Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Revolution Last Time

Having dinner with my kids and their wives before the New York primary I was surprised to hear one say, "I don't want a revolution. My life's just starting."  She is twenty something, grinding through the seven separate exams to be certified as an architect, having finished a graduate program at Columbia in architecture, the daughter of immigrants. She is on the cusp of a new life, one she has worked hard for, and Bernie Sanders strikes her as someone who might disrupt all those plans. All that is understandable, but my Bohemian son, the musician, who lives life on the edge, feels the same way. He is into a dozen projects, cobbling together a career and there is enough uncertainty in his life for him to feel  inclined to embrace a great unknown. All of them were voting for Hillary in the New York primary.  

I thought, "This is just the demographic Bernie is supposed to own."
Bernie Wins Burlington Mayorship

I voted for Bernie in New Hampshire, but as I told my friends--I'd rather see Hillary President.

The thing about revolution is that it's risky, and can veer off in unanticipated directions and when I last saw a revolution in full swing, as much as I wanted change and hated the entrenched powerful forces being attacked, I was not thrilled by the folks who were leading the charge.

Revolution Turns To Mud

They seemed to have nothing better to do, and they struck me as superficial and I could not imagine them as old people clinging to the beliefs they espoused--Tom Hayden wouldn't allow Jane Fonda to own a clothes washing machine because it was too bourgeois and it was part of an economy which oppressed the workers. I kept comparing Tom Hayden to my grandfather, who joined the first, unsuccessful Russian revolution, who held guns and when things fell apart, he had to leave his homeland and start a new life. None of these 60's "revolutionaries" were going to leave America and start over if the "revolution" failed.  They were weekend revolutionaries. 

Meet Your New Leaders
There were simply too many people who seemed to be opportunists saying things they thought might buy them some immediate advantage, but they couldn't really believe that engineering and science and all technology was just a tool for the venal and powerful to keep the masses down.

One thing you can say for those delusional adolescents who are hopping airplanes for the Middle East to fight with ISIS--at least they are all in. They are idiots, of course, but all in.  So many of the 60's revolutionaries were playing at revolution. They hadn't thought things through, but they had some underlying voice in their brains which told them not to go too far.

Unappetizing Authority
The vicious racists who ruled the South had to be opposed, and the Black Freedom Riders who faced them had real dignity, but the white kids who walked with them struck me as somehow phony. Those white kids could and likely would go back to their suburban communities, their Ivy League colleges and their future  lives in corporate America--these white kids were just playing at revolution, slumming really. Of course, there were some who were very brave and some who died for their Black friends, but there were too many whose commitment was questionable.
Those Black folks, however,  had no where else to go. They had their backs against the wall. I could believe they did not just want revolution--they had to have it.

Thugs with Badges

The war in Vietnam had to be opposed, and the kids my age who opposed it were not phonies. Our lives were literally on the line.  My friends had already gone and I was scheduled to go. My brother was over there.  We had our backs against the wall.
Fighting for Freedom Vietnam Style

The sexual mores of the time were absurd and destructive: Be a virgin until you are married; never have more than one sexual partner your entire life, and, if you were Catholic, don't use contraception. That meant, of course, women had to stay at home raising kids and could not have careers and families grew to financially untenable sizes.  That had to go.

Better than War

But the alternatives put forward by the revolutionaries went beyond what even I could embrace.  I liked wearing clothes in public and thought sex probably ought not occur, even between consenting adults, in public places. 

Also drugs.  Never could see marijuana or LSD or cocaine as anything but weakness.  If you couldn't get in the mood for sex without these, there was something wrong.  If your own un-medicated senses were inadequate to appreciate a gorgeous day in New Hampshire, a swim in cold water, the fragrance of gardens, then you were pitiable, not someone to emulate.

The revolution of the sixties tied a revolt against malignant racism, with revolt against government authorities who foisted endless war upon a nation which refused to believe we had any good reason for making war and the sexual revolution, which was necessary to liberate women from the status of being baby making machines who had no better prospect in life than earning the title "Mrs." It was all of a piece, although some people embraced one or two parts of the rebellion, not all three. But even someone like me who embraced all three could not help finding many of the leaders, much of the rhetoric, repellent. 

You could understand, yes Louis XV and Marie Antoinette might be decadent, but eventually, with enough heads in baskets and the tumbrels filled, you began to feel a wave of nausea carrying the revolutionary tide. Okay, the Czar was arrogant and needed to go, but what swept across Russia over the ensuing decades, the thought police, the gulags, the millions starving to death for the sake of a bankrupt ideology, then you began to wonder about revolution as an instrument of change.

If you had to go combing through the pages of history for a revolution which was both necessary and, overall, benign, the American Revolution comes as close as any. Men like Hamilton, Washington, Franklin and Adams kept it under reasonable control.  We didn't have anyone like that in the 1960's, save for Martin Luther King, and thank God for him. He kept the most important leg of that three legged stool strong and firmly planted. 

Bernie When

So, yes, I love listening to Bernie. There is a lot left to change.  The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer and the government can and should do something about that. 

But there are some people who are poor for a reason. There is nothing much the government can do about that. Even Jesus observed: there will be poor always.

We can only do what we can do, and leave the rest behind. 

No comments:

Post a Comment