Last week my old friend Sam Smith, who made his entrance to geezerdom just a year after I did, celebrated his 71st birthday with a post on his excellent, iconoclastic website, The Progressive Review.
Sam, who has been blogging since before the word existed, is one of those stubborn old farts who refuses to subdue his radical spirit or retire to the golf course, despite what he calls a “culture which has done everything in its power to infantilize, institutionalize and ignore its elders.”
Called “No Retirement Age for Rebellion,” Sam’s birthday post is a homage to members of the so-called Silent Generation who, like Sam himself, have managed not to give in or give up—and might stand as a model for young people today.
The twenty olds of today are in a situation much like the twenty somethings of my era. We had been taught–whatever our ethnicity or gender–to believe explicitly in white male hegemony and in the rules of the Cold War. Within ten years of leaving high school that was no longer part of our truth. Today, the mythology of Reagan-Clinton-Bush economics and the America’s superpower status have been similarly shattered. Never again will a majority of Yale undergraduate tell pollsters they want to go into investment banking.
Our establishment was stupid, cruel, selfish and incapable of reform. Today’s is no ifferent–just the issues. Instead of segregation and nuclear bombs we have a collapsing economy, damaged ecology and destroyed democracy. If today’s young want some idea of how to cope, I suggest our example, not because it was any more than occasionally on target but because there are so few parallels. Our efforts ranged from a civil rights revolution to drinking coffee, talking about it all and doing nothing. But there are no right answers when you suddenly find yourself trapped in an interregnum between insanity and uncertainty. The first step, however, is to separate yourself from those who have been running the place and turn your loyalty not to the powerful but to the best truth you can find.
The interesting thing about the rebels of the Silent Generation, Sam writes, is “that it stuck with us. Unlike the later boomers, many of whom seemed to use the 1960s as a crash pad for their souls and then lost interest once the draft was eliminated, I am struck by the number of refugees of the silent generation who are still on the case.”
The post–in which Sam also manages to quote both Cicero and Charles Bukowski—is worth reading in full.