Strong Decades and the Other

I lived through the eighties.  I didn’t like the eighties when I was living in that decade.  But one thing I will say that I do like about the eighties is that the decade had a theme, a core, a strong culture to it.  I can list the prime values of the eighties:

  1. preppy–there were actual t-shirts then that said, “Preppy and Proud.”  Movies were made about prep schools.  The prevailing fashion of the day was preppy.  Part of this trend was the drive to attain Ivy League Schools.  The plot of “Risky Business” was the hunger for Joel (Tom Cruise) to go to Princeton.  The world’s most notorious preps were married in 1981–Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles of Wales.
  2. money–when I graduated from Harvard Divinity School (1985), the Business School had its largest graduating class in Harvard’s history.  Again referencing “Risky Business,” Joel wants to major in business and most of the movie is about his successful prostitution business.  “Working Girl” was about working-class Tess (Melanie Griffith) climbing the corporate ladder of the business world and competing with preppy Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver).  “Wall Street” was all about money, wealth, and power.
  3. cocaine–the drug of choice in the eighties for everyone, especially business-oriented, success driven executive types.
  4. technology–Bill Gates and Steve Jobs started their huge empires in the eighties.  The script of “Ghostbusters” was replete with techno-sounding jargon.
  5. lastly, the eighties had a distinct style of music.  We called it techno-pop.  But it was distinctive enough for my present TV music channels to have a station devoted to eighties music.

I didn’t like the eighties because all this was a rebellion against the values of the late sixties/early seventies.  Peace and love, back to nature, contempt for materialism and money, contempt for authority, dropping out of society, and love of art dominated the values of that generation.  Woodstock, where 500,000 young people all gathered for music and fellowship WITH NO POLICE OR LAW ENFORCEMENT, in peace, happened in 1969.  I think of song lyrics like those of Jethro Tull–“I didn’t care if they groomed me for success (yukk), or if they said that I was Just a fool,” “I’m sitting in the corner feeling glad/Got no money coming in but I can’t be sad.”  And that famous song from Pink Floyd that is still being played today, “Money, get away/Is the root of all evil today.”  The strong culture of the eighties seemed to be the opposite of all that the apocalyptic ’60’s and ’70’s were about.

But after the eighties, culture faded away.  There was a lack of gravitas to the succeeding decades.  By way of documentation, my TV movie channels have no station dedicated to ’90’s music, or 2000’s music.  There are indeed channels that are called “Clubbing” and “Urban” but these sounds are not likely to be memorable decades from now.  There may be a cause for this apparent cultural vacuity.  The ’60’s and early ’70’s were a rebellion against the strait-laced family values of the ’50’s, which, in turn, were a retrenchment from the horrid whole generation of war the early 20th century lived through.  And in the ’60’s and early ’70’s, the Vietnam War was spewing out carnage printed in living color in Life magazine each week.  But after Vietnam, there was no war or other strong ferment in society.  The ’50’s were the product of the World Wars; the ’60’s and ’70’s of the Vietnam War; and the eighties were a rebellion against the “Flower Children” of the ’60’s and ’70’s.

By no means am I wishing war upon society so that I might enjoy a strong culture again, and find memorable contributions to western history!  This blog is only an attempt to account for the apparent cultural vacuity I now live in, compared with the strong cultures I lived in when I was young.  I expect I will offend readers who are young now, as what I am writing may seem to be criticism of their world.  Elders criticized my generation when I was growing up, and it is a perennial fact of existence that elders criticize the young–it’s in the Renaissance Book of the Courtier.  But we rebelled against our elders, and their disapproval was a kind of badge of honor.  I am not criticizing young people.  As an olding man, I enjoy the company of the young.  But I’m not happy with the blandness I see around me in society.  It’s an easy way to live, but growing up in a world steeped in philosophy, with strongly held values, the world in which I now find myself is as bland as bread without gluten.

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The Assassination of Aristotle

Philosophy and Religion used to provide guidance to us.  Now, psychology has taken over the role of guide for human behaviour.  It is a role that psychology is ill equipped to perform.

Plato taught us to examine the soul.  Aristotle taught us how logically to present an argument.  What is left of contemporary philosophy is only rhetoric, persuasion, and language analysis.  In the 20th century, philosophy turned logic into arithmetic and called it symbolic logic.  Then they said that logic is a closed system and does not relate to the world of experience.  That means philosophy can’t argue for the truth anymore, because you can’t argue at all.  Then philosophy said that there is no truth, only what I want.  So we are left not with arguments in search of the truth, we are left with persuading people to do what we want, what we want them to do.

Richard Rorty, one of our past great post-modern philosophers wouldn’t take an endowed chair in the philosophy department of the University of Virginia because he thought that philosophy had reasoned itself out of existence.  He had them design some sort of cultural analysis department that he taught in.

So we are left with expressing our feelings, accepting ourselves good or bad, and affirming ourselves, worthy or not.  Those are principles of psychology.  And as a consequence, we get “The Girl on the Train.”  A very long, uninteresting movie about the feelings of a girl, and her life–a life I didn’t much care about.

But I do care about people, and religion taught me to love others.  However, I have also been taught to love the good in people, to nurture it, and to bond with it.  Aristotle said that only virtuous people have the kind of temperament that can sustain friendship.  They are virtuous themselves and their psyche is not at odds with itself.  But philosophy has reasoned itself out of existence.  And religion’s influence is fading, has faded in society.  And we are left with The Girl on the Train.