Following is the essay you can designate as Volume 10, Number 22 of This Week's Clue, based on the e-mail newsletter I have produced since March, 1997. It would be the issue of May 28.
Made glorious summer by this son of York
(That's Ian McKellan, whom your kids know better as Gandalf from Lord of the Rings,to the right, in a 1992 production of Richard III., by Shakespeare. He played Richard.)
Every season in America is different. Some are good, some bad, and some horrible.
The really, really horrible seasons come about once in a generation. They are horrible in the eyes of their beholders, the adult voters of the time.
They are horrible not just because of events, but the hopelessness most people feel in the face of those events. We feel powerless, impotent, and we fear there are no answers for it.
I point this out because, to many early Baby Boomers (or those born during World War II) the height of the last crisis, the summer of 1967, was a really good time. It was the carefree “Summer of Love,” and it is often seen to have been that way, still, in the misty chords of memory called nostalgia.
But to the vast majority of those who lived through it, to your parents, the Summer of 1967 was a horrible, horrible season. It was the summer when Robert McNamara, architect of the War in Vietnam, the very best among The Best and the Brightest, realized the strategy was not working. It was the summer of riots in Newark and Detroit. (While you were off getting stoned, this was what was on the cover of Time.)
And of course it was the summer of hippies. Your parents didn't approve. Not then, not later.
Many beliefs were cast in stone by the events of that time. The idea of a “generation gap” was cast in stone. The belief in suburbs and the distrust of cities was cast in stone. The distrust of the media was cast in stone, as was the distrust of academics. It can be said, now, that the real “enemies list” of the Nixon Administration was written, that summer, by his and George Wallace's future supporters – college kids, journalists, liberals, blacks, academics, urban-dwellers – Dirty Fucking Hippies every one of them, from that day to this.
A whole generation saw its revenge. The cities withered. The hippies were cast out. Academics were replaced by think tanks in the creation of policy. Liberal became a cuss word. Journalists became the enemies of truth. Progress for poor blacks halted, it even reversed. We are still, in fact, dealing with the after-effects of these decisions, 40 years later.
There have been other, similar summers. The summer of 1931. The summer of 1895. The summer of 1859. Each cast in stone the attitudes, the alliances and the hatreds of the generation which lived through them. The Depression Generation. The Populist Generation. The Civil War Generation. Each generation, in its feeling of powerlessness, created its own set of enemies, its own set of alliances, its own sets of myths and values, and assumptions concerning power.
That's the process which is taking place today. Events too horrible for words are upon us. The cradle of civilization is being destroyed at our hands. Gas costs $3.50 per gallon. Don't get sick. The air is filled with smoke. Where are the bees, or the singing birds? The nation is going bankrupt, while billionaires party like it's 1999. The government is lying to us, and the nominal opposition to that government is caving in to the lies. We seem to be ruled by the Paris Hiltons of the world.
These events are going to cast new myths and values in the American mind, assumptions that will play out, in public policy, not just through the 2008 election but for a generation of elections yet to come. I will most likely be dead before these assumptions play out. My teenage children will be older than I am, now, before these assumptions play out.
What are these assumptions? It's hard to be certain, but since I am part of the movement seeking these new assumptions, let me take a stab at it:
- The need for consensus, not just a majority.
- A demand for the Earth.
- Trust the Internet, not the cable.
- Republicans are liars and conservative ones, evil.
- The War Against Oil.
It is hard, from this vantage point, to
see these as assumptions, as ideas that may drive policy for a day,
let alone a generation.
But these are the big ideas of our time.
The way from here will not be easy. The 1859 and 1967 generations were scarred by war. The 1895 and 1931 generations were scarred by Depression.
We are being scarred by something much, much worse – the potential destruction of this planet we call home. Global warming is real. The mass extinction of species is real. The mass migration of people is real. It is, indeed, a small world after all.
These are scary thoughts. And when we look at our leaders, obsessed by Iraq, driven ever-forward by the Cold War assumptions of the Nixon Thesis, completely blind to the reality all around them, it makes us depressed. Angry. Discontented.
Remember these feelings. Use these feelings. Act on these feelings. The instincts of the majority of the American people are right. The media and government, locked in the past, are wrong. They must be cast out, and replaced by what we know to be true.
Welcome to the real 1967 Game.