The 1960s was a period in which a whole lot of people got behind a few specific social injustices and made a concerted effort to correct them. There was, of course, a certain pluralism to these efforts; as in the current Republican party, there were conservatives, moderates, and extremists (although the Tea Party is no Weathermen Underground, and let’s hope it never gets to that point; that ain’t the revolution I’M after, I don’t know about you.)

With all of the injustices and bullshit occurring the world over, there are countless groups devoted to spreading awareness and encouraging action, usually in the form of monetary donations. Nothing wrong with that, money makes the world go ’round. MoveOn.org asks me for money regularly, and were I a mite bit richer, I’d probably cough up, just for a spine-tingle of self-satisfaction.

Does it matter, though, if I actually believe in, or even understand the cause I give money to? Reform are great and powerful things, and it’s better that we understand them before giving money to further them. But does it really matter? Does just giving money away for political purposes (as opposed to disaster relief efforts) count as actually DOING anything? Do they even justify a spine-tingle?

Will my $5, $10, $25 go towards real change, have a real effect? The process seems to proceed thusly: I give it, it goes, and then, poof. Nothing happens. What actually gets done with it? I know grassrootsy-type movements take time and effort and determination, visualization of a greater future than what seems self-evident now. But how do I know if any difference is being made? The same pitiful, gut-wrenching corruption exists everywhere, Democrat and Republican. The same 1% of the population controls the same 30% of the nation’s wealth (I use this uncited statistic to make a point, not to quote actual facts.)

I guess the direct-action element of true activism (if I may borrow that punk-rock term) exists so I can actually MAKE the difference, personally, not blindly give my money to someone else and trust that they’ll make it on my behalf.

I wonder, if enough people from each social class decided to stop trusting websites and to start getting involved personally, would that actually foster in the change we “all” desire in our heart of hearts?

The question then becomes: am I doing it for sake of the actual change, for the people whom the reform will benefit, or for that self-satisfaction I mentioned earlier? For if I change the face of society for my own benefit, doesn’t that suggest that I, and people like me, may just as well lead to the reform’s undoing or perversion if my greed and self-interest truly are my guiding principles?

So what kind of situation prompts mankind to ignore his own self-interested nature and actually act for the sake of others, say, soldiers in foreign wars, or persecuted minorities, or the poor?

It is important to realize that things were substantively different in America in the 1960s. As stated here, “During the 1960s the United States experienced its longest uninterrupted period of economic expansion in history.” Maybe it was easier to take up the pens and swords of actual civil action when people had jobs, food to eat, homes to live in, money to throw around, when the domestic financial system appeared secure. Grotesque human behavior in the political arena could be directly addressed, because each individual, and his/her sons and daughters, had less to worry about regarding their personal needs. In 1965, US unemployment stood at 1.4%. (ibid)

Now, it’s paused at 9.6%. (source)

What does this suggest? That when people are fed, housed, clothed, employed—taken care of—that’s the time to help others, to get out of the house and destroy the old order, to work for social justice and a truly improved situation for mankind in general. (I know I’m conflating the younger and older generations here, but read my post on Generations; social action is not about them) Hope springs eternal, when nobody starves.

Is this partly why repairing the economy has proceeded so slowly? Do the powers that be keep it shitty, so that the causes of equality, justice, integrity et cetera can NEVER be directly addressed by the demos (people)? Who are these Powers and why are they here? Why are they ruining everything?

Until those who grow tired of the bureaucracy, the corruption, the glacial slowness of progress can band together behind the banner of shared affliction, and rise up for the needs of the many as well as the individual, the old order will fight tooth and nail to keep the willpower, the optimism, the hope of the people for social justice in check. They will drag their feet, sabotage the axles, puncture the tires, put up roadblocks, siphon away the fuel for the fire, and encourage our lateral deviation from the object of our quest.

I know I’ve made many segues in this post by asking a new question without answering the last one, but let me do it just one or two more times: what if the issues that bother us now really aren’t as bad, as pressing and urgent, as the ones that got people moving back in the 60s? Are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan REALLY as patently and starkly unjust as the war in Vietnam was? Is there REALLY as much blatant racism and sexism and homophobia as there was then? The only things people seem to want to revolt against are the music and film industries. Granted, the 60s had “Clockwork Orange,” “Easy Rider,” and “La Dolce Vita.” We’ve got “Kick-Ass.” It ain’t fair.

So maybe things have progressed socially. But now, the economic situation dictates that the overarching, infrastructural imperfections of our society must remain unaddressed until our material needs are met. It’s ironic; back in the 60s, having our needs met didn’t foster complete complacency. It was proved that economic growth alone does not a happy country make. There were enough gaping social injustices for people to act upon in solidarity. So how do we get the rest of the job done?

It’s occurred to me that belief in perfection is what lead the greatest revolutionaries in history to outline philosophies of extreme social justice. They didn’t see compromise as an option; what was right was right and what was wrong was wrong. But they had to stay angry all the time; many died young (Bellinsky, for example). I don’t know if people are willing to adopt chronic anger as a motivational tool. It’s hard to worry about anger at the system when your children are hungry, or when you’re losing your house. Those are more pressing, specific, less abstract matters, surely.

Plus, we want to keep this nonpartisan, right? What better way to alienate the other side than by stating your position firmly, clearly, madly, to emphasize the fact that it differs completely with your ideological opponent?

But then, “If everyone would only fight for his own convictions, there would be no wars.” Tolstoy wrote those words, in War and Peace. He means that if people avoided adopting a preformed opinion, educated themselves about an issue, and formed their own opinion about it, there would be fewer conflicts because people would learn they actually agree on more than they expected, based on the platforms of their parties. Tolstoy goes on to write, though, “Very likely it would be a good thing, but it will never happen.”

Maybe people were more apt to cultivate their own opinion about the issues back in the Flower Age. Or maybe Idealism and Utopia were just a trend in the midst of economic growth. Either way, it would be easier to form idealistic notions if people had jobs. The key for people like me, who are puzzled by the simultaneous dearth and plenitude of causes, is to avoid wishing that things were worse than they are, in the misguided belief that it would be better for “the revolution.” Things are bad enough. Now, it’s all a matter of deciding what I’m really for and against, and how much I care. Maybe the problems aren’t bad enough to warrant going outside and doing something about them. But I forfeit any right to complain, and that doesn’t feel right, because I know, inside, that I’m angry.

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