Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Us V. Them, In Perpetuity

NOTE: I wanted to preserve this somehow on my blog, but keeping it onthe sidebar is just making the site look even uglier than it has to be. So I make it a post and hope for the best.

From "Making of the President 1968," by Theodore H. White.

Somewhere out beyond the Alleghenies the old culture of America still persists -- people who think Boy Scouts are good, who believe that divorce is bad, who teach Bible classes on Sunday, enjoy church suppers, wash their children's mouths with soap to purge dirty words, who regard homosexuals as wicked, whose throat chokes up when the American flag is marched by on the Fourth of July. In its extravagant and hyperbolic form -- as in Barry Goldwater's cosmology of demons -- the old culture sees the Atlantic Seaboard, particularly the Boston-New York-Washington belt, as the locus of a vast and sinister intellectual conspiracy, a combination of capital and decadence, corrupting the moral fiber and legendary decencies of an earlier America.

The new culture, of which we shall talk later, is the child of prosperity and the past decade. Characterized by an exuberance of color, style, fashion, art and expression flowing from the enormous excess energies of American life, it defines itself best not by what it seeks but by its contempt and scorn of what the past has taught. Its thrust lies in the direction of liberties and freedom, but with an exaggerated quality of aggressive infantilism. In its exploration of the limits of sensibility, all laws, manners, more, institutions which restrict such areas of individual expression as drugs, sex, obscenities, and mob violence are generally held to be oppressive; and the greatest agent of oppression in the twentieth century is generally held to be the United States government. As parochial as the old culture, the new expressionist culture is as sure of its own moral superiority over the old as the old culture of its superiority over the new; and in its extreme and paranoid form the new culture is convinced of the conspiracy of a military-industrial complex pushing America to war and ruin as, say, the John Birch Society is convinced of a Communist conspiracy pushing America to slavery.
In the operational climate of American politics, the critical difference between the two cultures is that the new culture dominates the heights of national communications, subtly but profoundly influences those who sit astride the daily news flow in New York and Washington, and thus stains, increasingly, the prisms of reporting through which the nation as a whole must see itself.

Much of what White writes here holds true today, except that the new culture, instead of regarding the United States government as an agent of oppression, now looks to it as an aider and abetter in battles against the new perceived oppressors, those who still hold to the old culture. That the new culture should be shocked and dismayed that the old culture would want to protect its perceived rights in this day and age is odd; they cannot expect the old culture to roll over and die simply because of its age. Youth's insistence that what it believes is right merely because it believes it is as shallow as the same insistence they see in the old.

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