood was a plastic materialism, an emptiness of real values, with nothing to give it meaning but a thin gruel of watered down religion.

 

There was something missing. Something that could be replaced by participation in exuberant churches or intense mysticism, or by getting out of air-conditioned suburbia to join a commune and get your hands dirty growing your own food, or by abandoning a business degree to volunteer for the Peace Corp., or by dedicating yourself to something noble like stopping a bad war. These were people feeling a vacuum of real values, an error in the direction our culture, who tried to do something about it.

 

Some of us dealt with it in naïve ways, like trying to live off of selling trinkets in Haight-Ashbury. Yes it was foolish, but so what? We were 20 something trying to create alternatives out of thin air. What do you expect?

 

We were the canaries in the mind-shaft. Young people are more sensitive to the foibles of the culture they’re inheriting. When an even larger percentage than normal set up a call that there’s something wrong, the miners should listen.

 

And some did. The ‘60s weren’t just about young hippies. Remember some of those marches on Washington? (Or look at old news footage.) These were diverse groups that came in support of civil rights or against the war. There were housewives who showed courage and moral conviction by bearing their neighbors scorn to protest the war. There were middle aged businessmen who put up with the jokes around the water cooler to join the “Charismatic movement” where they got out of the church pews and sat in a circle and sang religious folk songs and prayed from the heart instead of by wrote.

 

Next time, some of the best things out of the 60s, and how they were corrupted and exploited till only the worst things are remembered. Till then, a question: I dare say we were right about the concrete issues such as Viet Nam, civil rights, and such. But about that underlying message, that there was something going foul in our culture, that it seemed to be revolving around materialism, commercialism, consumerism, that while life in the modern world with houses on manicured lots and air-conditioned cars zooming off on freeways to cubicle offices was seductively easy it also removed us from the land and from each other, that the prospect of a lifetime spent working in those cubicles was, again, easy, but so is prison, that a world of such extreme conformity that an artist or a mystic or a back-to-the-land farmer is considered some kind of nut is a world without passion, that while people were no worse that usual with their backstabbing coworkers and cheating with their neighbor and ignoring that some are oppressed while others prosper, but that the “Father Knows Best” veneer that was used to hide it was making the air of hypocrisy thick, and that all the wonderful trinkets that Madison Avenue could sell us that were the trade-off for this new sanitized world were no better a trade than Ishmael’s birthright for a pot of beans, that underlying message that we were losing something…were we wrong? Peace, man.