For the Week of September 26, 2005
At some point it becomes apparent that a generation's political assumptions don't work anymore.
This point is often where that generation has reached the zenith of its power, where the assumptions seem least open to question.
In August 1965 blacks rioted in Watts despite the War on Poverty and Civil Rights laws. The government was resisting the expansion of an unpopular war in Asia. The kids were still pretty quiet, although some had recently come back from life-changing experiences of ministry and witness. The culture was still reflexively buttoned-down, although the new music hurt parents' ears. A President from Texas was riding high, his followers in charge of every government institution, his opposition fragmented and (generally) derided as extremist.
We all know now that this was the beginning-of-the-end for the New Deal, for bipartisan foreign policy, and the start of a sunset for liberalism.
You could write a similar paragraph about 1929, and the coming collapse of Republican Progressives under Herbert Hoover. Just as you could about 1893, and the collapse of the Civil War generation's assumptions in the rise of industrialism. Or about 1857 and Jacksonian Democracy's collapse in the divisions of slavery and abolition.
The point is James Buchanan, Grover Cleveland, Herbert Hoover, and Lyndon Johnson were all men of former times, bound by the assumptions of their youth, unable to grasp the changes happening around them. We should not be surprised. People do grow old, history moves on, change must come.
As America has gone on, the time between crises has lengthened. Between Jefferson and Jackson we saw 28 years. Between Jackson and Lincoln there were 32. Between Lincoln and McKinley (who gave us TR) there were 36 years, and between 1896 and FDR's election there were 36 more. Then 36 between FDR and Nixon.
But we live longer now. Change seems more rapid, but slower aging means political generations move more slowly. You can see it in our cultural memory. I saw a Jimi Hendrix poster at a school last week. Would anyone, even in 1965, have posted a picture of Benny Goodman in a school, especially alongside a hand-scrawled "this guy is cool?" Of course not.
So are we on the cusp of enormous change now, at last, 37 years after Nixon and Wallace voters rejected the New Left in favor of the New Right?
Yes, we are. But, again, aging obscures the reality. All of today's leaders, both left and right, are still products of the Vietnam Generation, and Nixon-era political assumptions. By contrast Teddy Roosevelt was a child of 7 when the Civil War ended, while Nixon was at Whittier College when FDR came to office.
I was, frankly, shocked when the Nixon assumptions of Vietnam caused the knees to jerk all over America in 2004. Democrats walked right into it by nominating a veteran of both Vietnams (the War and the War Against the War) as their standard-bearer. What should have been a struggle over the future was fought entirely in the past.
So we wait and we wonder. Vietnam veterans are not yet retired. George W. Bush, who "fought" in Vietnam as Grover Cleveland fought the Civil War (doing what was necessary to avoid it) actually looks pretty healthy at 58. So do his contemporaries.
But it's the mind whose aging causes retirement, not the body. Bush is the Potemkin President, a Hollywood front of health inside which no one is at home. He revels in it, and thinks himself Reaganesque. Thus does history repeat as farce, Clinton with Monica repeating Watergate, Bush pretending to be Reagan on a bike.
The same aging process is at work within both parties, and the institutions which feed them. It's true even in the blogosphere, within me and within you. We look at reality through the prism of our experiences and the more experience we have the more that colors our thinking. As the twig is bent the tree is inclined.
Today I look for the future in the eyes of my children. I see great idealism, I see naivete, and sometimes I see fear. That's how we as a society raised them. It's good to protect children, but too much protection is smothering. They have to leave the nest and fly before they can find a path. That takes time.
This is the main reason, I fear, that history hasn't moved faster, and the assumptions of my own era remain intact, despite their increasing irrelevance. Too many kids living in too many parents' basements. Listen to college debates today and you hear what seem like old men and women, old arguments and old ideas. So what if they're expressed in magnetic ink?
New assumptions emerge only from conflict, even violence. They emerge, like birth, in pain. War, labor trouble, depression, generational conflict - change is not easily bought. May you live in interesting times is a curse.
What I'm looking for is new thought, new thinkers, new music, new causes, new solutions. Politically I saw them in Howard Dean two years ago - an updating of FDR's original ideas. It seemed natural that, after a generation of reaction, new idealism would emerge.
But I know now that what happens next is not up to me.
It's up to my kids, and up to yours.
I've got a new job. I'm now editor of Atlanta voic.us, a Web start-up aimed at building a community Web platform with a real business model. I'm also all alone in writing the Open Source Blog for ZDNet. (When this started there were three of us.)
My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.
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Best of the Week
Intel announced it is putting $340 million into expanding plants in Colorado and Massachusetts. What could be wrong with that?
Three times more money is lost to identity theft where the thieves just make up an identity than when they use someone else's.
The International Herald Tribune.
The ads on newsreaders come from the feed producers, outfits like Feedburner, and not from the blog sites. The New York Times is a major buyer. Blog site managers are often unaware their feeds have ads at all.
One good thing about covering space is that it puts what's happening to this Big Blue Marble into proper perspective.
Dialogue announced that it Mobile Applications Portal can now be used by news aggregators to take in any cellphone video you may want to offer, as an MMS message.
The idea is that you avoid the tax costs of telephony by running your voice calls over an Internet connection. As everyone gets broadband, telephone service dies a natural death.
And the answer is, "The final proof of the second Internet bubble, in 2005." "What was eBay's purchase of Skype."
There are apparently serious problems with Version 5.0 of iTunes for Windows, which comes bundled with Version 7.0 of QuickTime.
The American Diaspora
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in are the folks at my alma mater, Rice University, who have discovered a key link between electronics and optics, allowing smoother transitions.
Clueless are those who don't recognize the problems at Apple as systemic and threatening.
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