catching up

Wed, 12 Jun 1996 16:59:01 -0400

Back from 3 weeks out of the country (always nice!) and catching up on alot of
interesting 60s-l mail. Apologies in advance for the "datedness" of some of
this. An interesting discussion between Jeff Apfel, Morgan
Morgan, Andi Schecter, Eide & others about different pieces of the Sixties,
reminded me a little of Peter Braunstein's paper on possessive memory, but I
thought the discussion evolved in a healthy way. I was struck by how
different Morgan Morgan's experiences were from my own (and my take on Forrest
Gump is entirely the opposite; in my view it shows the 60s in an entirely
negative light, befitting the best 60s-bashers like Newt). I am struck though
with the retrospective view, wondering if it is possible to mobilize grass
roots movements like those again yet avoiding some of the greater "craziness"
that may have helped those who wanted to bash "the Sixties" and create a
backlash. Or is something lost in the process, some energy, some magnetism to
the movement. A question for Morgan: who were the antiwar elite who sold you
out so many times? Do you mean the "safe" crowd of McCarthyites/McGovernites?
Or the Sid Peck/Dave Dellinger/Mobe people, etc.? Or who?

And there was a long piece from Jeff Apfel responding to the "ideology" in
Grover's responses and my recommendations re. Chomsky. It's hard to pick up
all the meaning because of all the strange marks in my text, but Jeff makes
some interesting points that could make for some good talk.
First, Chomsky is not a conspiracy theorist as he takes great pains to point
out (perhaps not so much in the video); the key to his points about the
propaganda system/media culture is that certain critical perspectives (roughly
"left") are systematically weeded out of the mainstream media; they simply do
not appear in the mainstream media whether these be the tv networks or the NYT
or Wash. Post or....(See the publication EXTRA! for monthly examples of this)
There are some pretty profound implications of this: e.g., Vietnam is now
remembered in the mainstream either as (a) a war we could have won if only we'd
used more force or (b) an ill-advised but well-intentioned intervention on
behalf of freedom/democracy. In either case, the primary focus is on us as
victims....[I have a piece coming out in Peace Review on this if anyone wants
me to send them a copy.] Ditto Central America in the 80s. Same kind of stuff
is going on now re. globalization, NAFTA, etc.... Guess without going on with
this anymore, I'd recommend reading some Chomsky directly (e.g., his book on
Manufacturing Consent with Ed Herman, or his more recent articles in Z on the
assault on social welfare policy, etc.). I agree with Jeff that Chomsky tends
to focus exclusively on political content rather than, in some ways broader,
cultural/visual consciousness-creation (e.g., TV), but others like Doug
Kellner & Mark Crispin Miller do a pretty nice job on these, and my own view
is that the two complement each other --both reinforcing the pro-corporate
status quo.

So I guess my take on the significance of the sixties is the explicitly
(antiwar, civil rights, antipoverty, equal rights, etc.) or implicitly
(cultural) political impulse for democracy --equality, empowerment,
self-actualization, community, etc.-- is central to what the decade/movement
etc. was about, and this impulse is on the one hand embedded in part in
American liberal idealism but on the other hand suppressed by the very liberal
institutions (technocracy, capitalism...) that prevail in this very modern,
liberal system.
Thus those atop this system, reinforced by their own internalization of status
quo ideology, were/are threatened by this democratic impulse, and thus they
fought it through scapegoating, selective representation, & other forms of
propaganda (to say nothing of out & out repression) whenever & wherever they
could --from LBJ blaming the "nervous nellies" etc. for giving comfort to Hanoi,
the repression of the Panthers, Nixon's appeals to the Silent Majority vs. the
student "bums" all the way through the neocons and the Trilateral
Commission's attack on "excessive democracy" in the 70s, into the Reagan 80s &
the Second Thoughts crowd, Hollywood's embrace of the 60s myths (from Rambo to
Big Chill to Miss. Burning to Forrest Gump), to Newt & the 90s assault on the
welfare state....

I'm sympathetic to Marty's basic take on the 60s (with adjustments) --i.e.,
alot of reform & change, all ultimately liberal and essentially compatible
with capitalism (at least during boom times), though under attack from NeoCons
onward, in part because of economic imperatives. But no, no radical change;
still the same system, still "careening toward the cliff" as I think marty
nicely put it.

There's alot in here relevant to the discussion about decline of 60s
movements that some were addressing in recent conversations (Julie raised this).
I talk about that some in the latter chapters of my book, THE SIXTIES
EXPERIENCE (for those unfamiliar with it), and have written more about 60s
bashing & the media's sanitized 60s in Vietnam Generation & other places. See
also Meta Mendel-Reyes' Reclaiming Democracy on a similar subject. I think
there are two kind of angles that people take on this question: one focuses on
the movements, organizing, etc. and looks at how & where the movements "went
wrong" (e.g., Gitlin, Miller & other SDSers who argue the movement should have
been better organized & more disciplined); the other, focusing more systemically
on the ways in which the system was successfully reformed and/or fought back
thus putting on hold the evolution of phase two of our "pro-democracy" movement.
The latter is more my take. I haven't yet read Terry Anderson's book, yet, so
don't know where he fits in.

One point I'd make re. the "blaming the Sixties" hype that's all around us
(e.g., AIDs, Crack, breakdown of the family, loss of military nerve, etc.) is
that most of these "ills" (except the "Vietnam syndrome" that particularly
virulent epidemic of anti-militarism) are themselves largely the product of
the very spiraling-out-of-control, declining & increasingly unjust, capitalist
economy --from careerist pressures to the destruction of traditional
community bonds to the downward slide of millions of Americans to poverty or
near-poverty hopelessness. So in a clever turn of propaganda that would
astonish Orwell, the 60s movements which challenged this sick system are now
effectively (in the mainstream media) blamed for the advanced illness.

My thoughts for now... Perhaps water over the dam, but if anyone wants to
continue any pieces, I'd be interested.

Ted Morgan