“The Last Glimmering”

 

I highly recommend the most recent Ricochet podcast.  I don’t always listen, but this morning I was involved in a particularly intricate farm maneuver, and I needed something to distract myself, so I put it on.

It’s wide-ranging and discursive, and although I’m going to focus in this post only on two short bits of it, you should probably listen to the whole thing.

James, Rob, and Peter set up the nexus of my concern at the six or seven-minute mark, where they discuss the differences between the college protests of the 1960s and those of today. I think they make two salient points: 1) their contention that, irrespective of ideology or anything else, the students of the 1960s were far more literate and grounded in facts and history than those who have come along some sixty years later; and 2) their contention that–although the protests of the 1960s didn’t actually end the Vietnam War–a “heroic myth” took hold in the minds of those who’d participated, and that that heroic myth has come down through the ages, imbuing the 1960s with a cachet as an idyllic age of campus protests that accomplished something revolutionary and progressive, and which took the world in a new and better direction, all thanks to the idealistic and non-judgmental young people who showed the rest of the world the way.

Someone (I think it was James) then launched into an entertaining and very relevant sidebar about how many of these people “attached themselves like lampreys” to respected institutions, and spent the next several decades hollowing them out from the inside, all the while enjoying the fruits of the society and culture they denigrated and despised, and raking in money, hand over fist. Also something about (paraphrasing): “Hypocrites all, intellectually, emotionally morally, socially, bankrupt little people wafting along on some cloud of self-regard they conjured up in the 60s and the 70s and which hasn’t evaporated yet.”

LOL.

I consider myself pretty able at ‘conjuring up’ word pictures, but this was really good. And really true. Bravo!

The fellas then moved on to a more specific discussion of Zionism, antisemitism, intersectionality and a few other topics, including what they think should be done with the Ivy Leagues, but they returned to anecdotal college stories at about 47:30.

This was when I started to cheer.

Rob began by talking about his own college experience (Yale) which (guessing) must have been from about 1984-1987. He talked about how almost all his teachers had experienced some seminal, adolescent, 1960’s moment in their lives, and how this affected every aspect of their teaching, becoming something they couldn’t really stop talking and proselytizing about, and that their “entire curriculum was going to be based on how great the 60’s were.  The generation that rioted in the streets in the 60s…went on to teach classes…they wrote their own myth.”

Peter stepped in and said, “I’m just enough older than [Rob],” that when Peter was at Dartmouth (1975-1979 according to Wikipedia) “there were two layers of professors,” the senior of whom had all trained in the 1950s. “They had standards, they spoke well,” and they acted with dignity towards their peers and their students. But–Peter said–“the associate professors, the young guys, had trained during the 60s” and they were different. He mentioned a young man with long hair who came in at the start of class, sat on the desk, and said (paraphrasing), “Well, OK then, what did you all make of The Taming of the Shrew?

Peter dropped that class, and signed up for a different one, forthwith.

He says, “I was there at the last glimmering, when you could avoid the jokers.”

Me too, Peter. Me too.

Your reminiscence catapulted me back to my freshman year at Duquesne University three years earlier, in 1972. (Not guessing about that, and although it’s not confirmed by Wikipedia, pretty sure I’ve got the date right.)

When you’re an incoming freshman, you don’t have a lot of context or perspective to judge either personnel or course content, so you pretty much take your schedule as it’s given to you, and adjust as needed after the fact, if you can.

I remember specifically two classes, both requirements, over half-a century ago: Psychology 101, and Ethics.

The Psychology class was taught by a graduate student (Richard A). He was the long-haired, grubby dude in jeans who came in at the start, sat on the desk, and asked us how we felt about course requirements, and if we’d rather be doing something else, somewhere else.

Heroically, I kept schtum, and sat through what was one of the longest fifty minutes of my life. Immediately afterwards, I went to see my advisor, who was dismayed, and who told me that Richard was one of their most popular teachers (I bet he was), and who couldn’t understand why I wanted to switch. But I did, to the tutelage of a Catholic Spiritan priest I don’t think was a world-class scholar, but who at least wasn’t a hairy, self-involved loon.

My Ethics class was taught by a young man, a very newly-appointed Assistant Professor, who gave us a day-one problem to solve, along the lines of if it would be “ethical” if we came across the aftermath of a car accident and discovered the car about to explode, and a woman trapped inside it by her hair (which had been caught in something, somehow), in which the only way to free her and save her life would be to cut her hair, something she was begging us not to do.

This–apparently–was supposed to be some sort of moral dilemma, worthy of a semester’s worth of introspection and discussion.

I bailed on that one, too. Duquesne at the time had a rather impressive faculty, some of its members particularly noteworthy considering the institution’s pretty traditional (back then) Catholic values. I signed up for a class taught by Reiner Schurmann. Again, my advisor shook his head. “He’s one of the most difficult professors; students don’t like him,” he said. “Good,” I replied. (What I didn’t realize at the time was how brilliant, transgressive, and a bit weird he, and the class, would be. Still, I’ve never regretted my choice. He really was a kind and lovely man. And whoever knitted the multi-colored Scandinavian-style sweaters he often wore to class–Respect!)

Once I got past that first semester, I had a much better idea of what to do, where to go, and who to sign up with. So that–although I didn’t attend Yale, or Dartmouth, or any other Ivy League institution (I was accepted at the one I really wanted to go to, but family circumstances didn’t permit it, and I don’t regret the step-down) I think I got an excellent education. And–since I spent almost four decades happily married to one of the professors I chose in my junior year–I really can’t complain about any of it.

But I’ve never heard it put quite as succinctly as Peter Robinson put it yesterday:

“I was there at the last glimmering, when you could avoid the jokers.”

In the early years of the 1970s, we all could.

I avoided the jokers, and my life has been much the better for it.

Pretty sure that’s it’s almost impossible to avoid the jokers these days, other than at a handful of very select institutions who’ve intentionally chosen another way.

What a shameful, deliberate, systematic, manipulative disservice has been done, across the board, to our young people.

Here’s to a revivification of the Spirit!

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  1. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    She:

    My Ethics class was taught by a young man, a very newly-appointed Assistant Professor, who gave us a day-one problem to solve, along the lines of if it would be “ethical” if we came across the aftermath of a car accident and discovered the car about to explode, and a woman trapped inside it by her hair (which had been caught in something, somehow), in which the only way to free her and save her life would be to cut her hair, something she was begging us not to do.

    This–apparently–was supposed to be some sort of moral dilemma, worthy of a semester’s worth of introspection and discussion.

    The wrong way to do ethics. (Shameless self-promotion.)

    • #1
  2. Jim Kearney Member
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll check out the podcast as soon as time allows. The podcast medium would be much more accessible if each were accompanied by timecoded highlight hints. Maybe AI will do soon. Sorry to sound like a what my professor used to call “print men.” Text continues to be useful, like an older actor who no longer gets leading parts but still wins important supporting roles.

    I’m slightly older than Peter and much older than Rob. So the future “tenured radicals” who hired many of today’s generation were my classmates, and I kept company with a wide spectrum of anti-war activists. (I do believe the broader activism, which extended beyond the radicals into the mainstream by my undergrad years 1967-70, did push Nixon to end the draft, and the promise to do so probably got him elected in 1968.)

    It’s interesting that many of us did our best to assimilate after B.A.’s and haircuts, while others continued to suck on alma mater without getting out in the business world at all. That’s a great disservice to their students. More than half of what I later taught came from what I’d learned in the business context, and much of the rest came courtesy of guest lecturers with successes far from the ivory tower.

    • #2
  3. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    I have been thinking that the difference in students of the 1960s/70s illustrates the failure of this generation’s parenting. 

    • #3
  4. Chris O Coolidge
    Chris O
    @ChrisO

    It’s been clear for years that a motivating aspect of campus activism is the romanticized image of the 1960’s, as well as a sense that the activism represents a moral ideal.

    • #4
  5. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Excellent summation and extrapolation – thanks! And thanks for listening. 

    • #5
  6. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    I entered college in September, 1963 and graduated in June,  1967.  Two months after I started, JFK was assassinated. Then LBJ ramped up the Vietnam commitment, and suddenly a totally apolitical college environment turned on its head. When I left the lunatic left had just blossomed, and it really flowered when I was a graduate student during the 1967-1968 academic year.

    I was not fond of the war but I found the hippies and leftist protesters repulsive. Some of them were the affluent kids who never heard NO to anything, but there was a mix of all kinds. Most were motivated primarily because of the fear of getting drafted, but there were other reasons. A friend of mine told me I should grow my hair out and hang with the protesters because, in his words “hippie chicks are easy”.

    Affluent people don’t experience life like we do. Reserve military slots were hard to come by, but people with influence managed to get in and – in those days – reservists were guaranteed not to get deployed anywhere. (Famously, many pro athletes scored reserve slots.)

    Then in 1969 I got a draft notice and ‘volunteered’ for USAF officer training, thinking that four years in the Air Force would be better than a year or two toting an M16 in the jungles. The draft ended while I was in service, and most of the people who were ducking it one way or another got a leg up in the world.

    I separated from active duty in 1973, and the job market was awful. The only job I could get was my old entry level job, because I was on military leave and they had to take me back. The first day on my new/old job the HR told me that the company had signed an affirmative action agreement, and I could expect to have little to no chance of promotion in the future. I don’t think I told my new bride about this.

    Then the Arabs doubled the price of gasoline, and the LBJ and Nixon financial missteps started us out on a wild fifteen years or so of inflation/stagflation.

    We were not able to buy our first house until the 1980s, and it had, if I remember right, a 12% mortgage. (A friend of mine who bought his first house in the 1970s did so with an 18% mortgage!)

    Meanwhile the dodgers all had secured their real estate before inflation and were two legs up on me.

    So, yes, I’m a boomer. But I hate all college protesters, especially my cohort boomers.

    • #6
  7. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    Dave Burge nailed it in 2015:

    • #7
  8. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Chris O (View Comment):

    It’s been clear for years that a motivating aspect of campus activism is the romanticized image of the 1960’s, as well as a sense that the activism represents a moral ideal.

    I thought that the most venomous anti-Iraq  war spokesmen and Congress critters were all re-living their youths protesting Vietnam. I think for many it was their peak and the highlight of their lives. How could you get to your 40’s or 50’s and think something you did – on a couple of spring weekends maybe – was the highlight achievement of your life? 
    More seriously, remembering the (random and occasional) Marxists in around my grad program in the early/mid ‘70’s – they were all smart and well educated and could write. They went forth and populated academia and the various bureaucracies very efficiently because they were smart and well educated and could communicate effectively. They made the connections, or were sought out and connected to, with the Marxist networks that we all now associate with George Soros. I think that’s why all the “organic and spontaneous” protests since Occupy Wall street look the same – with each one amping the propaganda, the chaos and the violence. They are managed by the same crowd who want the same objectives. Now they are open about the objective. And we really dismissed the literature that argued a Marxist interpretation of the American Revolution as superficial and lacking evidence. They didn’t care about evidence then either but it was a start. 

    • #8
  9. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    Conflate not “the liberal arts” and “the Ivy League.” Says a guy who graduated from Cornell in the 1970s with a degree in agronomy.

    • #9
  10. Jim Kearney Member
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Finished listening to the podcast. My thoughts on its best moment are in the podcast comments.

    On the question of the “heroic myth” of the 1960’s perpetuated in academia, they didn’t have time to go deep or wide enough to fully measure its appeal.

    True, the protests didn’t directly or immediately end the Vietnam war. They did encourage Nixon to phase out the draft. Those elected as anti-war candidates eventually cut off its funding. Most important for history, the protests established the crucial precedent (or viewpoint if you prefer) that U.S. forces should be used first and foremost in the direct, not theoretical, national defense; second as part of defense alliances under treaties; and not for altruistic nation-building.

    More important to the current generation of profs is the heroic myth of the civil rights movement. What they’re teaching is distorted: pre-Boomers did most of the heavy lifting, even though some in my generation try to take credit. Untaught is the primacy of non-violence in the movement’s success; the anger directed at Dr. King and his generation of “Negroes” by the black militant factions; and the destructive and divisive effects of racial preferences on the broader culture.

    Several other aspects of the 1960’s counterculture are also crucial to the “heroic myth” of the time, and may be even more important because they are more personal. First and foremost is the phase of feminism launched in the ’60s. 

    I won’t categorize it as “first” or “second” wave, because there was a feminist book on Antiques Roadshow recently from the 1630’s or thereabouts. And we’re not talking about Ms. Steinem or the angry anti-men types in the media, but about how ordinary women can now have extraordinary careers on a very wide scale, take the initiative in relationships, be an equal partner. An end to many being pushed toward an obedient cow option.

    Which takes us to another indisputable revolution seen by many on the left, center, and irreligious right as heroic, the sexual revolution. Triggered by the invention of the birth control pill in 1959, an end was put to the extreme inhibition, repression, misinformation, and dowdy dressing which preceded the 1960’s. Not all heroic, of course, but very impactful on personal lifestyes and memories of the era. The 1970’s were actually frisker for more, but the 60’s were the great kick-off, especially for guys who looked like Don Draper.

    And while we’re talking about sex, let’s not forget drugs and rock ‘n roll. The heroic myth of how wonderful the 1960’s were wasn’t so mythical in these areas. The Sixties without its music would be a like a movie without a soundtrack. The drugs were generally a sinkhole of despair and death, a problem for the mythmakers and cannabiz. Still,  the argument over the relative merits of mild hallucinogens vs. tobacco had the positive societal impact of condemning socially acceptable public cigarette smoking to the ash tray of history.

    The 1960’s ended in a truly heroic climax, the moon walk envisioned by JFK and accomplished by “science.” Some say the image of the whole earth seen first from space inspired a generation to more responsible stewardship of the big blue marble that is our Earth. So they say. The space race did put the Western genre down and have us look forward to “the final frontier.” The decade does have a heroic journey quality, a far out spaced out vibe, as it were. History is written by its winners, but it is inevitably rewritten by those who weren’t there.

    • #10
  11. She Member
    She
    @She

    Jim Kearney (View Comment):

    Finished listening to the podcast. My thoughts on its best moment are in the podcast comments.

    On the question of the “heroic myth” of the 1960’s perpetuated in academia, they didn’t have time to go deep or wide enough to fully measure its appeal.

    True, the protests didn’t directly or immediately end the Vietnam war. They did encourage Nixon to phase out the draft. Those elected as anti-war candidates eventually cut off its funding. Most important for history, the protests established the crucial precedent (or viewpoint if you prefer) that U.S. forces should be used first and foremost in the direct, not theoretical, national defense; second as part of defense alliances under treaties; and not for altruistic nation-building.

    More important to the current generation of profs is the heroic myth of the civil rights movement. What they’re teaching is distorted: pre-Boomers did most of the heavy lifting, even though some in my generation try to take credit. Untaught is the primacy of non-violence in the movement’s success; the anger directed at Dr. King and his generation of “Negroes” by the black militant factions; and the destructive and divisive effects of racial preferences on the broader culture.

    Several other aspects of the 1960’s counterculture are also crucial to the “heroic myth” of the time, and may be even more important because they are more personal. First and foremost is the phase of feminism launched in the ’60s.

    I won’t categorize it as “first” or “second” wave, because there was a feminist book on Antiques Roadshow recently from the 1630’s or thereabouts. And we’re not talking about Ms. Steinem or the angry anti-men types in the media, but about how ordinary women can now have extraordinary careers on a very wide scale, take the initiative in relationships, be an equal partner. An end to many being pushed toward an obedient cow option.

    Which takes us to another indisputable revolution seen by many on the left, center, and irreligious right as heroic, the sexual revolution. Triggered by the invention of the birth control pill in 1959, an end was put to the extreme inhibition, repression, misinformation, and dowdy dressing which preceded the 1960’s. Not all heroic, of course, but very impactful on personal lifestyes and memories of the era. The 1970’s were actually frisker for more, but the 60’s were the great kick-off, especially for guys who looked like Don Draper.

    And while we’re talking about sex, let’s not forget drugs and rock ‘n roll. The heroic myth of how wonderful the 1960’s were wasn’t so mythical in these areas. The Sixties without its music would be a like a movie without a soundtrack. The drugs were generally a sinkhole of despair and death, a problem for the mythmakers and cannabiz. Still, the argument over the relative merits of mild hallucinogens vs. tobacco had the positive societal impact of condemning socially acceptable public cigarette smoking to the ash tray of history.

    The 1960’s ended in a truly heroic climax, the moon walk envisioned by JFK and accomplished by “science.” Some say the image of the whole earth seen first from space inspired a generation to more responsible stewardship of the big blue marble that is our Earth. So they say. The space race did put the Western genre down and have us look forward to “the final frontier.” The decade does have a heroic journey quality, a far out spaced out vibe, as it were. History is written by its winners, but it is inevitably rewritten by those who weren’t there.

    Wonderful, thought-provoking comment!  Thank you.

    • #11
  12. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Way too much credit for the intellectual heft of the anti-war movement of the sixties but they were still more substantive than this crowd (a really, really low bar). (My small campus group believed that either we go all out and bomb Hanoi or get out.  I volunteered anyway.)

    There was at least some general awareness that life under Communism was suboptimal. The current lemmings generation doing group Islamic prayer and pretending that gays in Gaza are just fine are mind-blowingly ignorant.

    When the Age of Aquarius  grand vision of revolution turned out to be more government bureaucrats and a loss of purpose, the weird sexual identity nonsense oozed into the void. 

    The tenured old sixties radicals being shunted aside for not being woke enough are ironically in the same posture as the pathetic profs in the 60’s and 70’s desperate to be considered hip while blissfully unaware they were held in contempt.

    • #12
  13. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Perhaps one other artifact of the late ‘60, early ‘70s was rampant grade inflation. I had a military history professor make the claim that it started with professors not wanting to fail anyone who might lose a student deferment and ended up with what would have been “C” work getting “Bs” or better. And maybe that’s part of the reason why some of these “student” protesters are so blinding ignorant? 

    • #13
  14. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    Perhaps one other artifact of the late ‘60, early ‘70s was rampant grade inflation. I had a military history professor make the claim that it started with professors not wanting to fail anyone who might lose a student deferment and ended up with what would have been “C” work getting “Bs” or better. And maybe that’s part of the reason why some of these “student” protesters are so blinding ignorant?

    Oh, yes. Many professors would not fail anyone due to the draft. And administrators stopped expelling students for the same reason.

    • #14
  15. She Member
    She
    @She

    One of the things that–I think–distinguishes this movement from those which came before is the absolute rejection of “consequences” for what amounts, on college campuses,  to civil disobedience.

    When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in 1955, she was arrested.  The dignity with which she bore her ordeal (along with others in the civil rights movement) massively contributed to the public perception, and then the recognition, that the situation she, and they, were protesting was abhorrent.

    Same (although more raucously) for many of the 1960s protestors.  Many of them may have been misguided, misled, misunderstood, but at least they stuck to their guns.

    They were protesting events for which they had “skin in the game.”  And they accepted the consequences of their actions which were, on occasion, brutal and deadly.

    Today’s protestors don’t really have any skin in the game.  (At least not the American ones.  The protestors who–in disproportionate numbers–seem to be of foreign origin, perhaps not so much.  But my concern is more with their stateside useful idiots.)  Their lives won’t change much, if at all, regardless of what happens in Israel or Gaza.

    So having pitched their fits and indulged their tantrums, the students today want “amnesty.”  Their professors are intervening, refusing to let the colleges do their jobs by having the police remove the protestors, clear the encampments, and impose university, civil, and criminal penalties for their actions.

    They think they can’t be touched.

    And–as far as I can see, at least today, in light of the cowardly behavior on the part of their institutions of higher learning–they can’t, and won’t.

    • #15
  16. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    She (View Comment):
    And–as far as I can see, at least today, in light of the cowardly behavior on the part of their institutions of higher learning–they can’t, and won’t.

    There are some exceptions:

    Arizona State

    Florida

    Texas (Of course the ultra-leftist Travis County DA immediately broomed all the charges.)

    Insty invites Jewish students to come to a southern university for safety.

    • #16
  17. She Member
    She
    @She

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    And–as far as I can see, at least today, in light of the cowardly behavior on the part of their institutions of higher learning–they can’t, and won’t.

    There are some exceptions:

    Arizona State

    Florida

    Texas (Of course the ultra-leftist Travis County DA immediately broomed all the charges.)

    Insty invites Jewish students to come to a southern university for safety.

    Encouraging.  

    I see the Columbians have taken over a building.  I doubt it’s necessary–these days–to cut the electricity and water, as they sometimes did in the 60s.  Suspect that if the authorities, such as they are, simply blocked all cell-phone communications and shut down Wi-Fi for the campus, all intransigent activities would cease from lack of oxygen.

    • #17
  18. Some Call Me ...Tim Coolidge
    Some Call Me ...Tim
    @SomeCallMeTim

    I just read that protesters set up a tent camp overnight on my Alma mater’s (Tulane University) front lawn.  Campus police and NOPD had stopped a smaller attempt earlier. 

    NOPD and state police threw protesters out of Jackson Square yesterday, so I assume they just moved down the road to Tulane. 

    Tulane has a sizable Jewish alumni base.  Failure to act could be very damaging to the university.  The university president has said the university will not allow trespassing, etc. We’ll see what happens. 

    • #18
  19. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    She (View Comment):

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    And–as far as I can see, at least today, in light of the cowardly behavior on the part of their institutions of higher learning–they can’t, and won’t.

    There are some exceptions:

    Arizona State

    Florida

    Texas (Of course the ultra-leftist Travis County DA immediately broomed all the charges.)

    Insty invites Jewish students to come to a southern university for safety.

    Encouraging.

    I see the Columbians have taken over a building. I doubt it’s necessary–these days–to cut the electricity and water, as they sometimes did in the 60s. Suspect that if the authorities, such as they are, simply blocked all cell-phone communications and shut down Wi-Fi for the campus, all intransigent activities would cease from lack of oxygen.

    No WiFi, no AC, no electricity, campus security barring Doordash/Grubhub delivery and it’s over.

    • #19
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