The forces that are changing us – The 1960s Social Movements (#2 of 5)
A deep dive on the forces that have upended us
I don’t know about you, but hair has been a big part of my life. Yes, since I’m a guy, you might be surprised. But, first, I must come clean. It was more about Hair, the musical (and film). I enjoyed having long hair in different parts of my life, including during the recent ‘locks down’ period. I also worked for 16 years at L’Oréal in the hairdressing division. So, lots of hair in my life, yes. In essence, I found a home in the hippie culture, but was equally at home in the capitalism of business and entrepreneurship. I basically didn’t feel contradicted… except more recently. We are full of paradoxes. We seek freedom but must realize our limitations. Living with and within the grey of these paradoxes is our human condition.
In my article, “How have we ended up with all this divisiveness and lack of proper debate?” I laid out five forces that have changed us. These have been the driving forces that have led us to this place of great division, where we are so deaf to one another and where dialogue is either ascetically sanitized or corrosively combative. Several of your comments have enriched my thinking and I’m very grateful for your inputs. I will now endeavor to expand on the five forces. To read about the first force, World (and) Peace, see here. Herewith the second force: The 1960s social movements and the fight for freedom(s).
The 1960s social movements – the fight for freedom(s)
The second half of the 1960s was monumental. While a war was being waged on the either side of the world as far as the West was concerned, society was undergoing a sea change of cultural mores and laws. The technology of the pill was pivotal. But just as a tsunami ravages the lands on which it rumbles, the movements of the 1960s have opened the doors to many more changes and unintended consequences.
“Freedom, just around the corner for you.
But with the truth so far off, what good will it do?”
-Jokerman by Bob Dylan
Written in 1983, these words from Bob Dylan seem amazingly prescient today. Freedoms and emancipation are virtually always positioned as positive and desirable concepts in our Western world. It’s part of the human condition to want to be free. We’ve long struggled against the power and restrictions of our governors, who insist on forms of control in exchange for our safety. There are also the constrictions of social norms and historic values, which may – at times – be classified as reactionary by the liberals. The massive societal shifts that took root in the 1960s brought so many positive impulses; yet the changes instigated a number of debates that are fraught, one of which is the debate around the value or goal of equality. Is it better to have equality of chances or equality of outcomes? When it comes to sex, religion and politics, in our approach to World (and) Peace, we are fully served with an array of hot button topics, encumbered by differing opinions on the scope of freedoms of speech.
Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.
-From You Learn by Living, by Eleanor Roosevelt
It’s true that, to work, we must be responsible about the way we deal with our freedom. To wit: a parent will gradually give freedoms to their children providing the kids have earned the right. For sure, the notion of freedom must be nuanced. Behind our different values, we have different hallowed concepts of freedom. Both the libertarians and the liberals have their origin in freedom. Specifically, the libertarian vaunts autonomy and freedom from big government. They seek the freedom of markets. Liberals have a rather different view on freedom. Depending on your country and political affiliations (liberal or other), Liberty is frequently set as a core value. But the interpretation is inevitably different. You might seek freedoms of press, speech, religious beliefs, assembly and/or more… But, even when we talk of freedom of speech, there is inevitable disagreement as to just how far we are willing to extend that freedom. And, who is to monitor, much less control it? All are highly contentious topics these days. Nuance is required.
Managing our inherent paradoxes
As I have written about before, in one of our greatest paradoxes, we want the freedom to be ourselves (i.e. to have a unique identity) and yet need to belong (which means being part of a community). And as part of belonging to a community, we must think about our shared experience and values. Indeed, as we seek to juggle our many inherent paradoxes, where there is no such thing as an immutable balance, we must find a way to co-exist together along with our varied and diverse perspectives. This is true at both the individual and group level. For the individual, we must juggle our belonging to different groups (e.g. being a female, of a certain race or religion, who supports a certain football club, enjoys a specific rock band and likes to fence…). It’s also true in the bigger group. But the bridge between each group will have to occur at the individual level, between individuals.
Sticking to our like-minded friends
In today’s world, we are more likely to take umbrage in our like-minded circles where we have the freedom (and safety) to speak liberally. When it comes to discussing with people in other camps, it seems, as a friend commented, we are too quick “to ramp up from zero to sixty.” Referring to Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer-winning book, The Denial of Death, we make these beliefs our causa sui to which we attribute enormous importance, all the way up to the immortality project.* In this way, we are attaching ourselves to something that is bigger than us. What better topic than the pandemic to galvanize around our views on mortality (and, in a more abstract way, to our immortality)? By getting wrapped up in these big causes, we get eminently excited about topics, but are distancing ourselves from our core being, related to a greater self-understanding. We attach evermore importance to these issues because they come to define us and to justify our existence. This is why and how we become so virulently opinionated about one side or the other.
A fight to the death
As a civilized society, we’ve moved away from a world where duels and savage wars permeated our lives. For the most part, the ‘fighting’ in our society has mostly been a war of words.** However, the temperature is definitely rising. To wit: the events of January 6, 2020 in the Capitol of Washington DC, the various violent clashes in different countries over Covid-19 restrictions, the Canadian truck driver protest earlier this year, not to mention the current Ukraine situation. These show that we certainly aren’t far from a more explosive setting on our shores. All these conflicts always involve a battle over ‘freedom.’ And, just as my great grandfather admonished his senatorial colleagues back in 1924, the divide just seems to be getting wider and neither side wishes to budge from their pedestal.
Living with opposites
Ernest Becker said that we are by nature paradoxical beings, made up of contradictions and opposites. Just as we need to reconcile these paradoxes within us, we must learn to live with alternative worldviews and perspectives. I tend to believe that our internal dialogue is as important as the one we have – or ought to have – with others who harbor different opinions. At the very least, it’s an important starting point to check in on our internal paradoxes. As you read this article, what was the worldview with which you began? Might you have been pro hippie and have nostalgia for the 1960s or perhaps you came with a more conservative opinion, nostalgic for another era? Did this article shed light on the other side at all?
We are full of paradoxes. We seek freedom but must realize our limitations. Living with and within the grey of these paradoxes is our human condition.
Your thoughts please!
Please do let me have your thoughts and reactions. I’d be happy to engage in a live debate! In my next piece, I will look at the third force, The Spread of Deconstructionism.
**We used to say that only sticks & stones may break my bones, but words will never break me. It feels almost risky to invoke this saying these days.
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