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Culture & Religion


With the more committed and zealous advocates of a simplistic idea of freedom about to depart the public stage, John Waters suggests a singular role for those next in line.  


I can describe the post-Sixties landscape more clearly by reference to my own country, Ireland, though my impression is that most other European and English-speaking societies are broadly similar.

Essentially, there are four generations currently implicated in the culture bequeathed us by this revolution. The first was what is called the ‘baby boomer’ generation, the children of the immediately post-war moment who, adopting the cultural values on the 1960s, gained cultural and political power from the 1970s onwards. This is the generation that initially responded to the “Awake!” of Elvis and staked its claim in the student rebellions of 1968.

My own generation, born in the 1950s, followed in the slipstream of this initiative. We bought into most of the ideas of our predecessor generation, but remained, generally speaking, somewhat detached. We participated but, because we were not, in the main, accorded positions of power and authority (having been too young to participate in the first waves of revolution), we remained on the sidelines, observing and reflecting.

But, whereas my generation insisted on staking its claim to a public voice, the two generations that followed us – born, approximately and respectively, in the 1980s and 1990s – retreated into irony and detachment. By and large those born after the early 1960s have done extremely well in the years of peace and prosperity that continued to the end of the 20th century, but they remained mainly invisible from the public sphere. Many of them were good at business and good at enjoying themselves.

Occasionally, they entered politics and the media but were never able to elbow their way to the centre of things, or set out an alternative vision of how things might be seen or done. This was partly because the key positions were already occupied by their elders, and partly because the younger generations lacked any sense of what they wanted to do in a political/cultural domain that seemed to leave no place for a radical positive vision. This created a brand of ironic detachment that expressed itself in satire and nostalgia, but which had its roots in a confused sense of idealism, an idealism with no sense of how it might express itself.

One of the key symptoms of the society created by the Sixties' revolution is that attitudes, energies and activities once rightly considered the province of the young are now embraced by the middle-aged and older – sometimes by the very people against whom, theoretically, these attitudes, energies and activities should properly be directed. After all, if the mainstream culture had attained the optimum expression of idealism, what is there left for the young to say about anything?

But, because human idealism is by definition incapable of satisfaction, but is at best an energy directed at approximate good, this distortion has resulted in a culture that does not appreciate the limits of freedom defined as the pursuit of desire in its most immediate form. This results in a refusal to admit that a freedom thus defined might have limits, or be other than the optimal and most correct path for human society.



01/08/2010 - Too late? (Dario Morandotti)

Thank you John for sharing your toughts about generations and responsibility. I was born on '56 and I share most your comments. However, isn't too late for the born in the '50? Should we have acted earlier? For many the world will quickly be in the hands of the born in the '90, particularly in the hands on the asian teen agers. I give credit to this later option but I do not completely agree: the freedom and creative chaos we (born '50-'60) have esperieced will pay off. Rgds, D.