THE CYCLES OF ANARCHIC SOCIAL REVOLUTION & THEIR EFFECT ON THE WEST
The Sixties in the West were a time of creativity and relative affluence, especially in the USA though not exclusively. The UK also saw a rise in optimism and income with innovations across all the arts including popular music very evident. The peak of creativity and optimism spanned the years 1967 to the end of 1969. As the Seventies began a gradual darkening in atmosphere began with the previous hope and celebration diminishing rapidly. The drug culture, once relatively celebratory, generating hopes of enlightenment and progress began to darken also with positive emotions becoming steadily alloyed by abuse. The naive joys of Woodstock transmuted into the horrors of Altamont and would never be revived on such a scale ever again.
The Sixties, such as they were, the three year period of an almost universal optimism in the West, of anti-war sentiment and strident protest against authorities seen as oppressive dinosaurs holding back the demanded freedoms of youth, of inspired longings for change from what went before and wide-eyed belief in a better future, was agonisingly brief. At its core at its best, it incorporated a high degree of innocent desire for a better world, a world without war where individual freedom would count for something far higher than corporate profit and political gain. What followed was a slow descent into an increasingly world-weary realisation that the mounting casualties of abuse due to license were inexorably killing the precious spirit that had inspired so many.
The darkness that began to emerge in the West at the start of the Seventies and the world-weary, often deeply cynical attitudes and behaviours exhibited by a growing number as the “straight” world re-established itself proved the death knell of most innocence, naivety and hope that had previously existed. Those attributes became a somewhat distant memory for most as life demanded more of them as did employers who insisted on them “straightening up” and getting down to hard work. The following decades would see a general embrace of, or at the very least a submission to, the god of Mammon, earning a living, or in the case of some, amassing a fortune. The Middle-Class life called, having a home and family, doing what you were told, keeping your nose clean and obeying ‘The Man’. For some, it became the exploitation of the continuing desire for release through illegal drugs that often led to addictive states of one kind or another. All the while the darkness that brought an end to the Sixties grew inexorably.
Now, all these years on from the late Sixties that only a relative few of us can now recall are a distant, generally beloved memory, seen in most part through rose-tinted spectacles, avoiding the most harrowing events that came from time to time as we and our friends stumbled and lost our way. Though these memories are distant they still give us certain insights into events of the current day and their probable outcomes. We have seen what excess and license will likely produce. We learned the hard and harsh lessons that life can bring and with a certain inevitability when a desire for unlimited freedom and experimentation meet cold reality and the expectations of society in general.
Today we see an upsurge in a kind of harmonic of the Sixties where everything is subject to questioning and demand for change. As in our days as Sixties veterans, the established order is being undermined and the status quo in a range of areas is being attacked. For some, this will be an encouraging sign signifying a healthy chaos within an establishment that requires a revolution from below to unseat it. The culture wars raging in the West, especially in the USA can be seen in similar optimistic terms as we saw the seeming revolution in ideas and lifestyles we saw emerge in the late Sixties. But we also know how that revolution turned out, with initial hopes turning to dust due to a chaos of abuse and abandonment of the joyful integrities we had known.
The culture war now raging in the USA, like the revolutionary spirit of the Sixties will again leave the elites who run western societies intact. As the war rages below the levers of power will continue to be manipulated high above the fray. The top echelons where the vast majority of power exists will remain largely untouched by the anarchy below, in fact they will have even greater power to subtly manipulate the chaotic masses below. The very existence of such an anarchic and unstructured, freedom-demanding, self-seeking narcissism will make that job even easier. The armies will continue to find recruits, the arms manufacturers will continue to receive orders and make ever-increasing profits, the political systems will continue to assert overall control and efforts to decrease the power of the establishment will in most cases come to little or nothing.
Some of you who lived through the Sixties like myself will have pondered the question of what was ultimately the best regarding the lives of our parents or the life we chose to live in those heady days. Was the “straight” life of our parents as bad as we thought? Or had they lived relatively exemplary lives of dedication to family, hard work, decent values and a generally high degree of honesty? Did we throw the baby out with the bathwater in saying Amen to all that and throwing ourselves into a brand new world that in our youthful exuberance and confidence we only had faith would work out well? And when after three short years of glorious hope, creativity and joy did most of us wake up in the cold light of day realising that it takes more than what we brought to it to realise our dreams?
Today we stand at the threshold of not a dream, but a nightmare. Once again traditional values are being seen as the problem and an active desire to tear them apart is clear. Based on motivations that are no doubt similar in positive ways to those we experienced in the Sixties, a restless impatience and disdain for the often stultifying, annoying, frustrating and inhibiting aspects of anything approaching a relatively “orderly” status quo. Some wish to tear everything down and start again from scratch in a brave new world that is only possible in fitful dreams, not in reality, an ever-changing and amorphous level of almost continuous anarchy. Nihilism plays its part, hatred of those seen as maintaining vile standards of the past also and running through much of this revolution is the glorification of narcissism that passes as self-confident freedom.
As Vladimir Putin recently said at the Valdai Club, Russia has seen all this before as the Bolsheviks took power. Society was to be remade, new standards never to be questioned were to be demanded of all, intolerance of the old ways was to become ubiquitous and the cancel culture that rose was to wipe out millions regarded as traitors and enemies of the people. The West has entered the darkness again, that same darkness that fell so soon after the general undermining of previous values seen in the Sixties as it moved into the Seventies. Excess and license replacing the steadiness of holding fast to integrity while embracing new freedoms shown by the few. Woodstock to Altamont. Live Aid to Astroworld.
And all the while the same elites look down, pulling the same levers, creating the same traps, building the same armies and creating the same lethal weaponry as they ever did, virtually immune to the chaos undermining the stability of society below.