The biggest improvements over the past half century have been in health, machinery and technology. Good as this is, I still find myself imagining a world in which a 130 year old Dick Cheney drives a hovercraft at 130 mph to his favorite torture chamber while emitting hateful messages that are automatically transferred from his brain to the world via Google glasses.
Good writing was something you learned from teachers and writers. Today, writing standards have been outsourced to business schools and public relations firms. Who needs E.B. White or H.L. Mencken when, at the end of the day, you can envision a robust entrepreneurial comprehensive strategic approach to whatever the hell you’re talking about?
Washington politicians often had high social intelligence while being weak in formal degrees. This has been reversed, vastly increasing the length and complexity of legislation and our inability to comprehend what it is really about.
Baseball was the national sport, as well as a metaphor for democracy. Each player had their own turf but couldn’t succeed without helping the others, Now football – a metaphor for brutal power and cultural concussions – has risen to the top.
Liberals were deeply concerned with the fate of the least fortunate in our society. As the economic and social status of liberals improved their interest in the least fortunate faded. Which is how some children of liberal Democrats became members of the Tea Party.
Activism was easier – in part because there was a strong counterculture that provided support, friendship and aid to all who were trying to make things better. Today activism is far more atomized, institutionalized and lacking in the common songs and symbols that help bring everyone together.
Being hip wasn’t about fashion or where you lived, Like Miles Davis, the hip played with their backs to the audience and avoided things that corporations and mass media liked. Today, hip is too often just another corporate commodity.
When the Review started (then called The Idler) there were only a handful of alternative news publications in the country – like the Texas Observer, the Village Voice and the Carolina Israelite. In a few years there would be over 400 underground newspapers. In time, these were replaced by “alternative weeklies” that too often fostered a culture in which hipness was defined by one’s purchases; dissent was limited to critiques of style, activism was limited to the gym, and politics was considered the last refuge of the hopelessly dull.
When this journal started, your editor was respectable enough to be offered a job by the Washington Post and James Reston of the NY Times. By the 1990s, his exposes of the Clintons and his role in helping to start the Green Party helped make the Review unacceptable to even liberal media. Its editor was banned by CSPAN and the DC public radio station.
Now many reporters aren’t reporters anymore; they’re just semiotic sharecroppers on some corporate plantation. The number of corporations dominating mass media in the 1980s was 50. Today it is six. And many national reporters, as Gene McCarthy well put it, are like blackbirds on a power line. One flies off and they all fly off.
Despite it all, however, your editor will continue to bring you news while there is still time to do something about it, even if he falls into that category the FBI had for Americans opposed to Spain’s Franco, namely “premature anti-fascists.” Remember that while we may not control history, we can always control our reaction to it.