The events that have led up to and culminated in Trump’s presidency can be a catalyst for a new cultural renaissance similar to the one that occurred in the late 60s and early 70s. It is a unique opportunity to mobilize an energy of outrage and rebellion among a large portion of society. Seldom has a political upset resulted in such a strong sense of concern and disbelief.
It is difficult to accurately assess the cultural rebellion of the 60s unless you lived through it. There is no doubt that it had its detractions and failures. However, it also produced the seed beginning of such things as women’s rights, minority and civil rights, environmentalism, and eventually gay rights. Furthermore, it sparked a new way of looking at things like consciousness and a new world that was more inclusive and peaceful. You’d be right in saying that a lot of this was hypocritical, but that doesn’t matter as these things eventually matured into some real and solid social evolution.
When I look at news reports of current demonstrators promoting one cause or another, whether it be anti-Trump, environmental concerns or Occupy Wall Street, I see the same accusations being used against these demonstrators as was used half a century ago: “They don’t know what they’re doing and don’t understand what they’re talking about.” And many of them are spectacularly unable to verbalize and express their points (…and if they are, then the media often goes to great lengths to find those who aren’t to insert into the interview.) It was the same in the 60s. The “Hippies” were often depicted as unaware of the important issues and politically naive. Many of them were. In any group you are going to have those leaders who combine the intelligence and eloquence to properly explain their point of view. Many of the others will be at varying points on the intelligence and eloquence spectrum and may have a sense of the big picture or even simply a gut feeling about the justice in what they are doing, but will fall short if pressed to accountability. That’s not a problem.
The marches still took place and the memes still took hold. One of the central elements of the 60s revolution was the Viet Nam war, which not only was halted to a great degree by social pressure, but which served to present a broader message of peace and cause people to question the role of the American military industrial machine in the arena of world affairs. It managed to influence things for a fairly long period of time, up to the period just before and after 9-11. At that point, though the reality changed, the consciousness still endured in some places, -although the mainstream of government did everything to suppress it and twist it into an anti-American or anti-patriotic stance. In spite of the shortcomings, the evolution still took place, even if it wasn’t totally successful.
The central memes of the 60s were peace, questioning of authority, tolerance of alternative life styles and expanded consciousness, -all of which had their positive and negative aspects. The past fifty years has tried to sort out those positives and negatives, and I personally think they done a reasonably good job of doing that. This was the inception of the post-modern, pluralistic stage of our western society. (In Integral Theory terms, this signals the shift from orange to green.) The job is far from finished.
The memes that emerged in the 60s were fashion (importantly including long hair as a central symbol), a musical explosion of creativity often centred around social justice, the drug culture which fed a reinterpretation of the nature of consciousness and perspective, alternative life styles which fed the new Green level meme of pluralism and multiculturalism, and finally the whole idea of questioning authority rather than blindly trusting it. There was the common saying that, “You can’t trust anyone over 30,” which was a flawed idea but reflected the pervasive sentiment of not trusting the establishment. Interestingly, many of the leaders of the movement were, in fact, well over 30.
It all came together in a strange cultural mixture that had a huge impact on its time and on decades following. I feel that the same tinderbox for change exists now. In the late 70s there was a second wave of reformation in the form of the Punk movement, with many of the same memes that I listed above. However, it didn’t catch fire with the same intensity because the crisis it was addressing was mainly the feeling that the previous “Hippie” revolution had betrayed them, (which in many ways it had.) Ironically there was a strong thread of anti-racism in the punk movement, although it was confusingly mixed with messages of violence and fascist memes.
The current opportunity is to solidify that shift towards inclusivity and to perhaps even push the segment of society that is ready into a new stage that is even more inclusive. (Integral Theory’s Second Tier levels) In fact, the huge benefit that we may see from the current situation is a refocus and evolution of all of the Integral Levels. We have an opportunity to understand more about the pre-rational, pre-modernist element of society which was at the core of electing Trump. This is a social level that does not base its decisions on reason or respect facts. It is a level that tends to be highly egocentric (though not necessarily selfish) and nationalistic. They also have a strong predisposition to project their own shortcomings onto their perceived opponents. These were the people that Trump appealed to. They never had a candidate that championed their world view, and probably didn’t often vote in prior elections, but Trump woke them up (although many would say that they should have let sleeping dogs lie). Chances are they are going to stay woken up now that they’ve tasted political power, at least for a while. Part of what can be learned from the current mess is that these are people who genuinely feel ignored by the system. They are, in many cases, justified in their malcontent and if you don’t want them interfering with the running of the ship, you have to do a better job of listening to them and satisfying them. If not, then they wake up and elect people like Trump.
That’s not to say that all of Trump supporters are in this category. However they undoubtedly made up a major portion of the original core supporters. After a while other factors added to their numbers; everything from rebellious fad to party loyalty to conservative opportunism likely played a roll.
The cultural renaissance of the 60s was, as I said, largely in response to the Viet Nam war. Actually that was the catalyst that ignited the fire. The fuel for that was several decades of bland conformism peppered by early beat generation rebellion. It was “Father Knows Best” and “My Three Sons” on TV and “The Sound of Music” in the theatres.
Now, however, there is a real external social crisis which has the power to fuel a new social reformation. That crisis is personified in the rise of Trump, but exists more generally in the rise of reactionary ideas in the form of nationalist isolationism and rolling back progress made in the area of civil rights, women’s’ rights and gay rights. It is the last hurrah of the premodern elements of society, feeling intimidated by the progress of the world and latching onto current problems to emphasize that fear. In doing so, they push aside reason and pluralism, digging deep trenches in their own traditional and largely egocentric world view, but still taking full advantage of modern technology to spread false information and practice confirmation bias. It is the rise of people who had remained dormant for a long time, perhaps feeling powerless. It is the rise of a people of limited education and sophistication, prime targets for the misinformation wielded by those specializing in media communication.
This is the scenario in which a new rebellion, revolution and reformation is poised to take place. The outrage and real emotional terror at the Trump win by more than half of the population and especially by those who consider themselves as progressives, is unprecedented. It is not the usual grief that one’s party lost. It is a genuine dismay at the loss of an entire way of life or view of what it is to be American, -or in fact just a reasonable human being. It is a frustration that simple logical arguments that should be done deals are refuted by right wing talking heads who spew illogical nonsense and outright lies, having no respect for facts.
The demographic in the reformation of the 60s was youth. The demographic of the current rebellion has to be those progressives who respect reason and intelligence (the formal Orange level of Integral Theory) but also the principles of integrity and tolerance (the Green level). This wouldn’t be an age based demographic, but I believe that it could be even more powerful than age driven evolution ever was. I believe that there are even people who voted for Trump who would be sympathetic to if not active in such a cultural reassessment. The kind of mess and free for all that the media has turned into must be concerning to them as well. It won’t be long before, as was with Brexit, there arises a little “buyer’s remorse” when the Trump administration doesn’t turn out to be as advertized.
It needs cultural memes to hook onto. “Make America Smart Again”, “Make America Sane Again”, “Facts Matter”, “It’s OK to be smart!” and the general integrity of reasoning and expertise need to the brought forward. Key fights, such as Climate Change need to be front and centre, both to champion good science, but also to promote a new era of environmentalism born out of dire necessity. Reverence for the outdoors, such as what’s happening at need to become priorities and high profile. Concerns like those expressed in “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv or expressed in films like “Captain Fantastic” need to be addressed as to whether we are raising children in a world isolated by reality and socialized to play video games, with superficial Internet analyses and information. In addition to a reverence for Nature, let’s also encourage a reverence for reality. The word “authentic” was an important one in the 60s. Let’s encourage authentic relationships, families, group activities, friendships. Let’s encourage an authentic life.
I’ve already seen a trend towards music that highlights social justice, authenticity and environmental issues. Think back to the power of songs like CSN&Ys “Ohio”. Rap music started with that aim, but got badly sidetracked. It needs to realign itself with its original values and there needs to be music other than rap with those same values (for those of us who have trouble relating to rap). Hip-Hop has become largely glitz and glamour, echoing the mediocrity of Disco. It needs to become relevant, not just an “opium for the masses”. Even in the fringes of country music, I’ve heard bands like The Drive By Truckers who have put some real social commentary teeth in their newest album.
Movies have also been active in this area. This year’s TIFF slate was enormously heavy with films dedicated to social commentary. There were films about immigrants, gay issues, cultural issues, etc. The landmark movies of the 60s revolution were films like “Apocalypse Now” which really questioned the war effort in Viet Nam, and “Altered States” which opened up whole new horizons in the question of consciousness or “The Graduate” which opened doors of discourse around sexuality. Movies can play a very important part in this kind of social evolution, but they need to be popularly accessible (while retaining quality) if they are going to reach a wider audience.
In the 60s the counter culture saturated society. It was easier because of the baby boom bubble creaing a great market from which it could profit. I think that a similar market could exist now, only with a progressive bubble rather than a baby boom one. There are all sorts of progressively moral people who are eager to act on and display their personal values. They just need an opportunity. I’ve many times advocated a campaign where places of business would display “We serve everyone,” signs so that those who have corresponding values can make a point of giving those businesses their patronage. People would feel good about making that sort of statement.
One of the issues that always seems to come out of the gun control debates is that of mental health. One of the priorities of this new renaissance has to be a concern with mental health. This has to happen not only for those who have critical issues, making sure they don’t fall through the cracks, but also just in general terms. Introspection and “mindfulness” skills should be addressed and eventually taught in schools. These new awareness skill might even make a dent in the whole “virtual world/video game” issue that often prevents authentic connection to reality. (I want to make clear here that I’m not in opposition to technology, but just want to strike a balance so that more genuine an engaged relationships with reality can be encouraged. Virtual experiences might actually be useful in treating mental illnesses and in expanding consciousness. Just not at the expense of reality.)
These fights need to be fought on every front and issue. The anti-rational, anti-intellectual, anti-expert sentiment must be addressed at every opportunity. Cases have to be made for modern and post modern values, but with the caviat that there has to be a recognition and accommodation for the pre-rational or concrete rational. To ignore them would be like ignoring a child. You don’t do what they say all the time, and you certainly don’t assume their advice to be correct. But you don’t ignore them either, and you respect them for what they are, encouraging and accommodating them when it makes sense.
And one of the most important things that this renaissance needs to do is to usher in an atmosphere of integrity, but for all of the people including the ones that see themselves outside of this rebellion. If the Trump supporters are not included in the plan, it would be dangerous and, frankly, unfair. That doesn’t mean that society defer to them and what they consider to be their moral compass. Honestly, if all people abided by the standards advocated by the Red core that supported Trump, we would be living in the early 1900s. If the experts and professionals that these people hold in such distain were to disappear, they wouldn’t have their cell phones, tv shows and other toys. This sounds kind of like Ayn Rand’s withdrawal of service by the elite class in “Atlas Shrugged”, but that’s not what I’m supporting, -although that might be a necessary segway. Rand’s reaction was more “I’ll show you!” than “I’ll try to understand and work with you.” This is a tall order, but the first stage is the all important step of regaining social respect for reason, education and expertise. A element of society has chosen to devalue these for their own personal and selfish reasons, and that is one of the main things that has led to the rise of misinformation on the Internet and a post-fact world. Education is extremely important, but that is challenging when some people are actually suspicious of education.
Part of this is the constant talk and attack of “elites”. Who are “elites”? In many cases they’re just a catch all phrase for anyone that doesn’t agree with you. Opposed to the idea of climate change? Then the experts, scientists and people generally educated to be knowledgeable on the subject are a threat. How do you deal with it? Label them “elites” along with a generous helping of connation and vague ideas of derision, and you’ve instantly solved your problem. If everyone who might disagree with you is an elite, then you don’t have to present a logical argument to defend your position. “You think you’re so smart just because you have an education,” is a crazy accusation that I’ve personally heard many times.
Every reasonable voice needs to rise up and not accept the normalization of this “new world”. It’s not a new world, it’s a very old one. When ignorance and incompetence manage somehow to take over, you don’t say, “Let’s give them a chance.” When a wrestling promoter is made Secretary of Small Business, a climate change denier the head of the EPA, and a person who thinks that an entire religion is corrupt and violent, then it’s time to act, not wait. It is time to expose and expose and expose, hoping that some of it will stick. It’s time to use the opportunity to reframe the situation as much as you possibly can by shaking it up over and over. Ironically, that’s what Trump claimed he was going to do before creating an administration simply entranched the status quo and special interests, while overtly rewarding those who were “loyal” to him whether or not they are deserving of their new positions. The goal was correct enough; lots of things needed to be shaken up. Both Trump and Saunders were in the same ballpark in that regard. But Trump is striking out while buying the umpire to claim “winning”.
It’s really a political version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. We need lots of people to call out this tin emperor.