The Wisdom of Aeschylus

 

I recently shared this on Facebook and it was well received. So I decided to share it with my blogging friends.

Acknowledging the audience’s emotions [following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.],  Robert Kennedy referred to his own grief at the murder of his brother, President John F. Kennedy and, quoting a passage from the play Agamemnon (in translation), said: “My favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote: ‘Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but [what we need] is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black … Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

There’s really nothing to add.

Revisiting The 60s

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.