One thing I didn’t anticipate about aging was the way you spread out. I don’t mean waistlines, I mean timelines. The kids up to the high school, the students at our local college, they live pretty much solely in 2020. But parts of me live in 1987, and 1994, and 2003. The young are concentrated. The old are strung across the decades.
The past two weeks have led to some paradigm revisions here at the Library You See In Dreams.
Turns out there is no Roomful of Dust, ready to ignite. There is instead a large pile of wet newspaper.
The United States assassinated one of the highest ranking Iranian military leaders. And in return…the Iranians gave advance warning they were going to bomb an American airbase, so any Americans could be cleared out of the way.
Not exactly Pearl Harbor.
Last year Pakistan and India got so far as to actually carry out airstrikes on each other. No war. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been carrying out a proxy fight in Yemen for some time now. No war.
So this requires some thought. All conclusions must hang tentative.
My developing hypothesis is that war no longer works for the purposes of the modern nation-state. It’s too expensive and risky. Self-preservation is the name of the game. Make one error and Syria, now a fractured, war-ravaged mess dependent on outside powers, is your best case scenario.
The trick is, of course, that if this ceased to be true—if any one nation decided that the possibilities of gain were worth the risk—they wouldn’t say so. They’d just go and start the war. It would only be visible in hindsight.
But for now, it doesn’t look like that moment is anywhere near.
My sweetie for Christmas gave me a book: Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat. She got it for me because it hit right in the intersections of several of my interests, so she thought I would like it.
She was right. It’s a splendid book, covering the alternative food trends of the Sixties: macrobiotics, organic food, co-ops. Kaufmann puts them in historical context, shows how they arose out of an American tradition of alterna-food, how how took that tradition to new places.
Then serendipitously (hippies loved serendipity) I found in a used-book store the memoirs of Stephen Gaskin, freak guru and one of the founders of the Farm, a figure profiled in the book. Most of his memories are devoted to details of acid trips, of supernatural experience of human connection mediated through the holy sacrament of LSD.
I have a longstanding interest in the 1960s. I wrote a whole blog about it once. Reading Hippie Food reminded me of the hope of the era, the feeling of being on the brink of a cosmic leap.
Lately the Baby Boomer generation has been getting it from all sides. The alt-right are gloating about the fall of the Boomers, which they identify with creeping progressiveism. Then the phrase “OK Boomer” erupted from the left, dismissing the disgruntled old folks supposedly to blame for Donald Trump.
I’m sorry: I have to say I like Baby Boomers. They had flaws. They have flaws. But they had a moment, a golden moment, and they left legends.
Now this is all bullshit, from a certain point of view. No generation is a monolith. A minority of Boomers were ever hippies or progressives or even particularly liberal. The rest were the quiet ones who continued on through the Sixties much as was expected of them. On the other hand there were the radical Boomers who never became respectable, who let their freak flag fly even now. It’s that mixture that allows the current Left and Right likewise to attack them. Both segments are equally nominal for the whole.
The end result is everybody is pissing on the Boomers. On what they lived through.
This bugs me because I think we could use some of the Boomer hope right now.
We need some hippies. All over the world, in every land, we could use folks dedicated to the ideals of peace, love, color and spontaneity. We could benefit from a drug that made things like that make sense. Yet not naive. No movement that included Ken Kesey and Jerry Garcia could have ranked high for naivete. The Sixties countercultures were the opposite of naive—they saw their innovations as the only possible course for a world that had endured horrors untold and seemed headed for more.
There’s a song, a song from 1967, and it goes like this:
In this generation (in this generation)
In this lovin’ time (in this lovin’ time)
In this generation (in this generation)
We will make the world shine
We were born to love one another
This is something we all need
We were born to love one another
We must be what we’re goin’ to be
And what we have to be is free
That song is “For Pete’s Sake,” and it’s from the Monkees. Which immediately negates it. The Monkees were an industrial media creation from Word One. Anything they made is Product, and anything they made which calls for any higher ideal is horseshit wrapped in clingfoil, septicemia on a grocery story shelf.
Yet American society, in its hurry to point out that hypocrisy and make it clear that those who practiced it were bad people, managed to deflate the entire idea of hope. The hope we need. The vision which might carry us to a new place.
I wish we could rediscover the moment the Boomers had.
There’s a roomful of dust…
And there’s some idiot flicking his Bic.
We’re at war, if the Iranian government wants it. There’s few casus belli clearer than assassinating a high-ranking general. Although if anyone in the Middle East wanted a line war, we’d have had about eight of them in the past two years.
Iran is not a superpower. A few years back, I looked it up: the Iranian defense budget was roughly equal to that of the United States Coast Guard. The theocracy is shaky. The economy is shot.
But therein lies the problem. The more desperate the Iranian ruling class feels, the more willing they will be to forget what the smart move is, and try to do something wild. To drop a dirty bomb on the Ghawar oil field. To spread nerve gas over one of our aircraft carrier—or an Israeli city. To carry out 9/11 scale attacks on American soil. To do something we won’t know they had the capability to do, until it’s too late.
Twice in my lifetime, the United States has unleashed major military offenses in the Persian Gulf region. Twice, the worst has not happened—although what did happen was pretty damn bad. Still, though, chaos did not run wild.
Yet it could have. Have we gotten too secure? Are we going to keep poking the rabid dog until we get well and truly bit?
Only a fucking idiot would try. Unfortunately, we have just such a fucking idiot for a president.
All I know is this. Around the world, in Iran, in Iraq, in Saudi Arabia, in Israel, in India & Pakistan, in China & Russia, and certainly right here in the United States:
We need more hippies.
In my mind’s eye, there are two incarnations of the Unprecedented Era.
The first is an androgynous naked human, with swollen head and golden brown skin, arms outstretched as if flying, hovering above the earth, a smile on its tiny lips.
The other is an insectoid mass, purple and chrome, rimmed with clear plastic pipes filled with oil, blades whirring along its skin. It cannot smile because it has no mouth, but dozens of eyes, gleaming neverblinking eyes.
Both incarnations have this in common: every so often they halt. They quake, groan, and then split, the seam right down their chests head to groin, their flesh parts and from within leaps a new iteration, the same but bigger, more elaborate, more powerful.
There are no cycles in our time. The past means nothing. There is only one direction: up, towards growth. And while it may be disconcerting to watch, trust me–you do not want to see what happens when that progress ends.
Happy new decade! May we all listen for the next rending of the seam.
MCU VS DCU: A TIMELINE
2008: Movie studio Merry Christmas Pictures, having sold the film rights to their major intellectual properties Santa Claus and the Grinch, releases “Blitzen,” centering on a third-tier character. Former child star Danny Bonaduce, desperate to restart his career and willing to work for scale, stars. The film is an unexpected critical and commercial success, collecting $400 million at the box office.
2009: Buoyed by the success, Merry Christmas tries again, releasing “Hermey the Elf” with Peter Dinklage in his first lead role. Again, the film wows audiences and critics alike, taking home $450 million. Enthused by the response so far, MC screenwriters promise to give their next villain a name.
2009: In response to the burgeoning popularity of the Merry Christmas films, rival studio Delightful Christmas Pictures revives their Grinch franchise, which was allowed to lapse after the infamous Who-nipple failures of the late 90s. In a dramatic reimagining, “Grinch: In The Cave” is a dark window into obsession, hedonism, and cardiovascular giganticism. The movie performs well at the box office, but not quite as as well as the MC pictures.
Recently a self-driving truck made a cross-country delivery. That’s pretty neat! And has many wide-ranging economic and social implications.
But: the technologies that got the truck there were not particularly new. The truck was powered by an internal combustion engine, which dates to the 19th century. Its sensors were based on cameras, radar and lasers, the most recent of which was born in 1960. The information was processed by a computer, the parameters of which were set by the Sixties.
Where are the new technologies?
Now when I say that, I am keenly aware that whenever a person says “Why isn’t anyone doing ,” it practically always means that is in fact being done, but the person making the statement doesn’t know it. I am well aware that I am leaving myself wide open for this.
But to me–perhaps in my ignorance–it seems like we’re not seeing the dramatic new technologies that transformed the world in the past two centuries. That’s a little scary. It’s the new technologies that powered the Unprecedented Era and its great benefits for humankind.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that there are just such technologies in play right now, and I just don’t know about them. I hope we are on the brink of such transformative change once more. I hope that the Age of Wonders in which we live will continue.
But I have to admit it doesn’t quite look that way to me right now.
Please, disillusion me.