Genesis of the sixties
Wed, 29 May 1996 08:30:52 -0400

I have been lurking for approximately a year and a half and
would like to address the genesis of the sixties, an issue that has arisen
from time to time.
The fifties and early sixties witnessed an extraordinary rise in prosperity
for most Americans. As a result, America was exceptionally optimistic and
raised their children accordingly. The future was going to be like the
Jetsons, with air cars, reduced work weeks and robot servants; it looked
great. In addition, America saw itself as moral heroes, being the great
liberators of WWII, the generous patrons of the Marshall plan and the bulwark
against the godless commies. The young, by and large, bought this image and
were raised with the expectation that they would improve on it. The Civil
Rights movement not only gave notice that there was still some work left to
be done, but that it was doable.
This optimism and high expectations collided with reality. The Vietnam War,
coupled with the widespread use of grass and LSD, caused many of the young to
make a serious reappraisal of our society. Many discovered that there was
something seriously wrong at the core of our civilization. Our technology,
which had produced all this wonderful prosperity, had also created a world
unlike any humanity had ever known before. Our way of thinking was becoming
increasingly inappropriate in these changed conditions. Since we lived on a
finite planet with finite resources, for example, we would soon need to
cooperate on an unprecedented scale. In order to make the necessary
adjustments, we needed to de-emphasize our competitive and materialistic
tendencies while emphasizing the qualities of compassion, community,
fellowship and love, the feelings that unite us. Yet, the impact of
technology was having the reverse effect. Just at the moment when we needed
to become less competitive and individualistic, these traits were deepening
and hardening. The only way we could reverse this process, this headlong
charge toward a "technological Dark Ages," was to change our way of thinking,
to change our consciousness.
This effort failed. Now, more than ever we are a society of materialistic,
competitive, atomized, success seekers. The sixties left neither an
organization, nor any widely accepted leaders. We bequeathed to the young
nothing to work with, not even hope for a better future.
Sure, there was some progress. When the next movement occurs, women won't
have to worry about being relegated to the kitchen. Likewise, minorities can
feel assured that they will have an equal part in determining the shape of
the future. There has been some nice work on environmental issues and we're
more relaxed regarding social mores, dress and customs. I don't buy the "we
ended the war" bit, the longest in U.S. history, but we did introduce a more
legitimate discussion of ethics into our foreign policy. But as important as
these social changes have been, they have done nothing to change the overall
direction of our society; we are still stampeding toward a cliff.
We should openly acknowledge this failure. By trying to emphasize what was
accomplished -- an unfortunate side effect of the self esteem movement -- we
merely add unjustifiable fuel to the conservative claim that the sixties is
responsible for our current conditions. A failed movement is vulnerable to
ridicule, which it receives anyway, but it can hardly be blamed for the
nation's ills. Likewise, by emphasizing all the great things we supposedly
did in the sixties, we send a message to the youth that they couldn't
possibly "accomplish" what we did. Our honesty opens up the possibility that
they still have the opportunity to do it right this time.
Recognizing our failure does not denigrate what was attempted, rather it
validates it. The need to begin fundamentally changing the mentality of our
culture continues, the counterculture was unable to initiate it. So long as
we acknowledge that we had our heads handed to us, then we merely lost a
battle, not the war. If we're too proud to recognize this, then we failed
utterly, finally, and I must add, irresponsibly. Martin