Friday, June 22, 2007

what happened to the sixties version 2007

Two seemingly random items struck me in the past few days about the state of our society and political discourse. The first is what might be called the war of colored ribbons referring either directly or indirectly to the war in Iraq. Many people (myself included) have taken to attaching plastic yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbons on their cars as expressions of solidarity, at least theoretically nonpolitical, with our soldiers overseas. There was an understandable response of antiwar activists attaching different color ribbons with sayings like "Support Peace" or something to that effect. Not my view, perhaps, but clearly protected speech.

Lately a number of people have taken to attaching stickers in various colors with slogans like "Support Pimping," "Support Farting" (I really saw this), and so on. Aside from instantly labeling the driver as something of a moron, the stickers are openly disrespectful to the troops and (if one thinks about it a moment) to the antiwar activists as well. On a legal level I suppose that these stickers, like the "Shit Happens" bumper stickers whose legality was litigated in Georgia I think a few years ago, are constitutionally protected. But it saddens me to think that this is what free expression has come to. That some of these are appearing on elegant cars is a particular sign of decadence that bodes ill for us as a society.

At the opposite extreme, perhaps, was a New York Times article on "freegans," i.e. people (mostly young) who drop out of consumer society and engage in "dumpster diving" (a nice-sounding term for prowling around garbage cans) looking for food, clothing, and so forth. These people, who are motivated by unquestioned idealism, are in no way comparable to the adolescent sticker-toters described above. Yet one has to wonder exactly where this idealism is leading them. Aside from practical questions--should sick people scrounge around dumpsters hoping to luck into the right medicines? should old people, when they die, be buried in their favorite trash bins?--the whole exercise seems a sad perversion of 1960s-era idealism. My memory of the Woodstock generation is one of physical deprivation as a path to joy and wisdom: people would grow their own food and make their own clothing, not because they couldn't afford to do otherwise, but because of the positive value of doing it for themselves. Now instead of creating an alternative to big corporations, they want live off what the big corporations are throwing away. Perhaps they could take the same energy and put it into volunteer work in the Third World. When people go through the garbage there, it's because they don't have a choice.


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