April 22, 2013

Charlene recommends...

Ed Driscoll, Off the Rails: Mad Men and American Liberalism in 1968. I recommend it too.

...While the two-hour sixth season debut of Mad Men earlier this month played oddly coy about which year the series was set in, we now know that we're witnessing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce versus 1968.

Or perhaps it's the other way around, given how the year of 1968 came close to tearing the country apart. In many ways, the events of that year shaped our current world in ways that are still playing themselves out, so it's worth exploring just how badly the nation imploded. Apologies for the length of this post, but it's merely a partial list of 1968′s horror stories....

Any regular readers of Random Jottings will be way ahead of the admirable Mr Driscoll in understanding why things went random in the 1960's. You are the Illuminati! Two major shiftings of hidden tectonic plates erupted then, giving us volcanoes and earthquakes, chain lightning and meteor showers. It rained frogs! I was there. I alone have survived to tell thee!

One eruption was nihilism. People in the West with no explicit religious faith had retained religious habits of thought. They still believed in things like objective truth, objective morality, and the possibility they themselves might obtain religious or secular faith at some point. But habits wear off. And this one wore off with a crash in the 1960's, resulting in very different thinking in a significant portion of the American people! As I've often described.

Why the 1960's? Because people were not keen on experimentation and change during the years of Depression and war. Change was sort of put on hold. By the 60's it was clear that post-war prosperity was going to last. The Cuban Missile Crisis made WW-III seem unlikely. The Baby Boomers were mostly too young to lead the 60's changes, but they were probably giving an unconscious boost to youth culture and general craziness.

Most of all, the second movement of subterranean plates give impetus to the first one. This was the dawning of a new age of the world, the Information Age. This was another change in thinking. The dominant thought-patterns of the Industrial Age melted away, and people were suddenly waking up with new ideas.

One of the old ideas was a strong bias toward stability. The Industrial Age saw a huge expansion of the size and wealth of organizations, without much expansion in the ability to process information. The solution to this problem was for organizations to become computers of a sort, computers with human components. Clerks and filing systems and hierarchical org charts and bureaucratic rationality ruled. But this meant the need for stability was paramount. The transistors in the computer need to stay put! Stability colored all thought!

Long before PC's and the Internet, improved information processing technology was undermining the ideas of the Industrial Age. More phones, more cars, better roads, more education, airlines, IBM punch-card machines, carbon-paper, photostats, teletypes. All made information-processing more robust. The reign of stability started to crumble.

And among the ideas that had been supported and preserved by that great bias towards stability were those connected with religious faith and religious habits of mind. In the Industrial Age people tended to stick with their parent's faith. Or their parent's quasi-religious habits of mind. This meant that more and more people were believing things that they really didn't quite believe anymore. Once the great cultural bias towards stability crumbled, then it was "Katie bar the door!"

Read Mr Driscoll's article, and see if these thoughts don't fit, and make sense.

Posted by John Weidner at April 22, 2013 5:29 PM
Weblog by John Weidner