The good old days

VDH version:

the trial of the so-called Chicago Seven, involving the supposed organizers of the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, roiled the nation. The courtroom drama involving radical defendants such as Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin descended into a national circus, as the battle between leftists and the establishment went from the streets to the courtroom.

It was also the year of the Woodstock music festival. More than 400,000 thrill-seekers showed up on a small farm in the Catskill Mountains in August 1969 to celebrate three days of “peace and music.” Footage of free love and free drugs at Woodstock shocked half the country but resonated with the other half, which viewed the festival as much-needed liberation for an uptight nation.

Newly inaugurated President Richard Nixon characterized the national divide as the “silent majority” of traditional Americans fighting back against radical changes in culture and politics.

Under the strain of constant protests, the cultural and moral fabric of the country seemed to be tearing apart. Alternative lifestyle choices sometimes led to violence or death.

When a West Coast version of Woodstock was tried a few months later in Altamont, Calif., the concert ended up an orgy of murder, drug overdoses, random violence and destruction of property.

In July of 1969, liberal icon Teddy Kennedy ran his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Mass., and his young passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, was left to drown. Sen. Kennedy did not report the accident to authorities until 10 hours later.

The next month, members of hippie psychopath Charles Manson’s “family” butchered seven innocents in Los Angeles, among them actress Sharon Tate. The Manson family apparently had hoped that the sensationalized murders would ignite some sort of racial civil war, thereby unraveling the United States.

We have a picture of ourselves at the Dike Bridge, and heard “I dove into the icy waters three times,” or something like that. Now the Noonan version:

In “Mao’s Last Revolution,” Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals tell of a Ministry of Higher Education official brought up on charges of enjoying a “bourgeois lifestyle.” He’d been seen playing mah-jongg.

Mao unleashed university and high school students to weed out enemies and hold them to account. The students became the paramilitary Red Guards. They were instructed by the party to “clear away the evil habits of the old society” and extinguish what came to be known as “the four olds”—old ideas and customs, old habits and culture. “Sweep Away All Monsters and Demons,” the state newspaper instructed them. With a vengeance they did.

In the struggle sessions the accused, often teachers suspected of lacking proletarian feeling, were paraded through streets and campuses, sometimes stadiums. It was important always to have a jeering crowd; it was important that the electric feeling that comes with the possibility of murder be present. Dunce caps, sometimes wastebaskets, were placed on the victims’ heads, and placards stipulating their crimes hung from their necks. The victims were accused, berated, assaulted. Many falsely confessed in the vain hope of mercy.

Were any “guilty”? It hardly mattered. Fear and terror were the point. A destroyed society is more easily dominated.

The Chinese Catholic Margaret Chu, a medical-lab assistant, was dragged into the office of her labor camp in 1968 and made to answer invented charges. “Their real motive was once and again to force me to admit all my alleged crimes,” she wrote decades later. “ ‘I did not commit any crimes,’ I asserted.” She was accused again, roughed up. She denied her guilt again. “Immediately two people jumped on me and cut off half my hair.” She was tortured, left in handcuffs for 100 days, and imprisoned for years. While being tortured she sometimes prayed for death so her suffering would stop.

The Cultural Revolution lasted roughly a dozen years and died with Mao in September 1976. In time a party congress denounced it as what it was: ruinous. So I ask you to entertain an idea that has been on my mind. I don’t want to be overdramatic, but the spirit of the struggle session has returned and is here, in part because of the internet, in part because of the extremity of our politics, in part because more people are lonely. “Contention is better than loneliness,” as my people, the Irish, say, and they would know.

The air is full of accusation and humiliation. We have seen this spirit most famously on the campuses, where students protest harshly, sometimes violently, views they wish to suppress. Social media is full of swarming political and ideological mobs. In an interesting departure from democratic tradition, they don’t try to win the other side over. They only condemn and attempt to silence.

The spirit of the struggle session is all over Twitter . On literary Twitter social-justice warriors get advance copies of new books and denounce them for deviationism—as insensitive, racist, appropriative, anti-LGBTQ. Books on the eve of publication have been pulled, sometimes withdrawn by authors who apologize profusely. Everyone’s scared. And the tormentors are not satisfied by an apology. They’re excited by it and prowl for more prey.

A few weeks ago a young woman on Twitter thought aloud: “What if public libraries were open late every night and we could engage in public life there instead of having to choose between drinking at the bar and domestic isolation.” This might get people off their screens and help them feel “included and nourished.”

A nice idea. Maybe some local official would pick it up. Instead there was a small onslaught of negative reaction. “Libraries are already significantly underfunded and they struggle to make do with what they’ve got.” “Before you suggest this understand that librarians are maxed out—our facilities are understaffed, we’re underpaid.” The idea would only work in “mainly affluent urban & suburban communities with already well-funded libraries whose wealth insulates them.” A woman soon to marry a librarian warned of “what this would do to the lives of the people who work there.”

After being batted about, the young woman apologized: “I made insensitive tweets abt public libraries & the individuals that staff them. I apologize for those tweets. I have much to learn about the difficult challenges public librarians face, the services they provide, & how much they strive to meet the needs of communities they serve.”

Bonus fun. What do Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others all have in common? This brilliant thing. HT: this AT piece.

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