November 5, 2004

Return of the 60s

I did not live through the sixties; I was born in the sixties. At the tail end. Just in time to be old enough to watch American men land on the moon, but not old enough to understand what it meant.

Now I'm grown, out of college. I was in high school during the "me" generation, just out of my teens when fourteen-year-old girls all began wearing their underwear outside their clothes like Madonna, and out of college before Generation X got its label and self-awereness. I have, therefore, been either slightly too late or slightly too early for all the significant, generation-defining, cultural phenomena.

An interesting thing about war, though, particularly a war like the Vietnam war or the Iraq war--a war of choice, a war of American agression and imperialism, a war that divides the country along fiercely defined lines, a war that continues to escalate in costs and deaths and injuries while decreasing in potential for positive outcome--such a war does not restrict itself, like music or fashion, to a particular generation. It touches all of us, even those like me who are too old to be drafted and who have children too young to enlist.

I have not studied the sixties. I have never been drawn to the decade of my birth as a period of history that interested me. Perhaps because it was such a complicated subject. Perhaps because its impact was still reverberating through our social, political, and commercial infrastructures. Perhaps because everyone else in the known universe seemed to be so interested in it. Perhaps because I tended to like 50's doo-wop and 80's rock more than 60's music.

Perhaps because I trusted that the grown-ups in the world had learned valuable lessons from it, lessons that they would teach to me in Cliff's Notes fashion, lessons that would ensure that our culture never had to go through that type of turmoil again.

Today, I see that grownups did not learn any lessons from the sixties. The election three days ago makes clear that Americans and America are regressing. Not only are we supporting a quagmire, guerilla war half a world away in which civilians and combatants are indistinguishable, but we now are writing discrimination into our state constitutions; we now are supporting the destruction of the environment; we now are embracing and trumpeting intolerance as a virtue; we now are eschewing equality by enhancing class distinctions and creating a wealthy, ruling elite.

In this age of unreal reality TV, cut-and-paste pop music, botox and Atkins, is it even possible for America's youth to become enraged and engaged? In this decade of text messaging, body piercing, and mp3 file sharing, is it even possible to have a shared communal experience? In this atmosphere of terrorists (not communists) hiding around every corner, gays threatening to take over our children by (god forbid) MARRYING each other, and Democrats prepared to ban the Bible, is it even possible to have a position that is not unpatriotic, un-American, or un-Christian without being labeled a subversive, or worse, an Enemy Combatant?

I am a firm believer in the cycle of life and in natural rhythms. The world tends towards an equilibrium over time, and to get there, we have to go through cycles. The pond settles eventually after the ripples fade. The pendulum comes to rest after swinging back and forth. Hot water comes to room temperature after the ice melts. It's entropy. It's natural.

I think we are headed for a major sixties rerun. When the politicians and corporate leaders repeat the same mistakes made fifty years ago, the youth and citizenry will eventually provide the same response. America can not take this war in Iraq for long. The country can not live under the threat of a hidden foe for ever or the type of spying on citizens and bureaucratic secrecy espoused by the Bush administration for long (think McCarthyism but now its Aschroftitis). Eventually, the citizenry will rise up in another revolution to protect our rights, to protect the rights of minorities, to protect our environment, to take back America as an inclusive beacon of freedom, hope, liberty, and tolerance.

Right now everyone is so afraid of mistreating the soldiers who are courageously dying and getting maimed in Iraq, that no one is willing to stand up and lead that revolution. Bush has his mandate: ban gayness, invade Iran, open Alaska for drilling by his friends, eliminate taxation of the rich.

Will the rest of us recognize our mandate? Will we know what to do about it?

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