Monday, January 24, 2011

What Do We Mean by the 60s Culture?

It is frequently said that Vatican II started and ended at the worst possible time. The whole intent of the Council was devoured by the ethos of the 1960s. Cultural upheaval is what caused its meaning to be wildly distorted. An attempt to bring the Church to the world ended up bringing the world into the Church, devouring its substance and causing a major rupture between the past at the present. An agenda designed to update became one that ended up overthrowing. The reasons are complicated but somehow, in all discussions of this topic, the idea that the 60s culture had much to do with it always figures into the equation. 

Now, to young people today, to speak of the 1960s conjures up no lived context. One might as well be talking about the War of the Roses. So in an effort to figure out the meaning here, I pulled up an issue of Time Magazine from 1966, the year following the close of the Council. The Person of the Year: Young Generation. Let’s see what it says. 

The magazine speaks of people under the age of 25. This was a gargantuan group, and this was wholly unusual. There was birth dearth during World War II, but the dam broke immediately following the war in 1946 and ending in 1957, causing what is called the “baby boom.” Pastors looked out over the flocks of faithful and saw, for the first time, far more kids than adults. To a great extent, this was a numbers game. The kids had the disproportionate influence. 

Read this and ask yourself what might happen if you attempted liturgical reform in the midst of this.

This generation, writes Times,


looms larger than all the exponential promises of science or technology: it will soon be the majority in charge. In the U.S., citizens of 25 and under in 1966 nearly outnumbered their elders; by 1970, there will be 100 million Americans in that age bracket. In other big, highly industrialized nations, notably Russia and Canada, the young also constitute half the population. If the statistics imply change, the credentials of the younger generation guarantee it. Never have the young been so assertive or so articulate, so well educated or so worldly. Predictably, they are a highly independent breed, and—to adult eyes—their independence has made them highly unpredictable. This is not just a new generation, but a new kind of generation....

Reared in a prolonged period of world peace, he has a unique sense of control over his own destiny—barring the prospect of a year's combat in a brush-fire war. Science and the knowledge explosion have armed him with more tools to choose his life pattern than he can always use: physical and intellectual mobility, personal and financial opportunity, a vista of change accelerating in every direction.

Untold adventures await him. He is the man who will land on the moon, cure cancer and the common cold, lay out blight- proof, smog-free cities, enrich the underdeveloped world, and, no doubt, write finis to poverty and war.

For all his endowments and prospects, he remains a vociferous skeptic. Never have the young been left more completely to their own devices. No adult can or will tell them what earlier generations were told: this is God, that is Good, this is Art, that is Not Done. Today's young man accepts none of the old start-on-the-bottom-rung formulas that directed his father's career, and is not even sure he wants to be A Success. He is one already....

This is a generation of dazzling diversity, encompassing an intellectual elite sans pareil and a firmament of showbiz stars, ski whizzes and sopranos, chemists and sky watchers. Its attitudes embrace every philosophy from Anarchy to Zen; …"Don't trust anyone over 30," is one of their rallying cries. Another, "Tell it like it is," conveys as abiding mistrust of what they consider adult deviousness. Sociologists and psephologists call them "alienated" or "uncommitted"; editorial writers decry their "non-involvement." …

In nearly all their variants, the young possess points of poignant common interest. From activists to acidheads, they like to deride their elders as "stick-walkers" and "sellouts." Fond of such terms as "fragmentation" and "anomie" in sketching their melodramatic self-portraits, many of them assume an attitude that borders on nihilism....

Theirs is an immediate philosophy, tailored to the immediacy of their lives. The young no longer feel that they are merely preparing for life; they are living it. "Black power now!" cries Stokely Carmichael. "Action now!" demands Mario Savio. "Drop out now!" urges Timothy Leary. As Buell Gallagher, president of the City College of New York, sees it: "This generation has no utopia. Its idea is the Happening. Let it be concrete, let it be vivid, let it be personal, let it be now!"

With its sense of immediacy, the Now Generation couples a sense of values that is curiously compelling. It esteems inventiveness, eloquence, honesty, elegance and good looks—all qualities personified in the Now Generation's closest approximations of a hero, John F. Kennedy. "Heroism and villainy begin with fantasy," says Stephen Kates, 23, a brilliant concert cellist. "This generation has no fantasies."...

For better or for worse, the world today is committed to accelerating change: radical, wrenching, erosive of both traditions and old values. Its inheritors have grown up with rapid change, are better prepared to accommodate it than any in history, indeed embrace change as a virtue in itself. With his skeptical yet humanistic outlook, his disdain for fanaticism and his scorn for the spurious, the Man of the Year suggests that he will infuse the future with a new sense of morality, a transcendent and contemporary ethic that could infinitely enrich the "empty society." If he succeeds (and he is prepared to) the Man of the Year will be a man indeed—and have a great deal of fun in the process.