In her 1970 essay “On the Morning After the Sixties,” author Joan Didion recalled a Berkeley autumn weekend seventeen years earlier when she was reading Lionel Trilling in a fraternity house instead of going to the football game, a collegiate occasion fixed in the memory of an earlier era, “so exotic as to be almost czarist.” It suggested “the extent to which the narrative on which many of us grew up no longer applies,” Didion observed in her crisp, distinctive tone.
Before the Sixties, youthful elites were close enough to their patrimony to respect its intellect, energy, values and travail. Liberal guilt, such as it was, rarely went further left than Rockefeller Republican.
Even for all the disjunction and soul-searching, the Sixties retained a silent and stolid majority. The most whacked-out mid-centurion could not escape a model, a norm, and, if one sought entrée into prestigious or powerful circles, a style and a persona. A perimeter of the imaginable fenced in the id and its extremes.
That perimeter is going or gone, forgotten or resented, constituting a possibly malign (“Eurocentric” or “white”) state of mind. So here we are, estranged from time-honored courtesies and symbols, unaware of scriptural and classical guides to the ideal and the possible, and, increasingly, prisoners of the implausible and absurd.
The roots go back. After the Sixties, the children of privilege did not go to chapel, stopped wearing skirts and ties, questioned authority, and made “elitism” the enemy. They read Eldridge Cleaver, Baudelaire, and Howard Zinn, along with Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy. Some achievers rose to power on the rungs of race, class and gender. Barry Obama at Punahou School, class of 1979, epitomizes today’s Sixties-shaped elites levered by “diversity” and “globalism,” liberal buzzwords of the early Eighties.
The Sixties imperatives of transformation — the magical mystery tour, political signaling, no rules — endure, but as adventures in solipsism and exhibitionism. The finest qualities of the counterculture — its disdain for technocratic materialism and its quests for spiritual and worldly purity — are faded or extinct. The hedonic residue is not even a Dionysian invasion of centaurs. It’s just fat, tattooed and high as a kite, watching hardcore porn on a 72-inch screen.
The imperial class might hope that handouts and soporifics will keep the little people calm, but the circles of violence and unreason widen ominously. In a nation pledged to equality and freedom, until a dozen or so years ago, inequalities of intelligence, wealth and talent were almost universally accepted as the human condition. Equity envisions something else. Differences in individual achievement stem from racism, prejudice and social injustice. Identities are unrestricted and self-defined, including male and female.
A fantastic, cartoonish vision of social improvement tangles into whites-only gun control, defunding the police, gender neutrality, and perhaps pet therapy for the criminally insane. Each progressive cause and craziness seems backed up by well-staffed office, a pro bono legal staff, and 501(c)(3) tax exemptions. Any effort to contain or reverse organized lunacies meets legal and judicial resistance.
What was formerly outré or unimaginable — even after the almost anything-goes Sixties — is vogue, and to resist is to court ridicule or ruin. The insensate and fantasists are not just a few sociopaths living in shadows. They might include the local junior high school principal or Episcopal minister.
What frightens aspirational, “clean-cut,” functional America? It’s filth and litter, congestion and noise: the guy in the subway with the deafening bongo drums, his buddies breakdancing and passing the hat. It’s the screamer at McDonald’s, throwing food and moving toward your table. It’s the transvestite in sequins and false eyelashes reading to six-year-olds at the local public library or Navy yeoman camping in drag for his fellow sailors on an aircraft carrier.
Contemporary anomie’s most disturbing symptom is trans-mania, brought to life with Obama directives extending anti-discrimination rules in the federal workforce to cover transgender employees. The idea has been sustained through an orchestrated, well-funded political crusade, one that the NCAA and other organizations dare not negate. The “trans” narrative and what it demands take the US into neverland.
If advocates and officials can compel the nation’s institutions, legal system, agencies of culture, and common folk to resituate collectively against male and female, persuading or forcing a critical mass to abandon binary sexuality, then Americans can be made to do or believe anything.
How insurgents — any imaginable cleanup squad of naturalism and empirical reality — will deal with gender guidelines, regulations and rights legally in place is yet to be known. Any redeemers can expect vicious indictments of “hate” and suppression. Yet today’s irrational fugues of gender enchantment — feigned, opportunistic or real — will sooner or later play out.
What was that all about, some will ask, as if awakening from a bad dream. Others will be tidily amnesiac, and a few surgically damaged for life. The judges and lawyers, doctors and admirals, entertainers and academics who promoted the madness will do their best to sustain — if not their malevolent narrative — their power and reputations.
But like all cultural vectors, redirection — possibly with the unpleasant catalyst of medical hardship or of food, water or energy shortages — might take decades or generations to transpire. If the nation is fortunate, the recovery of the possible and natural will occur with a minimum of violence and bloodshed.
As with leech cures and lobotomies, gender re-assignment will someday be repudiated, joining other discredited, can-you-believe-it medico-social adventures. Human instinct will win. It might not be tomorrow, but whatever the narrative, defying nature and cellular science are not good bets in the long run.