Sunday, February 24, 2008

Reflections: From Boom to Tomb...


The following shall serve as counterpoint to, and reality check of, my previous paean for my generation.

There’s room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill

~ John Lennon, Working Class Hero

I’m nearing the end of Cathy Wilkerson’ s autobiography, Flying Close to the Sun. That means that I’m nearing the climax of the story of her life as a revolutionary. It means that I’m nearing the part where Weatherman blows up the Greenwich Village townhouse of Wilkerson’s father, attempting to construct bombs to be used in the insurgency against the power structure; the explosion that kills three members of Weatherman and sends Wilkerson underground.

The lesson to be learned from Wilkerson’s confession is that the essence of every collective is coercion and conformity. In resisting the violence of Vietnam; in opposing the violence of racism; idealistic youth, in frustration, finally turned to violence as a means. The outside is the inside. The microcosm of SDS/Weatherman came to mirror the macrocosm of the military industrial complex against which it aspired to revolt.

In the end there was only coercion and conformity in society-at-large, and coercion and conformity in SDS/Weatherman. In the end, Wilkerson found that while a woman faced male chauvinism in society-at-large, a woman faced similar sexism in SDS/Weatherman. If she had to use her sexuality to ascend the ladders of the work world, she was also defined by her gender in the revolution. If pedagogy, Madison Avenue, and State Department briefings were thought-control, there was thought-control in the ideological posturing and in the self-criticism sessions of SDS/Weatherman. In the end it is coercion and conformity in school; coercion and conformity in the family; coercion and conformity at work; coercion and conformity in middle-class propriety; coercion and conformity even in church. The same pressure that impels one to join the revolution, forcefully reconfigures one to fit in: a round hole for every square peg in the collective.

All worldly relationships are power relationships:

The only truly free man is the man who finds himself totally emptied out by affliction and alone in a hole in the earth, or locked in his room, flat on his face, begging God to come fill the void where his ego formerly raged like a holocaust, fed by the inexhaustible fat of his gluttonous appetite for sin.

One could say that the Boomers’ collective dream of an activist solution began its slow death under the rubble of that townhouse, just as the morbidity of the ‘Sixties began to spread like a sepsis through the crowd at Altamont, while Mick Jagger wandered about helplessly on the stage, at a loss for a tune to fit the occasion:

We had met the Pig, and he was us.