"The framers of the constitution knew human nature as well as we do. They too had lived in dangerous days; they too knew the suffocating influence of orthodoxy and standardized thought. They weighed the compulsions for restrained speech and thought against the abuses of liberty. They chose liberty." ~ Justice William O. Douglas
This Is the Me Generation
Exclusive to STR
October 18, 2006
We had better terminology back then, I think, to describe what we thought was wrong with the world. Anomie. Urban malaise. Existential grief of the 20th Century. Increasing lack of empathy. Ethical or racial ramifications of social dysfunction. Tedious words for tedious times. Encounter-group catchphrases. Yoga session buzzwords.
Some called it the Me Decade. The draft was over. Vietnam was winding down. You could vote if you were 18. Sixties altruistic idealism was on the wane. Hippies got a little older. No one seemed to care anymore. Postmodern grief for the death of the American value system.
Electric guitars, pretty flower-girls in cutoff blue jeans, the surreal landscapes of acid trips and grass smoking. There was plenty of that. Some of it was fatly indulgent. Other times, something indescribable would happen. Most of it, looking back, just makes us smile. A little wistful; a little sad.
Maybe we did turn in on ourselves and shut out the sound of Nixon, or Gerry Ford, or Jimmy Carter on the television by turning up the stereo and cracking open another Schlitz. Maybe we just switched the channel to Happy Days. Maybe the AM radio newscaster's voice got traded in a hurry for Top 40 rock. Protest in the streets became protest in the living room, where there was no more war to oppose. We still let the sunshine in, but stopped reaching out in the darkness. It was an in-between time, and none of us, I think, read any tea leaves in our Magic 8-Balls.
Segue forward to now. Expanding Mideast warfare. Iran . Syria . Lebanon . North Korea . The continuing fallout from 9/11. A collapsing dollar. Rising taxes. An out-of-control national debt. The PATRIOT Act. REAL ID. RFID tracking chips. Draconian airport security. Warrantless searches and seizures. Indefinite incarcerations without habeas corpus. Military tribunals. An intensifying War on Drugs. Detention camps and supermax prisons. Increased use of surveillance cameras. Curbs on free speech.
Thirty some-odd years ago, it's true, we took our eyes off the road and our hands off the wheel. It might well be argued that there's where all of this started. But I'm willing to stand by the conviction that if, say, 1976 had looked anything like 2006, the shadow of Sixties tumult would've still been near enough at hand to break through any nascent lethargy. People would've taken to the streets once again, and we'd now remember the Seventies as the We (as in We the People) Decade. But it didn't happen then; we'd already fought our battles (or so we could best tell in those days). It's happening right now, all around us, every passing minute. And sand is running through the hourglass.
No, most of us who were around during the Me Decade were not exactly volunteers in the Continental Army. That kind of mobility had just recently belonged to another era. But there was a reason it occurred in the first place; one substantially less urgent by comparison than that which threatens us all at present. And if we don't stand up and do something about it -- whatever it is that each of us finds within himself or herself that we know we can do -- if we continue watching football games, and cruising the bars, and ignoring the undeniable truth right in front of us, then posterity (if there even is one in the cards) will likely brand us all the Me Generation . . . or possibly something far worse.
And the irony of all of this is that, contrary to the ideals we so fervently espoused in that hazy-crazy time, out of apathy, a love for material creature comforts over intrinsic values, and a lazy desire to follow the path of least resistance, we will, at day's end, be left with nothing at all -- save despotism, and ultimate tyranny.