There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda….You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning….
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave….
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark —that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
– Hunter S. Thompson, 1971, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
For some reason, I sit and read over this passage whenever I’m feeling particularly depressed, politically speaking. Not sure why. By no means is it an uplifting passage. In fact, you might call it ‘eulogistic’. Maybe more ‘elegistic’ if the word actually existed.
I first came across it probably, oh, 5 years or so after it was written. Some nearly 35 years ago, yikes. As a tail-ender of the baby boom, my initial impression was full of, I don’t know, disdain, let’s call it. Another old hippie, waxing all nostalgic about how great it was back in `68, blah, blah, blah. Eat it, grandpa. Haven’t you heard? Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.
But now those words carry a little more resonance for me. Either because they’ve aged well or I haven’t. From this particular vantage point, looking back and with the right kind of eye glasses, it seems as if ours is a regressive age, politically and economically, as Thompson’s passage predicted. The wave broke and the promise of 1968 seems unattainable.
Is that too melodramatic? I don’t know. We’re still invading and occupying foreign countries both militarily and economically, plundering them in the name of advancing democracy. The rights and responsibilities of consumerism have trumped those of citizenship. We’ve raised a generation of children with lowered expectations because we hate paying taxes. And the fucking Rolling Stones are still on tour with almost the exact same play list they had 4 decades ago!
So no, that ain’t progress, folks.
And the politics, oh lord, the politics. As a society we’ve disengaged and into the void has rushed… no, that’s not the right word… slunk? oozed? gestated?… Yeah, let’s go with gestated… into the void has gestated a breed of politician who make very few, non-fiduciary demands on us and rarely appeal to the better angels in our nature. Politicians test marketed and prepackaged in order to smooth over the rough edges of intellectualism, erudition or worldliness that might make the public feel self-conscious about their own lack of any of those traits. Keep it simple, stupid. Always avoid complexity. Hell, scorn it if given the opportunity. Nothing more than can fit on a bumper sticker. Slogans and jingles, if you don’t mind, with the depth of a radio advertisement.
None of which should come as a surprise since, like almost every other aspect of our lives, politics and those that dwell within have been fully corporatized. Advertising and marketing is the lifeblood. Without that, well, it’s all just shit we don’t need at a price we really can’t afford. And I’m not just talking money.
In a corporate world, we put our personal comfort and security above all else. If those we bestow positions of power on ensure us our comfort and security, everything else is negotiable. Free speech. Civil rights. Public space. Compromised government. When a government’s compromised, those it purports to lead cannot claim to be free from the stain or stench of it.
Now I’m not bemoaning our fall from a 1960s paradise. I am well aware that it was an era never as pure and clean as some vocal boosters maintain. Yet, as the above quoted passage suggests, in the ongoing battle between progress and the status quo, revolution and reaction, Bilbo Baggins and Sauron, there was a point of time in the not-too-distant-past when the new guard had the old guard by the throat, demanding and receiving concessions in the way the world was run. It must’ve been heady times.
But we eased up, started taking things for granted, and it’s all been pretty well in retreat since then. Sure, there’s been seismic shifts since then but mostly elsewhere. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet empire, much of it bloodlessly. Latin America has shaken off its heavy coat colonialism, dictatorship and military rule to become a growing global force. China and India have fully embraced modernity in both dizzingly positive and ghastly ways.
Still, sitting here on this particular Sunday, darkness pervades much of my perspective. We’ve abrogated our duty as citizens and voters by our fierce insistence on being ignorant of matters of vital importance. Economic. Environmental. The democratic process. (Coalition in a parliamentary system? Anarchy, I say. Anarchy!) In so doing, we’ve handed over the keys of power to those who don’t have society’s best interests at heart. Demagogues. Rightwing, anti-government populists. Corporate lobbyists and big business technocrats. Ill-educated scions of the wealthy. Those claiming to stand in opposition to all that but who cave at the first sign of conflict.
It is darker still to me because as a child of the 60s (technically) but whose heart and head are really of the 70s (don’t hate me for that), I feel responsible for the present state of affairs. Me and mine were the first wave of defectors from the cause of informed and engaged citizenry to that of consummate consumers. I didn’t fight the law, so of course the law won. There wasn’t even a fucking contest. Now, I’m struggling to figure out how to make amends.
And I just can’t help feeling that I was the one who let Hunter S. Thompson down. I was part of that Generation of Swine. No amount of booze, drugs or shooting at things can ease the pain of that realization although they do help dull it somewhat.
– self-indulgently submitted by Cityslikr