(I was forced to note while at the park this past week that the peace sign on clothing is back as a fashion statement. What a shame.)
Here are some great bits, but do read the whole thing:
Like almost all dissidents of my generation, I was a protestor without a plan and a visionary without a vision. I had not yet learned that you see only what you are able to see, and I was able to see only the egalitarian, relativistic, self-gratifying, superstitions of the secular, wayward, left. Please do not think that this was simply a case of prelapsarian innocence. It was not. It was ignorance and it was evil, although I would have denied it at the time.
I had to put my insipid and airy romanticism where it belonged, on the burgeoning junk pile of the fatally flawed and conclusively overthrown fantasies to which the human mind seems continually to give rise. Not romanticism but religion, not Byron but the Bible, not poetry but Paul, not Voltaire but virtue, not trends but tradition, not idealism but ideas, not genius but grace, not freedom but faith could cure me. I had to exchange Wordsworth for the Word and revolution for repentance.
Whenever someone insists upon freedom, you must ask "Freedom to do what?" You must ask that question because freedom, like tyranny, has its unintended and unforeseen consequences, some of which are colossally vile. In passing, I name but one — abortion.
The sixties were a bad idea, if for no other reason than because the sixties had no ideas, only selfish desires hiding behind the shallow slogans and freelance nihilism emblazoned on psychedelic bumper stickers, slogans like “I dissent, therefore I am.” The only things about which we were intellectually modest in the sixties were the claims of objective truth. We seemed unable to wrap our minds around even the most obvious ideas. We seemed unable to realize, for example, that you cannot raise your consciousness until you have one. The sixties were perhaps the most unconscious decade in centuries.
Tenured faculty members everywhere have traded their tie-dyed T-shirts and their bell bottom jeans for a cap and gown, if not a cap and bells. Those faculty members are the entrenched purveyors of an unexamined and indefensible hand-me-down Marxism...
The denizens of modernity probably do not realize and probably do not care that they are the befuddled and bedeviled lackeys of designer truth, of made-to-order reality, and of ad hoc morals making. If you follow them, you walk into the night without a light and into the woods without a compass. I want to tell you as plainly as I can that their vision of academic tolerance lacks intellectual virtue. It dilutes the high cultural inheritance of the past with the petty and insupportable leftisms of the present.
I would be gilding the lilies if I tried to add much of anything to Bauman's eloquence. This piece is worth passing on to the young people you care about. If you teach undergraduates or high schoolers, try to find an excuse to have your students read it, or at least recommend it to them.
One strand that I particularly thought of as I read Bauman's piece was the sexual revolution. There were really people in the 1960's who believed that love would conquer violence, that flower power would make everything nice. One wonders if they would be willing now, in our increasingly violent, and specifically sexually violent, culture, to admit that they were wrong. When Eros is made a god, he becomes a devil. Of course, it was always necessary to kill the unborn to allow absolutely free love without consequences. I doubt that many 60's radicals were in much doubt about this, though I suppose some of them might not have realized it. Those, I guess, are the ones who have now become conservatives, or at least pro-life. But the violence of pornography is something that I think they did not predict; nor did they foresee the union of the sexualization of culture with the glorification of violence. The flower children thought they would make the world beautiful. How incredibly naive. But as Bauman says, this was not innocence but a kind of deliberate and evil ignorance. Even though they might not have known what exactly the genie would do when let out of the bottle, they knew there was a genie, and they were reckless of consequences.
I think that now it is most probably too late for any of those 60's children who are still around to turn back if they haven't already done so. If the many and horrifying fruits of their revolution have not shocked them into sanity already, that won't happen now.
But it isn't too late for their children's children. Maybe not even for some of their children. And that is why Bauman wrote this piece.