Tag Archives: PBS

Like a Bird on a Wire …

The other night I saw a portion of NOW with Bill Moyers on PBS. He was interviewing Will Hutton (author of the book A DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE: WHY AMERICA SHOULD JOIN THE WORLD, an old friend of America’s, but a friendly critic as well. Hutton was for years Editor-in-Chief of one of Britain’s most influential newspapers, THE OBSERVER, for which he still writes a column).

The full transcript is here.

What I wanted to talk about is this. Two of the things that Hutton says worry him about American politics are the increasing role of money in the drawing of political boundaries, positions, etc., and the absolute inability of the Left to put together a cohesive platform to debate the Right, thereby causing the Big Eagle to flop around in circles because frankly, it’s really only got one viable wing. There is as a result no real debate, nor ideological banter. There is only a murky middle ground and the Extreme Right.

Of course, in this country we effectively castrated the Radical Left in the first half of the twentieth century with our crusade against the Communists (coincidentally, communism and socialism do not pose a threat to democracy, but to capitalism. Capitalism is in and of itself the anathema of democracy, unless each person has exactly the same amount of money. Socialism/communism strive to give each person the same amount of money, so that they can each buy similar numbers of votes. In both the case of the US and the USSR, which have been for quite some time effective oligarchies, the people with the most money are those who decide and can afford to ignore policy). But ultimately, the tools that the Right and Left use are fundamentally different. Reading Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich helps put this in perspective. In my opinion, unless things are going great, the Left’s position NEVER is more persuasive, particularly since our culture itself tends to emphasize the linchpins of the Right’s platform. For example:

The tools of the Right typically are:
Pride, Fear, Blame, Isolation, Reward, Institution and Ritual

Whereas the tools of the Left are typically:
Humility, Trust, Responsibility, Community, Work, Individual and Freedom

So, when you look at it, in a society where true education is not prized, the religious temperament is inclined to blindly follow leaders without personal revelation, and where personal gain is placed higher in the social contract that universal growth, it is no wonder that the promulgators of the Right have so many more followers than the left. Further, in the absence of any true Radical Left, it is unlikely that the anykind Left (which of course includes the milksop, pantywaist Democratic party of which I am a member) will be capable of producing any candidates that are truly worth a damn and that possess any kind of backbone or recognizable agenda – particularly when they, like the Social Democrats and Catholic Center parties in 1930’s Germany are not able to put into plain, everyday language exactly what it is they stand for, and why anyone should stand with them.

Ah, well. Perhaps we are indeed in a repeat of history. We certainly are a culture of complete self-interest. Which of course, is the Isolation the Right needs to build upon. Anti-Nazi activist from the 1920-1930s (and early biographer of Hitler) Konrad Heiden said:

Hitler was able to enslave his own people because he seemed to give them something that even the traditional religions could no longer provide; the belief in a meaning to existence beyond the narrowest self-interest. The real degradation began when people realized that they were in league with the Devil, but felt that even the Devil was preferable to the emptiness of an existence which lacked a larger significance. The problem today is to give that larger significance and dignity to a life that has been dwarfed by the world of material things. Until that problem is solved, the annihilation of Naziism will be no more than the removal of one symptom of the world’s unrest. – Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer, 1944

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Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

I just watched a special on PBS that featured a lot of old folk singers from the late 50’s and 60’s, and I was struck by a very peculiar notion. That notion started to bubble through my brain a trickle at a time, and finally, when Barry McGuire came on and sang “Eve of Destruction” it found its way to the surface. What I started wondering was this: it has been said that we as a society have changed our focus over the last fifty years, and that focus shift is mirrored in the names of major trade magazines that are widely read. In the fifties, there was “Look”. In the sixties, “Life”. In the seventies, “People”. In the eighties, “Us”. In the nineties, “Self”.

As Barry McGuire sang the words to his poignant, troubling and magnificent anti-war, anti-apathy, anti-hate anthem, I looked as the camera swept around the auditorium, and I saw a lot of people, now aging and respectable, singing along. And I wondered … how many of them voted Republican in this last election? How many send their children to private schools? How many look back at their troubled youth and say, “Well, it was just a phase we were going through. We had to grow up, you know.”

I realize that in actual numbers, the percentage of the American public that opposed the war in Vietnam, at least publicly, was a miniscule number. Granted, they were a very vocal, colorful, and persistent minority, but they were definitely a minority. This country has not been about the underdog, the underprivileged, the dignity of mankind, or representation prior to taxation for a LONG time. This country is about the status quo. It is about comfort. It is about a place where revolution is against the law.

Where have all the flowers gone? Is it true, as Dennis Hopper quipped in the movie Flashback, that the nineties were gonna make the sixties look like the fifties?

You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows. That sentiment is just as true now as it was in 1965.

When Stevie Wonder, at the Bob Dylan tribute concert a few years back, came out to do “Blowin’ in the Wind”, he said that the most troubling thing about the song was that it was still necessary to sing it. That people apparently didn’t get the message.

I felt the same way tonight watching Barry McGuire. And you could tell by watching him sing that he was asking some of the same questions. When will they ever learn? How can you not believe we’re on the eve of destruction? Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody REALLY care?

I still think, occasionally, that Musicians, poets, artists, writers, etc. serve society as its conscience. But does anyone REALLY listen to that conscience? Can the songs that I write make a difference, when a song has to be POPULAR to even get airplay in this country anymore?

Abbie Hoffman is burnt out. Lenny Bruce is dead. Timothy Leary, too. And so many others. Who is picking up the torch, and more importantly, who thinks that light is necessary, when you can flip on a switch and see “revival” and “reunion” and “comeback” tours of people who somehow, in a freak stroke of luck, by chance, convinced some other people, oh, so many years ago, that it was worth any price to give a damn?

Or has modern convenience progressed so far that the milk of human kindness, the bonds of brotherhood, are now available in a water-soluble form, easily washed off when you want to conceal the fact that you went to the meeting last night and had your hand stamped?

Eve of Destruction by P. F. Sloan

The Eastern world, it is explodin’,
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’.
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’,
You don’t believe in war — but what’s that gun you’re totin’?
An’ even the Jordan river has bodies floatin’.
But you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say,
An’ can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away,
There’ll be no one to save, will the world in a grave.
Take a look around you, boy, it’s bound to scare you, boy.
An’ you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Yeah, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’,
I’m sittin’ here just contemplatin’.
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation,
An’ marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’,
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’.
An’ you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China,
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama.
Ah, you may leave here for four days in space,
But when you return it’s the same ol’ place,
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride an’ disgrace.
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace.
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace,
An’ tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction,
No, no, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

How Much More Time? — John Litzenberg, 1985

Time? How much more time?
Til we reach the point of no return
Must history’s sad lessons be re-learned?

War? What good is war?
When you reach the point of no return
And you can’t go back, because the only bridge
You had is burned?

Love, where is the love?
Have we come along so fast, so far
Have we forgotten who our friends and neighbors are?

You can call on your gods, feast and pray
That you can live to fight another day
And kill because your god says its OK.

Run, nowhere to run
When two opposing worlds collide
There is no where that you can hide your face

Cry, just sit and cry
For all your kings, police, and czars
Have signed away the humans and their race.
So send out your bombs and boys to the fray
Till the world is only a nuclear haze
And life on earth is a long forgotten phase.

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