[sixties-l] Patterns

From: Jvaron@aol.com
Date: Sun Jun 18 2000 - 05:45:51 CUT

  • Next message: Jerry West: "Re: [sixties-l] Vietnam War Memorials"

    First off, a comment on the hypothetical question of "what if" more people in
    the movement had thrown in their lot with Humphrey -- would that have
    actually hastened the end of the war such that the movement's broad goals
    would have been better served? With hindsight, then, was the decsion to all
    but abandon the mainstream of the Democratic Party and, notwithstanding the
    limited push for McCarthy, the entire electoral process in 1968, a "mistake?"
     I am, for what it's worth, a "professional" historian, and we do puzzle, at
    a methodological level, over the value of counterfactual analyses and the
    question of "what if." Part of what is so exciting about history is to
    appreciate, despite the power of structures, how much agency people retain
    and the extent to which "events" are driven by contingent choices. The study
    of history, then, is a study of roads not taken, which can lead you either to
    lament bad choices, to try to rearticulate and revive supressed
    possibilities, or to view history with some combination of regret and hope.

    Nonetheless, there are constraints on choices, rendering some hypotheticals
    all but irrelevant. The case of Humphrey raised here may be one. So many in
    the anti-war movement had developed an intense antiptahy for LBJ and regarded
    him, with some validity, as a "baby killer," a "war criminal," or even a
    genocidal maniac. It's hard to imagine such an activist then seeing Humphrey
    -- who presented himself as the steward of Johnson's legacy -- as the prudent
    choice for peace. That's like asking someone to jump over their own shadow;
    can't be done. It reminds me also of a lovely line Raskin had of Abbie
    Hoffman: (something like) "Blaming Abbie for being merely a cultural
    revolutionary is like blaming a cheetah for having spots." If something
    would have been so utterly alien to the consciousness and sensibility of an
    historical actor -- like an anti-war radical seeing Humphrey as a progressive
    choice on the Vietnam issue -- then it ceases to be all that productive to
    wonder "what if" said actor had felt, thought, and done otherwise. There are
    good and bad hypotheticals, and what separates them is a judgement call . . .

    Now, to defend myself briefly against charges of the inadequacy and naivete
    of my tentative "framework" for activist awakenings, without at all meaning
    to be defensive. I in fact appreciate the comments. Nonetheless:

    -- I proposed it as only a VERY general and far from comprehensive outline.
    In addition, I wanted to keep the post short out of concerns voiced on the
    list about posts that run way too long (I was, on two occasions, very guilty
    of this -- belated apologies -- and tried to impose self-restraint). So,
    yes, I left a lot out.

    -- The cultural dimension is of course important, as is the whole issue of
    transgression. The ideological and cultural experimentation of the era
    entailed, I think, an ethos of "going further," of pushing and transgressing
    limits, of shocking, offending, disturbing, and scrambling all kinds of
    normative expectations -- all of which had a potential price. Part of what
    makes the Weathermen so fascinating is in fact their gravitation towards --
    or even celebration of -- extremes and forms of radical transgression. We're
    all familiar with the most notorious forms that took -- the Manson comment,
    the mania of Flint, plans for lethal attacks, Kamikazee actions, etc.. For
    a time, transgression was deeply embedded in the culture of the whole
    organization, which was itself just an intensification of tendencies and
    sensibilities present throughout the movement. The movement as a whole is so
    fascinating in the tension it sustained between limits and limitlessness, the
    defiance of norms and attempts to build a new, more humane normativity,
    edifying experimentation and eerie forms of excess that threatened to pull it
    back into the pathologies that defined the mainstream of American culture.
    Also fascinating, but rarely discussed (especially with reference to
    Weatherman), is the process by which individuals and groups re-drew limits
    and, both through the power of events and as the result of choices,
    reasserted the need for norms. Too often and too easily are the "excesses"
    of movement culture woven into tales of sensation, "true crime," madness, or

    In stressing in my initial model the less controversial (or exciting!)
    aspects of "the path," I meant neither to be naive nor to disregard the
    importance of transgression -- and its serious political consequences. I
    would love, in fact, to hear more from people about the process of "going
    further," losing (and regaining) control.

    The madness and depravity of the Establishment deserve sustained mention too.


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