Monday, August 13, 2007

Forty Years Ago Today

In the summer of 1967, just shy of my 13th birthday, I had the historically rare privilege of being a nerdy adolescent with a season's pass to a world's fair which we called Expo '67. I saw holograms and monorails and the "Cyclotron" and all manner of futuristic optimism.

Barely a year year later, with most of my cohort of North Americans, in the light of some very peculiar events in Chicago, I had lost my futuristic optimism. In its place I developed a rather intense distrust for authority, personified to a large extent by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and US President Lyndon Johnson.

It was with some astonishment, then, that I recently found myself, as a Chicagoan, increasingly a supporter of Daley's son Richard M. Both the similarities and the differences between father and son are endlessly fascinating.

I'm even more astonished to find myself a Texan and an admirer or Lyndon Johnson!

I increasingly view LBJ as a tragic figure, a great man whose legacy was tarnished by a tragic and misguided war. (I heartily recommend renting Erroll Morris's film Fog of War for some insight into how this happened. The cold erroneous calculations of Robert McNamara clearly are still resonating today.)

In the Daleys and the Johnsons and the Kennedys, we can't entirely ignore a ruthless and vindictive urge to power. Nevertheless, in each of them, we see people motivated by higher goals than their own, as they perceived them. This sort of courage is hard to envision today except among marginalized people.

The quote I have just put at the header of the blog is an emblem of my reconsideration of Johnson and the liberal philosophy of the 1960s that was so thoroughly incinerated by the tragedy of Viet Nam. In the present disaster as we recapitulate the tragedy of Viet Nam as a tragic farce, it is worth comparing the ways in which the Kennedys and Johnsons sought to motivate the society, and comparing them with the delirious nonsense we are offered today.
We have the power to shape the civilization we want.
We should not let ourselves be advertised and bullied into a shabby materialistic cowering.

The world needs bravery and heroism, least of all from foolish boys tricked into lobbing explosives at each other, but rather from all of us, adults with position and wealth to lose and a soul to regain.

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