The Wider World

We were all in this together

WOODSTOCK 1969. The you-th movement of the Sixties has led us to a “me-only” society for many people (Wikipedia/Ric Manning).

I blame it on the hippies.

The counterculture movement of the Sixties transformed America and the effect spilled over worldwide. Old traditions – many of them worth abandoning – were trashed, new lifestyles introduced and the Baby Boom generation moved into the driver’s seat.

Much good came out of the movements of the time. The civil rights movement tore down all legal segregation, and the women’s, environmental, gay, disabled and other needed reforms followed, generally to the advantage of the nation and its citizens.

However, it’s not easy to tear down a lot of the rot of a house and not accidentally (or recklessly) put some cracks in the load-bearing walls and foundation.

A famous and favorite phrase of the era was “If it feels good, do it.”  Defiance of the rule of evil laws – such as racial segregation – eventually spread to defiance of other laws and customs that seemed simply to be in the way of whatever it is we want to do.

The original impulse may have started in the Left, but has spread all the way across the political spectrum. The Jan. 6 insurrection (or riot or protest or “tourist visit”) is simply the most spectacular example of folks just ignoring the structures of civic society.

For example, I understand the general point of legalizing marijuana possession and use. Do we really want to pack our prisons with people whose only crime it is to smoke a funny cigarette? On the other hand, the liberalization of attitudes about pot has brought that drug out into the open.

We can walk through a parking lot, or stroll down the street and have our senses assaulted by the pungent smell of cannabis. I, for one, don’t favor getting a contact high while simply going out for a carton of milk.

In a society in which there’s a liquor store (or any place that sells alcohol) every 50 yards, how much more chemically stupid do we need to get?

We see several states where the electoral results of the Nov. 6 election have been disputed, despite overwhelming evidence that the balloting was free, fair and basically absent of fraud. And yet, simply because some folks didn’t want the results to be true, they are dragging their state into expensive paperwork gymnastics which will only confirm their earlier disappointments.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, a person whom I consider to be a friend posted on social media, “I’m tired of being told we’re all in this together.” Sigh.

Aren’t we? Unless you live on a hilltop in the forest or literally on a desert island, what you do affects others. The very word “freedom” has been abducted by too many to mean “I don’t care about other folks, I’m gonna do what I want when I want to.”

It was “we” who wore those annoying masks, washed our hands raw like surgeons on a busy shift and stayed two meters away from almost everyone, all of this for over a year. We weren’t giving up freedom; we were protecting others and ourselves. Staying well by doing good.

Before the Sixties, the social mood of the country was said to be one of stifling conformity. Not enough independent thought. Too much “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Now we seem to have a mood of reckless individuality. Not enough reflection on the common good. Too much “I want what I want.”

There’s got to be a point where we recover some common ground. The best description of freedom I’ve seen goes something like this: “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

It’s time to consider that and the possibility that a hand extended in friendship will benefit you and me more than the fist. We are all in this together, after all.

Jim Tortolano’s “Retorts” is posted every other week, alternating with “Usually Reliable Sources.”




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