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May 12, 2005

The Way We Will Be

Guest post by Revere

Mahablog had an extremely interesting post on Saturday (May 7). It was just days past the anniversary of the killings at Kent State and she was reviewing Philip Caputo's book on the events there. Like almost everyone politically active in those years I remember Kent State vividly--the sense that they were actually killing us. Here are some of Maha's observations:

Reading this has brought back a lot of memories of The Way We Were. As angry as people  are now, I remember the Vietnam War era as a lot worse. But was there really more anger than there is now, or just more shouting?

People are expressing their anger on the Web now instead of in the streets, which  is probably a change for the better. But the other differences are worrying.

Maha is completely on target about the anger. It was palpable, corrosive, and despite rosy reminiscences, not much fun. Those were extremely dark days. She goes on to contrast news coverage then with news coverage now and the comparison is unflattering to today. My view is a bit different. In those days I was obsessed with the war. I watched 90 minutes of news each dinner hour, two networks and the local PBS station. I read every NYT article. The war was ever present in the media and pretty much "in your face." But there were only a few news outlets and they hewed, pretty much to the government line. Yes, the news conferences were more free-wheeling, but there was little critique or commentary afterwards, at least not until much later. The carnage and destruction that were shown only lasted for 10 minutes on the network news and that was it. The rest of the 24 hours was silent about the war.

Today there are the cable noise networks. They are delivering a lot of information along with a lot of crapola. History will tell us what that means. But it isn't obvious we are worse off than we were then. The war in Iraq is quite present and people are more informed now than they were then. More of them agree with us that it is a very bad mistake than agreed with us then (I doubt we ever got close to a majority at any time in those days). We had no efficient way to communicate then. We used mimeograph machines and typewriters. There was nothing like The Daily Show or Bill Moyers or dailyKos or Juan Cole or many other things we have today.

We had other ways to bond and produce solidarity, and mass demonstrations were among them. They were frightening, exhilarating, sometimes dangerous--but essential. Mahablog says they were often counterproductive. Maybe. But they played a role that was extremely important.

But here's the important difference. Maha is clearly right that today the split is not generational as it was then. The draft had something to do with that, but not everything. There was a cultural discontinuity that occurred in the 1960s that excluded the older generation. Today our children are not so very different than we are. That's not where the split is now. The people who are different are the religious right. On November 3 half the country woke up to find the other half of the country not only strangers, in some deep and unsettling way, but also threatening. Threatening to cultural moorings.Whether this is a true state of affairs is debatable. But I think the feeling was widespread. And it was reciprocal.

Thus there is an interesting reversal of roles. We are now the excluded ones, as our parents were in the 60s. Many of the things we took for granted are gone. Concerning the role of government, for example, everything seems upside down. Essential functions are being "privatized" and without any resistance. At this point it wouldn't surprise me if someone were to suggest we privatize the judiciary (citing the use of hired mediators as proof of principle). But unlike the parents of the 60s generation, since our split is not generational, we won't just die out. The split will reproduce itself in our children and the other side's children. That is where the battleground will be. Focus on the Family, with its preoccupation with religious (i.e., ideological) education, values imparted in the home and public education signals where the struggle will take place. That's the meaning of the gay marriage debate, evolution, religion in the schools. It is a struggle about reproducing ideologies in the next generation.

The real political issues of this generation relate to social structures, policies and language that reproduce ideologie--through religion, education, tribalisms of various kinds (especially nationalism) and gender roles.

The big question is not The Way We Were, but The Way We Will Be.


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Kent State was the first shots fired in the 35 year old Culture War.


This is part of the typologies discussion and I don't think the lines break quite as cleanly as you might think. There are still generational issues, with Gen X and Y breaking conservative against their boomer parents.

Evidence for GenX & Y breaking for conservatives?

I also remember the days right after the invasion of Cambodia and then the murders at Kent State and Jackson State as palpable, goosebump-raising times. Parents of college-age kids were as concerned as the kids were that they could be shot at. There were massive boycotts of classes on campuses all over the country; I was in medical school at the time and we even canceled classes at medical school (!) to talk about what was going on.

What I'm struggling with now is this notion of ideological hegemony that determines how news of things like the Iraq occupation is presented, how Social Security is depicted, how important Terry Schiavo was in the national consciousness, etc. In the 1970s, we talked about this in Althusserian terms, about the role of intellectuals to ally themselves with mass movements in opposition to this hegemony, those he called "organic intellectuals." That's what I think some of the best blogs are all about - providing space for "organic intellectuals" to enter the oppositional discourse using the mode that presents itself at this point in history. As in the 1970s, I wonder if this is too marginalized to really influence events or weaken the hegemony. Obviously, it's too soon to say, but I think we need to keep pushing it out there as long as we have the energy and the commitment to seeing if it matters.

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