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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Peace Out

A recent post on a social media site expressed sadness at the decline of the hippie generation.  Remember Woodstock, Haight Ashbury, antiwar rallies, girls with flowers braided in their hair, smoking grass and singing songs celebrating free love, peace, and understanding? That generation we recall is aging out and it seems the era of idealism, and the earnest desire to change the world for the better has disappeared with it.  Instead, we live in a time of cynicism, disaffection, and division. 

 

How is it possible that those enlightened flower children became self-centered, bigoted, Maga cap wearing materialistic boomers.  Did they change, or did we?  The truth is that we were never the same people.  And this contrast between members of the baby boomer generation is a reflection of divisions that have existed since our country came into being.

 

I've heard that behind every cynic is a lapsed idealist.  Perhaps that’s true, and maybe it offers a handy explanation for those who shifted from flower child to conservative—but such glib explanations belie the reality of a country that has always been divided between rich and poor, urban and rural, educated and not. Religion, family values, racial views and a host of social and emotional issues are at the heart of both our present and historic divide.  They led us to a civil war, they may well lead us to another. We are not alone; the same issues are playing out in Europe and in the Middle East, everywhere unresolved divisions of the past have resurfaced with renewed intensity.

 

No generation is ever all of a piece.  We are an amalgam of different peoples from all over the world, each with our social constructs and value systems instilled in us over decades and we either react to or reflect the values of our parents, their social set and those who came before them.  Gen X, Z, Millenials are not who we make them out to be. They are not this or that but as varied in their views as we are, their identity challenged by the environment in which they have come of age.

 

A confession, I was a flower child, a hippie.  I believed in change for the better, protested for racial justice and peace and believed we were stepping into a brave new world.  And maybe, for a brief moment in time things did change, before Watergate, the War on Drugs, riots in Watts and so many other sad moments in our history.  The Cuban Missile crises passed, we walked on the moon, and the wall came down in Eastern Europe, things looked hopeful. But, JFK and Bobby and Martin Luther King were gunned down, Iran took hostages, and Kent State shocked us out of our dreams.  So many highs and lows, so many hopes shattered as the reality of being an American, living in this place of opportunity and depression, of freedom and economic repression, of equality and white supremacy unfolded before us.


As we aged the truth of our past and present set in. We discovered that we were far from blameless for the world's ills, that our past was littered with sordid reality. Denial and disillusion followed for many. Some of us, and I hope I might be counted among them, never lost our idealism, that hope for a better world, for tolerance, equality, acceptance, and a fair chance for everyone regardless of our economic or social background.  But others never harbored those dreams or lost them along the way.  They became embittered, consumed by resentment and anger, fighting a war a century old with axe handles and lynching’s and killings in the name of justice.

 

Those feelings never went away—they just submerged for a time, only to resurface in the wake of the election of a man of color to the highest office in the land.  In hindsight it seems predictable that opposition along traditional party lines masked the real fight that had always existed—north versus south, white against black, wealthy against poor, men against women, and everyone against foreigners regardless of the fact most of us were outsiders only a few generations back.

 

It was an illusion to think we had turned the corner, that decency, fairness, tolerance and peace had come upon us.  We should have foreseen the rise of a demagogue, a golden skinned, golden haired idol venerated by members of the same generation that once rose against would be dictators, grifters and liars.  The cynics took over, believing that absolute power would wipe the slate clean and we could start over in a fantasy world that never existed, as long as we were prepared to give up everything we once believed in.

 

We got it wrong, we thought being awake meant seeing the world not through rose colored spectacles but clearly—admitting our flaws and failures and trying, not always wisely, to right the wrongs of our past.  We did not know that to be woke—meant we were the villains, that those seething not so quietly in the wings were plotting the end to our American experiment in exchange for a theocratic monarchy. 

 

I would like to believe, I earnestly hope when our generation is finally gone things will get better. But the lessons of the past suggests otherwise.  It suggests we’ll keep revisiting the same issues that set us at each other’s throats—fight the same wars again and again, because we have taught our children to be us, for better and for worse.  I want to be wrong about this, want to be shown that they have watched our sad drama play out and vowed –never again.  Chances are I won’t be around to see how it comes out, but for those who are I can only say, peace out and good luck.

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