Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Paradox of the 60s

The paradox of the 60s is a microcosm of the larger, truly epochal sea change which the modern West has undergone.

Before I delve into the complexity of the topic, I’ll relieve the reader’s suspense with the punchline in a nutshell:

The paradox of the 60s is this: it was both good and bad at the same time.

That’s the problem with simplifications: they leave a lot of stuff out and often ring silly. But, nevertheless, they usually express the truth of the matter.

Before we continue, however, I’d like to make an elementary point about paradoxes in general that might escape the reader: a process (such as the 60s Revolution) could be both good and bad at the same time, yet not be paradoxical. It would not be paradoxical if the good and bad aspects of the process were separate and not working together, yet bundled together as part of the package of the process. What makes a process paradoxical is if the good and bad aspects are features of the same parts: i.e., if a thing is both good and bad, it is paradoxical. A process is not one thing, usually: it is a system of several things. And if one or more of those parts are, in and of themselves, both good and bad, or if good and bad parts are working synergistically within that system, then we have a paradoxical process. The 60s Revolution, I maintain, is one such paradoxical process.

The famous French pop philosopher Jean-Francois Revel had an epiphany in the late 1960s, while he was visiting San Francisco: he realized that the epicenter of the modern ‘Revolution’ was not occurring in China, or in Cuba, or in the Soviet Union (as his Leftist compeers and comrades were convinced)—it was occurring in the United States of America! He looked around him as he visited America in the late 60s and saw the amazing sociocultural changes that were occurring and concluded the only logical thing. The fact that he was virtually alone in concluding this speaks to the pathological myopia of the New Leftism that was born out of the 60s more than it does to Monsieur Revel’s eccentricity. And that pathological myopia of the New Left reflects, in turn, one major characteristic of the paradox I am addressing in my post today.

What Revel found most revolutionary was the new freedom, insouciance, frankness and irreverence with regard to tradition: he recognized this alone—considered even apart from any concrete legal or political changes—as remarkably significant and powerful. I believe Revel was right, and his implication—that these changes were beneficent—was also right. But it was also wrong. It was both right and wrong: it was paradoxical.

To simplify again, what was right about it was that it represented an insuppressible arrow in the entelechy of Western progress—towards ever more freedom, individuality and openness. By and large, this is a good development, and is part of the larger, ongoing adventure of Mankind as it continues to grow, and grow up, with the freedom God gave. If God created Mankind to grow into maturity and wisdom, then it is not up to any man or society or ideology to declare that it knows when this mysterious adventure has ended: it is only for God to know, and to tell. And so far—with the exception of the pneumopathological visions of certain heretics throughout the centuries, the most spectacularly egregious of them all being that impostor-prophet, Mohammed—God has not told Mankind.

What was wrong about that revolutionary breakthrough in social mores that typified the 60s is well known to most Americans, and began to be articulated most charismatically during the Reagan years. Reagan first expressed the widespread, yet amorphous, feeling that some valuable things had been lost, and sometimes even perverted, by the 60s Revolution: a sense of communal decency; an innate ability to maintain a balanced order in society; a sense of decorum; an understated yet effective code of honor; a respect for tradition; an acceptance of different stations in life that perdure with dignity beyond the obsession for utopian equality; a restraint in the realm of the appetites, not the least of which, the sexual appetite; and so forth.

However, looking back from the vantage point of 2006—after so many ephemeral attempts in the 80s, 90s, and in the years immediately preceding and succeeding the ‘New Millennium’ by pop analysts to digest the amazing tumult of the 60s—the perspicacious observer who does not lose perspective of the forest for the trees sees an overarching strength and stability in the American sociocultural fabric that is truly admirable and wondrous: for the most part—not without significant and sometimes disturbing problems—America has been able to assimilate the good aspects of the 60s Revolution without forgetting what the 60s left behind in its brazen scorn of the past. The America of the 21st century has absorbed its 60s paradox and enfolded it into a higher paradox that seeks a way to restore what the 60s thought it could destroy in its giddy experiment with novelty and freedom. And the good news—evident in subtle, understated, organic evidence that often evades the jittery pop-culture eye—is that a solid common ground of those traditional virtues never truly disappeared from American culture in the wake of the 60s Revolution: they have survived and in many ways have become better and stronger, by learning to accept and in some ways to appreciate—even sometimes to appropriate—the wilder, funnier, and bolder defiance of their younger longhaired sibling.

As with all civilizational paradoxes, the American experiment is a work in progress, and it is imperfect and full of flaws. But it is by far the best thing going, socioculturally, in the world. It is perhaps the most successful and most beneficent sociocultural experiment in history.

I don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that I think the 60s Paradox is a posy of roses: one major, bitter fruit of the 60s Revolution is PC multiculturalism; and while this also is a paradoxical phenomenon, it has tended to exert deleterious effects, not the rosier synergistic dynamism I alluded to above. The most glaring deleterious effect of PC multiculturalism has been the prevalent whitewashing and candycoating of Islam, perversely and obstinately sustained after sufficient data to dismantle it has been available for years now. The pathological inability to condemn Islam is the single most vivid and powerful manifestation of the disease of PC multiculturalism.

In this one major respect, the paradox of the 60s Revolution has failed us, and increasingly threatens our very lives by preventing us from taking rational measures to marginalize, monitor and target a large, broadly disseminating group of people who, though they subscribe to an ideology that is intolerant and dangerously anti-liberal, are nevertheless rendered sacredly inviolable and blameless merely because they emanate predominantly from a mosaic of Third-World and non-white cultures.

For Part Two, click here.

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