I’ll never forget the day my daughter came home with an album of so-called “rock songs” from a scruffy set of English youngsters called the “beats” or “beetles” or some such balderdash.
I never understood what all the fuss was about myself. My guy Frank, on the other hand… Now, there was a man who could moisten the britches. I scored on three separate occasions thanks to Old Blue Eyes - and a little help from my Buick Riviera - but that's neither here nor there.
As I was saying, I couldn’t make head or tails out of all that “yellow submarines” or “strawberry fields” gibberish. Still, there was one song of theirs that, for whatever reason, always stuck in my head. I think it went: So you say you wanna revolution? Well, you know, we all wanna change the world ... But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know you can count me out.
Watching the events in Kenosha – a place uncomfortably close to home – has brought to mind the lyrics of that song again. Would that the youngsters of today had such words of wisdom from their pop idols. Instead, the world is subjected to a description of the water-works of a vulgar harlot - who, just between you and me, I wouldn't pay to park my car.
But I digress. The thing about Kenosha that strikes me most is not the beatings, nor the shootings, nor the deaths, nor the businesses in flames. It is something far more mundane: knocking over lampposts.
I suppose there’s some poetry to it. The barbarians from the dark forest disdain and hold in contempt the light of civilization. They squelch it with mocking laughter. They turn the brightest parts of the world as dark as their primeval forests, never quite realizing what they have done, never realizing they have extinguished their best chance at relief from endless want and misery.
I have written about it elsewhere, but I’ll say it again: there is a darkness in the hearts of men. It is there, all the time, experienced to varying degrees of intensity, and in the heat of youth it can lurk much nearer to the surface. Human nature does not change. We are the very same people who built the great monuments of history. And we are the very same people who wretchedly tore them down.
It is, in many ways, perfectly natural when a young man rejects the governance of his father. He asserts his freedom and identity, and demonstrates he will no longer be bound by his father's rules. In an ordinary family, the father pushes back. He warns the son of the reason for these rules and the consequences for not obeying them. Or as my father told me, “You’re free to do as you wish, but you won’t eat my food or sleep in my house if you do.”
As mentioned, there is nothing terribly wrong about this. Gradually, the son realizes the wisdom of his father’s commands, received by the same process from his father, and from his father, and so on, stretching back however many generations.
So too is it with wider society. Each new generation naturally rejects the seemingly arbitrary laws and customs imposed on them since birth. Some imagine to themselves that they can replace society with something new, something better, something more modern or sophisticated or nowadays “more equitable”.
Others could care less about replacing society. All they know is it can be a hell of a lot of fun tearing stuff down. They have the vague sense that society is something artificial - because it is, modern societies, anyway - but their comprehension goes no deeper than that. The destruction is really the only bit they're interested in.
Of course, there is a seed of truth in the rejection of society. Mingled among its sensible and reasonable rules are indeed a few arbitrary and nonsensical ones. Why can’t a young couple live together before marriage? Why can’t a battered woman divorce her husband? Why should a black person sit at one lunch counter and a white person sit at another?
When the elders of society, like the father to his son, push back on the young – through proper education and good example – the young are reformed and made useful citizens. And often times, as a part of that negotiation, some valid criticisms of the young are parsed into solutions, which are then adopted into society, eventually to be passed on to the next generation.
It is a difficult, laborious process. Change happens much too quickly for some, much too slowly for others, and yet gradual improvement remains humanity’s best (and probably only) hope for a happier future. Revolutions, as the beetle said, never turn out the way people think they will.
Which brings me back to the lampposts. What happens to the young man when there is no father pushing back on him? What happens when the elders – the educators, journalists, and politicians – fail to defend the worth of their own society?
I think we all know. The young remain forever barbarians. Intelligent maybe, capable maybe, but unwise and unrestrained.
Some of them will seek to replace society. Others only to destroy it. For a while - for a while - the two find themselves on the same side, but neither faction would have any power or influence if they were not persistently indulged by people who should know better.
This crisis was not made in the streets. It was made in the classrooms, in the lecture halls, and in the newsrooms long before. We are witnessing a catastrophic failure of moral and civic instruction. I have no idea what will happen or where this is headed, but I am deeply disturbed by it. I am less sanguine than some that one election (or several) is capable of fixing this.
I wish I could sing, like the beetle: Don’t you know it’s gonna be… alright. But instead I can only sing, like Frank: And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain...
Best of luck out there.
P.S. If you need something to take your mind off things, stay tuned for the “high-octo” thrills in my next Octo-Review of Fast and Furious (2009)! Coming soon to an internet publication near you… See what I did there?