The end of the 60s dream

Within the US counterculture, the comedown from the 60s high was debilitating. Sheila quotes the teenage Lester Bangs in 1968, coming to terms with the shootings of Warhol and Robert Kennedy:

America, which is essentially our universe, is having earthquake-sized convulsions, choking, spitting up blood, reeling dizzily into some crumpling limp falldown of terminal disease, weaving back and forth on its knees moaning and clutching itself tightly in one wounded area after another, raving like a wood-grain-alcoholic crashing in the Bowery on his Last Go-Round, and I don’t have any answers, or even very many opinions right now

It’s a beautiful speed-freak preview of the despair which would, over the next 4 years, overcome much of the counterculture. I’ve mentioned it before in the context of Hunter S Thompson. His best writing is shot through with bewilderment and disappointed hope, all sublimated into rage and excess.

We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled the Sixties. Uppers are going out of style. This was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling “con sciousness expansion” without ever giving a thought to the grim meathook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him too seriously

If Hunter and Lester’s intensity is unusual, the pattern of gloom is pretty evident.

Much of the world is in a similar position now. The difference is that we’re not coming down from a quick hippie high, but slogging through many years of featureless gloom. Here’s how Bruce Sterling opened his annual State of the World comment thread:

An extraordinary atmosphere of sullen, baffled evil, as the year opens. I don’t know what to compare 2014 to — except for many other glum post-revolutionary situations, when the zealots succeeded in toppling the status quo, then failed to install a just and decent form of civil order. The world in 2014 is like a globalized Twitter Egypt.

As Bruce suggests, the same gloom is present in the Middle East. Still, it was expected — every Arab activist I heard from in 2011 realised the “Arab Spring” was just the beginning of a long struggle with many setbacks. It was only the Europeans and North Americans who looked at the first wave of change and thought Mission Accomplished. Still, there’s plenty of gloom here: Europe, North America, the Middle East are all having a rough time, while the Balkans remains in its perennial stew of unhappiness.

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