"Gateway Drugs" - Counter-Cultural Keynotes (Fall 2018)
Dear Human Being,
You are probably too young to have been part of the counter-culture of the 50s and 60s but this "baby boom" was a defining time. The consequences of its failure play out to this day, both in unhappy corporate politics and the wonderfully mesmerising consumerism that dominates mainstream culture.
The aspirations of those voices of the post-war period speak to all thinking human beings: a rejection, by most intelligent people, of white goods 50s suburbia (superficial, predictable, boring) and self-serving covert imperialism (violence, nationalism, foreign exploitation) and dysfunctional endemic patriarchy (civil rights, feminism, narrow-minded fear). All the same tropes we’re still wrestling with today.
As an old man I’ve watched the past 50 years with a growing pessimism. The entrenched social order - fundamentally conservative and parochial - launched its fightback and by the 1970s had begun to win the ideological war. It appropriatied and commodified counter culture through the 1980s, tightened its grip by conflating identity with branding in the 1990s and 2000s, finally completing the rout by politicising and commercialising the internet this past decade. The 2010s have seen clickbait and social media used to great effect, turned into atomising rather uniting forces, an effective Chinese water torture of mainstream narrative and lowest common denominator identity politics.
So what can any of us do about this regression into, at best, perpetual comfort banality?
That’s harder to answer but one thing I do know is we’re doomed to remain the suckers at the table if we let ourselves be disconnected from the people of the recent past. These people should be thought of as a fraternity who’ve faced some of what we face and, despite the odds, bravely chosen to resist. These individuals weren't stupid or lacking in the qualities that matter, though some lost their way, as some of us will. More usually, they'll have succumbed to the frailties of old age but don't let that fool you.
It's a misguided - and retarding - conceit to dismiss the children of past generations and shut our eyes and ears to the things they said and wrote and created. It’s as if we’re saying we’re so much better now, because we’re their future and our tech beats their clumsy unspectacular prototypes. Such bullshit. Don’t fall for it! Mainstream narrative emphasises this arrogant presumption but it does so for disingenuous reasons: to keep us all safely self-absorbed, disconnected, atomised in time as well as location. Without empathy across generations we're doomed to keep having to reinvent the wheel, wasting precious years merely stumbling towards the start line. By the time this starting line is reached we're so depleted its easier for the entrenched enemy to finish us off.
Well, well, enough of that. Fellow human being! Perhaps you’ll take a leap of faith and browse my selection of counter-cultural keynotes. For me they were all gateway drugs. In most cases, incredibly, I took the hit at the time of their first release... but accept an old man’s assurance: they're all worth your time, though the people are dead and their manners may seem foreign to 21st century eyes.
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