As mentioned in an earlier post, I am working my way through my friend David Pichaske’s book A Generation In Motion, a book about the culture of the 1960s in America and Europe. I have resisted Pichaske’s tendency to see the age through rose-colored glasses, but am beginning to see what I have missed for years: the genuine commitment on the part of a great many people to ideals that run head-on into the ideals of a capitalist society devoted solely to filthy lucre. True, I have been critical of that society as well, but I had thought for many years that the kids in the turbulent 60s were just along for the “trip.” If you catch my drift.
But I am now persuaded otherwise. Pichaske makes a strong case for the genuine depth of commitment on the part of most (if not all) who were determined to bring down, or at least escape from, the establishment and reestablish a society grounded on love and peace and mutual understanding — rather than bigger and bigger profits. At one point Pichaske quotes from a report by the Cox Commission “On the Disturbances at Columbia University in April and May 1968.”
“The ability, social consciousness and conscience, political sensitivity, and honest realism of today’s students are a prime cause of student disturbances. As one student observed during our investigation, today’s students take seriously the ideals taught in schools and churches, and often at home, and then see a system that denies its ideals in actual life. Racial injustice and the war in Vietnam stand out as prime examples of our society’s deviation from the professed ideals and the slowness with which the system reforms itself. That they seemingly can do little to correct the wrongs through conventional political discourse tends to produce in the most idealistic and energetic students a strong sense of frustration.
“Many of these idealists have developed with considerable sophistication the thesis that these flaws are endemic in the workings of American democracy.”
What distresses Pichaske most is that the dream died. As he says, “There is no such idealism today. Only bucks.” What happened, according to our author, was the assassination of John F. Kennedy followed closely by the shooting death of his brother and Martin Luther King as well, compounded with the gradual assimilation of the counter-culture into the establishment as evidenced by the career of such people as Elvis Presley or, perhaps, the following jingle brought to you by Budweiser Beer:
“So you’ve a right to sing your own song;
No one else can tell you if you’re right or wrong;
Living’ your own life, that’s what America means . . .”
Here we have the “co-option” of a movement based on ideals by a force powered by greed impossible to resist that simply moved over it and sucked the life out of it. Ideals were replaced by “bucks.” The young who wanted a beautiful alternative bought into the notion that the happy life is found in suburbia with a mortgage, two cars and 2 1/2 children — and a can of Budweiser.
Not to grind an old ax or anything, but the problem is exacerbated by the mindless entertainment that keeps the attention of the young directed toward themselves and the gratification of their endless pleasure. As Nate Hagens noted in a talk picked up on YouTube, “we are indeed dopamine junkies in America — Hand-held gadgets embody that perfectly, to the point that today’s kids will completely lack self-control in 20 years. Immediate gratification is the norm, and patience for delayed gratification is out the window.” So the ideals of those kids in the 1960s have been replaced by bucks and the young, especially, are easily diverted from any thoughts about higher ideals by toys that provide them with an escape into a world of self-gratification while they drift mindlessly toward the crass ideals of a monied society.
Good follow on. We have discussed before how African-American sports stars of the 1960s like Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Muhammed Ali used their platform to advocate for Civil Rights. And, later sports stars like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods would not, so as not to jeopardize endorsement opportunities.
Good point! That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it?
As long as the youth are entertained and focused on a computer screen, they are not aware and don’t care about the real outside events surrounding them.
It may not be apparent everywhere, but I have noticed a trend among many young adults and older teens away from mindless consumerism and cheap entertainment. A large component of my kids’ education is volunteerism and community service. A lot of folks are focusing on buying local as much as possible, especially their foods. Many of my friends have their own garden patch, backyard chickens and bees, and shop for secondhand and repurposed goods. I live in a fairly liberal and socially conscious pocket of the south, but true conservatives also embrace the ideals of frugality and quality over quantity.
Moral Mondays, which started here in NC, has been inspiring similar movements across the country. The Occupy movement bears similarities to the activism of the 60s, down to the brutality perpetrated by police upon peaceful protestors, which we all may bear witness to, thanks to the everpresent recording eye of a smartphone. The world is still full of dreamers, thank goodness.
Amaya, you have several good points. In our previous life in the city, there never were kids on the streets after school, they were always in front of their screens paying attention to social media instead of actually being social. (I’ve done a piece on this recently). Ironically, up here in the “backwoods of the mountains,” kids are outside playing and interacting until sundown. IMHO, they are much more well rounded and civil here than anywhere in the city.
I watch the grocery chains from an investment standpoint. (We’ve been organic, local buyers for years) It says a great deal when the large chains are putting whole organic, natural sections into their stores. Retail space is at a premium, and they don’t give it up unless there are larger profits to be made, by more consumers demanding the product.New stores like White Wave focus on freshness and organic, and are now giving Whole Foods a run for its money. Watch their prices come down in the future.
I was a big supporter of Occupy, and their message has not been lost. Your observations about the jack boot police are right on’; reminds me of the 60’s, the National Guard and Kent State. Changes were made back then because of such actions, but since then we’ve grown complacment and the evil crept back in, as it always does under cover of darkness. But the light is beginning to be shown on the militarization of our police forces, and hopefully some changes will begin.
I tended to disagree with Hugh’s first conclusions on this topic. More has been accomplished by the 60’s generation than we might believe, we certainly have taken a lot of what they (we) did for granted.
Thanks, Amaya for the great reminder
And thanks from me as well. There may be hope yet. Pichaske does raise the possibility at the end of his book that the seeds planted in the 60s may yet bear fruit. Let’s hope!
I like Amaya’s comments very much. I have been to two Moral Monday events and what inspires me is the diversity of people with age, race, and ethnicity. Yet, like with many causes, we have to keep them front and center, as we have too many folks who would rather hit “like” on something and feel they have made a contribution, which may cross several demographics.
I do feel we are at a time with politicians failing to act on so many things, it will take grass roots or non-governmental group efforts to effectuate change. What happened in Indiana with the backlash on the Religious Freedom Act may not be an outlier. The antagonist to these efforts are gerrymandered districts, where some politicians don’t care very much what people think. We have too many of those in Amaya and my home state of NC.
i have enjoyed reading your reviews on this book, though commenting hasn’t been possible from the house. today was my first ‘outing’ for a nationl geographis photo competition with a deadline of today.. i’ve been sick the entire time it’s been running – about climate change…
anyway, i am also glad that i am getting enough strength to read – two weeks ago, anything more than one paragraph, and it was very difficult to follow. i think i miight have had abit of plasma leakage in the brain, but alas, i am now much better and getting stronger daily.
will be bsck in town wed night and will catch up then. thanks, hugh, for always being the rock.. your posts matter to many! z
Thanks, Z. And welcome back to the land of the living!!