Sunday, September 27, 2009

Recollections of the Sixties in Berkeley - Part I

Does our political life tend toward sophistication? It's a question that's rarely addressed objectively. One of the cliches of sociological study in the last 75 years has been the preoccupation with how modern techno-culture tends to break down the links and connections between people, creating various forms of apathy, disengagement, isolation, and the psychological conditions which follow: Alienation, suspicion, boredom, intolerance. But the degree to which people involve themselves in our political life, and the degree to which they make themselves aware of what is happening, as responsible citizens of a representative democracy, are questions which have been usually considered apart from the context within which it counts. In the Sixties, after a decade and a half of post-war "anomie", the first wave of the "baby-boom" generation (the children of the Depression, and WWII generation), reacted against the stifling conformity and presumption of the 1950's--expressed as America's global military adventures, the "organization" men of industry and the corporate culture--by challenging modes of dress, behavior, and openly questioning the available life-style roles. 
Rejecting the prosperity offered to them by a new economic affluence--the suburban "revolution" of sanitized, dehumanized "community" and a righteous world-view about America's predominant "place" and role in world affairs--American youth, coming of age in the Sixties, sought new radical paradigms to redefine its social conscience, and explore new ways of living and thinking, against the inertia of political stagnation. 
In the immediate post-war period (1945-1970), investment in public education was on a steep rise. Rapid expansions of the public state college and university systems across the nation, encouraged people to believe in the ideal of educational advancement as a right, not a privilege, of growing up in a democratic society. The prosperity which drove this phenomenon, however, was based on an industrial model which would not endure the global capital expansion which began in the 1980's, and has progressed with unprecedented speed around the world. In just a single generation, America went from being the de-facto industrial engine of the earth, to being a nation of credit consumerism.      

Those of us who grew up in the 1950's and 1960's didn't see this coming at all, and even if we had, it's unlikely we would have seen the consequences of the proliferation of the factory model into the Third World. The computer revolution, and the over-heated market and real estate speculations of the 1990's and early 2000's, masked the coming rapid decline in America's economic prosperity. 

Would the social consciousness and political liberalism of the 1960's have been as emphatic as it was, had we understood then how fragile and temporary our hold on prosperity (including our ability to study, expand liberty, and experience more of life) was? Were the Sixties, in effect, a social phenomenon fueled by a false sense of security and bounty, which was unsustainable, and therefore indulgent and naive?   


Ed Baker said...

the 60' all of them
filled with semi-hole events..

it all began one day (for me) with that song

"little boxes, little boxes,little boxes filled with ticky-tacky

"little houses,
little house,little houses filled with ticky-tacky (...)


and the 50's were a bore, also! I Ike/Nixon
and Joe McCarthy

but I didn't like Charlie McCarthy

and I DID like Dorrie's fuzzy-sweater the pink one!

and as then so now "social consciousness" ? geeze, where we get THAT? then NBC and The Washington Daily News? Now MSNBC and The Washington Times...

heck just look how SKY managed the protest at recent G-20

we got Morons also in The Fourth Estate!


jh said...

when i came to college in 1974 it was a rather privileged freshman who had a car...most did almost all of them do

i think "mechanisms" like wall street and the world bank were pretty indifferent to social unrest in the 60s...sort of like something to go around in the road

some political cultural aspects of the intellectual life of the post WW2 period have been significant

civil rights
equal rights
ecology environment
perhaps not so much now
but the anti-war pacifist movement
took on a more intense fervor
in the 60s at least

there were many illusions
during that period
i think the whole drug experiment
both "licit" and "il"
has created a strange mindset

the illusion that somehow there was no wisdom in the elders
has created a swelling disconnect between young people and old

the whole rock concert phenomenon is still a huge thing
of course it started rather altruistically with anything but profit as a motive

maybe that's the slip the bigger drama we all somehow know about but fail to acknowledge -
the way everything gets mainstreamed

there is that cliche' joke about how all the revolutionaries and reactionaries sold out by 1975 went to law school became execs on their own terms and basically lived out their fathers' american dreams

i always tend to think that the intellectual and artistic promptings of the 50s 60s 70s were rooted in healthy human reactions to ways of life that could be nothing but odious..the lyricism in popular music in the 60s is still impressive...much more than it is today

i don't know curtis
every era has it's own style
it's own character

having restated the idealism of living as free people in a completely new way did the young people now older people of that era did they actually accomplish something by way of a more just society??

i think you're correct in pointing to the computer
for all it's business value i suspect it has undermined
the loving labour of learning

there are still quite a few young people in college who manifest a sort of ongoing romanticism with the era in question...they're approaching it all with more health information than we had

let us not be fooled again
we know the bushes the nixons the cheneys the reagans are still out there still presuming to run the show still unfettered in what wendell berry refers to time and again as
the illusion of unlimited growth

what the hell
i came of age in the early seventies
saw the war end then partied
like it was 1999 until my philosophical curiosity got the best of me
and i decided a quieter less altered state would become me

lets not fail to toast the era of psychedelic wildness
even if nothing was accomplished