Pondering the legacy of the 60s counterculture and the political fallout

It was almost noon, and we still had more than a hundred miles to go.  They would be tough miles.  Very soon, I knew, we would both be completely twisted.  But there would be no going back, and no time to rest.

~Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Here I sit, surrounded by a collection of books thoughtfully pulled from my bookshelf, looking for the perfect book to take along with me on vacation.  This is not something I take lightly; choosing “just the right book” means pulling at least 10 books from the shelf, reading the reviews written on Goodreads and seeing exactly what the New York Times has to say about my selection.  It is a process.  I have books that center around a main character who is angry at life.  Books that document the coming of age for a disillusioned young woman in New York’s high society.  Women disenchanted with their position in life and dreaming of an escape.  Men who woke up one morning, took a look around them and wondered what on earth happened to the life they had envisioned in their youth.  Books about love, tragedy, and everything in between.  After painstakingly researching each book, I now have them in neat little piles based on their various themes and I have to admit all but one has left me depressed before even reading the opening lines.

As I contemplate this pile of books in front of me, I find that I’m not so sure that heavy themes are a good fit for a relaxing beach vacation.

As I contemplate this pile of books in front of me, I find that I’m not so sure that heavy themes are a good fit for a relaxing beach vacation.  I could choose Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and share in her concept of hell, or I could choose Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and experience a totally different version of hell.  I could read about frustrated women in Forster’s A Room with a View, Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, or Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  I could enjoy a good Bildungsroman with Allende’s Daughter of Fortune or Doctorow’s Ragtime.  Maybe a good doomed romance with Cullen’s Mrs. Poe is what I need; or, maybe, I could read a good midlife crisis novel with Sartre’s Age of Reason or Updike’s Rabbit, Run.  Then I could always fall back on my gothic favorites with Ellis’ American Psycho or Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables.  The more I think about it, the more I feel that these topics would not make for the most enjoyable beach reading and may just bring down the joy of being on vacation with my family.

Buried in this collection of depressing literature that highlights the frustration of life, I have a copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  I picked up the book, flipped through the pages, and could not help but laugh at the outlandish drawings that are scattered throughout the text.  In reading the first chapter I was captivated by his satiric tone, and, I have to admit, was enthralled with the viewpoint of the as yet unnamed main character.

Upon reading several reviews I am curious about how Thompson views journalism, life, and the pursuit of the American Dream through a drug-induced haze.

Upon reading several reviews I am curious about how Thompson views journalism, life, and the pursuit of the American Dream through a drug-induced haze.  This book promises to give a light-hearted view of a very serious topic and keep the reader in a fit of laughter; laughter that is not only at the characters pathetic attempt to attain what in many cases feels unattainable, but I think that by taking a long, hard look at the failure of the counter-culture of the 60’s to produce Nirvana is applicable to life in today’s political climate.  Maybe this is the book that I need to be reading.

Being diagnosed with cancer has been a life-changing event.  Things that I once thought I held dear no longer matter and things I took for granted have become my focus.  We spend so much precious time chasing after an image that we lose sight of what is truly tangible.  Hezekiah, when confronted with a terminal illness, was given the command to put his house in order because he would not recover (NIV 2 Ki 20.1).  Hearing such a grim prognosis, Hezekiah immediately turned to the Lord and prayed for God to have mercy, remembering his past faithfulness.  God was moved by Hezekiah’s heart-felt words, and decided to give him a test by granting him a reprieve of 15 years.  Wow! To go from imminent death to 15 more vibrant years!  What a blessing!  However, Hezekiah did not use this time to be a blessing to those around him, he chose to build a name for himself by embarking on innovative civil service projects to stand as a memorial to him forever.  As a result of this inward focus, Hezekiah neglected his most treasured possession, one that would make a name for him for generations to come, his son Manasseh.

As a result of this inward focus, Hezekiah neglected his most treasured possession, one that would make a name for him for generations to come, his son Manasseh.

This is the problem I see with many of the books that I have lined up as contenders for the beach.  Each of the main characters remains inwardly focused and angry at the world around them.  Hawthorne even goes so far as to show how this inward focus can have disasterous consequences for generations to come.  This selfishness destroys relationships, families, and children.  We can choose to wash away the consequences of our actions like Sartre’s main character, Mathieu, by seeking with all our hearts to have our mistress’s baby aborted.  We can meet a famous author, strike up a friendship with his wife, only to carry on a affair with him behind her back.  We can wake up one morning, question why we got married and had children, and walk away from a pregnant spouse, child, and unborn baby to seek after self-fulfillment.  We can allow ourselves to burn with passion for someone we just cannot possess and as a result create for ourselves a pure hell on earth, or we can look at our betrothed and dream of chasing after other, more interesting people.  This is our culture; it is self-absorbed, me-centered, and willing to destroy all that is good in order to fulfill selfish desire.

We have so little time to make a mark on the world, a mark that will count for generations to come.  We can choose to build a great, big beautiful house and lay a curse upon it by chasing after selfish desires.  We can choose to walk away from our family and obligations because they no longer fit with our dreams and hopes; they have instead becomes chains forming a prison from which we seek escape.  Cancer, for me, has brought that selfish drive to the fore-front and helped me to see that I have been trying to build an empire of dirt.  My true legacy is to be found in my family and the mark they will make in the world.  That is where I need to focus all my energy.  I need to invest in my children.  I need to love my spouse.  I need to laugh.  I need to see life as a blessing to be enjoyed, not a contest to win.  I think that is what makes Thompson’s book so intriguing.  He is real about the American Dream.  He is trying to present an honest view of the failures of the 60’s to change the status quo and bring about a utopian society.  It is ironic that in his opening chapter, Thompson has his characters careening at break-neck speed through the desert that Charlie Manson and his family once called home.  It is the symbol of the ultimate failure of the counter-culture to bring about a utopian society founded on peace, hope, free love, and the liberation offered by psychotropic drugs.

It is ironic that in his opening chapter, Thompson has his characters careening at break-neck speed through the desert that Charlie Manson and his family once called home.  It is the symbol of the ultimate failure of the counter-culture to bring about a utopian society founded on peace, hope, free love, and the liberation offered by psychotropic drugs.

Let’s be real, this is what we are facing in today’s society.  We have people who are protesting for rights they already have.  We have people shutting down free speech and the right to express those ideas in the public forum.  We advertise drugs on television that promise to cure our every ailment.  We have politicians and judges who are willing to sell out our country’s soul for a political agenda.  What has happened to America?  Where is that American Dream we were all promised would be ours if we just worked hard enough to attain it?  What happened to good old fashioned hard work and ambition?  Our self-centeredness has eradicated it from the landscape.  While I have only read the first chapter, I think that is where Thompson is going.  We settle for pathetic journalism and call it truth.  We seek to decipher the world around us through a drugged out stupor.  We are deluded in our thinking by foreign substances and tainted journalism.  As a culture, we can continue to delude ourselves in the genre of our choice, or we can sober up from the distorted reality we are presented with through 24 hour news channels, shoddy journalism, and social media to see the bigger picture.  The future of our country depends on people waking up and actively seeking to make truth the center of the public forum by holding these people who control the news and the political frontier hostage with their own personal agendas accountable for their distortions.  What we have created since the 60’s has proven to be nothing but a failure, maybe its time to turn to what is the most important, people, and seek to rebuild this once glorious Republic on truth instead of the drugged out delusions of the 60’s.

One final thought.  Thompson opens up his story with this quote from Samuel Johnson:

“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

I think this is what we have become as a nation.  We have lost touch with our soul and as a result have become nothing but a beast; a roaring, selfish beast that cannot see the forest for the trees.  We need to rid ourselves of the drugs that delude our vision, recapture what it means to be human even if it hurts, and seek to restore this broken nation one lost soul at a time.  The legacy we have of the 1960’s is the me generation that evolved in the 1970’s.  Families were ripped apart by divorce or the drive for material gain through dual incomes that created my generation of “latch-key’ kids.  The result is a generation that raised itself and is still driven by the individualistic, self-centered impulse we knew as children.  The millennial generation is one that has been catered to and made to feel like the center of the universe, resulting in an inflated sense of self-worth and the push for instant self-gratification.  If we are to heal this nation we need to be outwardly, not inwardly, focused.  We need to possess an imagination that allows us to see life from the perspective of another individual, not just our own.  We need to actively pursue truth, not through the media or politicians, but through our own initiative to research all sides and form an opinion.  But, most of all, we need to see the value of the legacy that exists in our children.  We need to raise them with a healthy self-esteem, but not so much that they cannot see the world through anyone’s eyes but their own.  They are, after all, the future that will determine the course of this nation.

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