I am a boomer. I came of age just past the middle of the last century. The sixties. The seventies. Those two decades of turmoil turned to enlightenment. When centuries of American apartheid gave way to the Civil Rights movement. When the arms race was shouted down by the Vietnam peace movement. Maybe the hippies—the "flower children" of the sixties and seventies—had it right after all. Maybe all you DO need is love. Maybe their very existence was the Universe’s answer to a cosmic overload of paranoia, xenophobia, race-hatred, and tunnel vision that had been the hallmarks of our nation for far too long. For a few brilliant ticks of time, we seemed to understand that in order for the human race to have a future, any future, we needed to embrace each other, change our polluting ways, quit lobbing bombs at each other, and figure out how to get along.
In retrospect, I’m beginning to wonder…was there really an "Age of Enlightenment," somewhere in the later years of the last century, when people got it? Or was it simply a time when the people who got it somehow managed to get more press than the people who didn’t? Because, judging by the events of the last, oh, six years, there’s no doubt in my mind that the vast majority in this country is composed of people who don’t. Get it. Don’t get that life is not painted in black and white. That there isn’t an "us" and a "them." That if we don’t start thinking in terms of everybody being "us," we will all perish. By our own hand.
I feel old. I hear myself thinking things like, "What’s this world coming to?" and longing for the good old days. The days when the looming shadow of the mushroom cloud was always in the back of our minds. It colored everything we did. It made us stop and think. It made diplomacy a necessity, not an afterthought.
What has this world come to? We’re not afraid of war anymore. We’re not afraid to encourage it in some remote area of the world, confident that it won’t happen here. We’re not afraid to wave our big nuclear stick in the air and threaten to take out anyone who doesn’t subscribe to our current whim. We are the nation with the biggest balls, after all; separated by very large oceans from other countries who might liketo raise up large armies against us and overrun our borders. What do we have to fear? Besides being blown up in airplanes, or in tall buildings in big cities? And Mr. and Mrs. Joe America, who spend 90% of their lives puttering around their own little towns or suburbs, don’t even have to worry about that. Their solution is to give our leaders carte blanche to go "over there" and blow the shit out of "those people" before they can come here. You see? It’s all good. Sigh.
Then again, maybe my point of view over-simplifies things, too. What is the point of all this hatred, fear and strife? Nobody gets out of this life alive. And I’ve spent enough time at funerals and in hospital rooms over the last couple of decades to realize that there are some particularly nasty "natural" ways to go. It seems to me that it would be better to be blown up after a short life of loving and freedom, openness and inclusion, than spend eighty or ninety years cringing, hating, warring and watching your back. Surely a protracted existence carried out in constant fear and loathing is infinitely more frightening than a rich, full, expansive life cut short by an unseen enemy at some unforeseen time.
How "enlightened" do you need to be to figure that out?