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Independence Day!

The woods at old Old Orchard Beach

The woods at old Old Orchard Beach

We’ve had a couple of days off here in Portland, Maine and I’ve been able to spend some time with family which is great. I missed being home for Independence Day but so it goes. As a second generation American the thought of what I perceive makes this country great still moves me. A friend sent me this piece and although I don’t agree with all of it, it certainly is thought provoking and I do agree with much of it:

The Downside of Liberty

Joe Mortis
By KURT ANDERSEN
Published: July 3, 2012

THIS spring I was on a panel at the Woodstock Writers Festival. An audience member asked a question: Why had the revolution dreamed up in the late 1960s mostly been won on the social and cultural fronts — women’s rights, gay rights, black president, ecology, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll — but lost in the economic realm, with old-school free-market ideas gaining traction all the time?
There was a long pause. People shrugged and sighed. I had an epiphany, which I offered, bumming out everybody in the room.

What has happened politically, economically, culturally and socially since the sea change of the late ’60s isn’t contradictory or incongruous. It’s all of a piece. For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won.

From the beginning, the American idea embodied a tension between radical individualism and the demands of the commonweal. The document we’re celebrating today says in its second line that axiomatic human rights include “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — individualism in a nutshell. But the Declaration’s author was not a greed-is-good guy: “Self-love,” Jefferson wrote to a friend 38 years after the Declaration, “is no part of morality. Indeed it is exactly its counterpart. It is the sole antagonist of virtue leading us constantly by our propensities to self-gratification in violation of our moral duties to others.”

Periodically Americans have gone overboard indulging our propensities to self-gratification — during the 1840s, during the Gilded Age, and again in the Roaring Twenties. Yet each time, thanks to economic crises and reassertions of moral disapproval, a rough equilibrium between individualism and the civic good was restored.

Consider America during the two decades after World War II. Stereotypically but also in fact, the conformist pressures of bourgeois social norms were powerful. To dress or speak or live life in unorthodox, extravagantly individualist ways required real gumption. Yet just as beatniks were rare and freakish, so were proudly money-mad Ayn Randian millionaires. My conservative Republican father thought marginal income tax rates of 91 percent were unfairly high, but he and his friends never dreamed of suggesting they be reduced below, say, 50 percent. Sex outside marriage was shameful, beards and divorce were outré — but so were boasting of one’s wealth and blaming unfortunates for their hard luck. When I was growing up in Omaha, rich people who could afford to build palatial houses did not and wouldn’t dream of paying themselves 200 or 400 times what they paid their employees. Greed as well as homosexuality was a love that dared not speak its name.

But then came the late 1960s, and over the next two decades American individualism was fully unleashed. A kind of tacit grand bargain was forged between the counterculture and the establishment, between the forever-young and the moneyed.

Going forward, the youthful masses of every age would be permitted as never before to indulge their self-expressive and hedonistic impulses. But capitalists in return would be unshackled as well, free to indulge their own animal spirits with fewer and fewer fetters in the forms of regulation, taxes or social opprobrium.

“Do your own thing” is not so different than “every man for himself.” If it feels good, do it, whether that means smoking weed and watching porn and never wearing a necktie, retiring at 50 with a six-figure public pension and refusing modest gun regulation, or moving your factories overseas and letting commercial banks become financial speculators. The self-absorbed “Me” Decade, having expanded during the ’80s and ’90s from personal life to encompass the political economy, will soon be the “Me” Half-Century.

People on the political right have blamed the late ’60s for what they loathe about contemporary life — anything-goes sexuality, cultural coarseness, multiculturalism. And people on the left buy into that, seeing only the ’60s legacies of freedom that they define as progress. But what the left and right respectively love and hate are mostly flip sides of the same libertarian coin minted around 1967. Thanks to the ’60s, we are all shamelessly selfish.

In that letter from 1814, Jefferson wrote that our tendencies toward selfishness where liberty and our pursuit of happiness lead us require “correctives which are supplied by education” and by “the moralist, the preacher, and legislator.”

On this Independence Day, I’m doing my small preacherly bit.

The calm before the storm that cancelled the fireworks and cruise

The calm before the storm that cancelled the fireworks and cruise

Yeah.. who knew.

Could help be on the way?

Could help be on the way?

OK… moving right along. Tonight we are at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center here in Maine. Come on down and say HI!

  1. Brett
    July 5th, 2012 at 13:58 | #1

    Hope you and the family and the Tuna Gang had a great 4th Jorma!!

    Thanks for the food for thought

    Brett

  2. Richard
    July 5th, 2012 at 18:03 | #2

    What part don’t you agree with? Thanks..

  3. cyndy consentino
    July 5th, 2012 at 23:10 | #3

    Dear Jorma,

    Happy 4th to you and yours!! Very thought provoking piece As a child of the sixties, I must say I miss those kind, generous times. While there were problems in that decade, I find today’s world very much a “me” centric era!! Not good.’
    Stay Well
    Cyndy

  4. July 6th, 2012 at 08:09 | #4

    I guess really only the imprecise reference to the Second Amendment… other than that it’s on the money in my humble and unsolicited opinion.

  5. Richard
    July 6th, 2012 at 16:26 | #5

    @Jorma

    Thanks Jorma… Dick

  6. Robert
    July 6th, 2012 at 19:53 | #6

    I’m sure you know better than most Jorma that the counterculture was much more than just “do your own thing”. It certainly was selfish, self-indulgent and hedonistic, it was a time of self discovery afterall, but there was also a strong sense of community, sharing and brotherhood, hoping to create a world that benefits everyone, not just the privileged. That Liberty and Justice for All was just that, for ALL of us together.
    That is something sorely lacking in today’s Ayn Randian ideologues.

  7. Bre
    July 6th, 2012 at 22:14 | #7

    Too funny! (The Man Overboard pic)

  8. July 7th, 2012 at 08:32 | #8

    Absolutely true, Robert. The good news that can still be found is that there are still many folks (not just of the 60’s generation) who still strive for all the important values you mentioned. Amen to that.