Whatever Happened To Peace Love and Understanding?

Aug 22

While I was growing up-and by that, I mean going through my twenties-I often heard the following quote from Winston Churchill: “If you’re not liberal when you’re twenty-five, you have no heart. If you’re not conservative by the time you’re thirty-five, you have no brain.” The words were repeated over and over, like a mantra, as though they embodied some inevitable principle that accompanied coming of age.

We all grow old, and in doing so, somehow lose our ideals and accept the situations of life as they really are, in opposition to the way they ought to be. We place our hands on the circumstances of life, and as we build a kingdom for ourselves, inevitably, the kingdom becomes walled in and we set guards to watch it and mobilize armies to protect it.

I came of age in the 1980’s. This wasn’t on the heels of the Peace and Love Generation-they died a long and slow death of libertine excess and anarchy in the 1970’s. By the 80’s, their arguments sounded vacuous, their political currency spent-the simple fact was, society didn’t change. The 1980’s are trumpeted by the conservatives as a sort of Golden Age. Reagan was their answer to Kennedy, his presidency was their Camelot. But the truth is, the Cold War reached newer and more dangerous heights, the Young Republicans flirted with the apartheid government in South Africa, a callow and trenchant materialism settled on the land, and staid conformity attempted to strangle out any voices of discontent. Nothing was better than it was before, in fact, it was worse. The motto the government tried to levy upon the youth, the propaganda they handed us, was a negation. Just Say No. The hippies had failed. It was obvious. They were selling insurance now.

The best response many of us could see in this situation, was a detached and practiced nihilism. We didn’t protest, we didn’t march. We didn’t engage. This astounded our counter culture forebears, who were shocked at the lack of showmanship we demonstrated. They didn’t understand ours was a more subtle and delicate rebellion. We weren’t naive enough to espouse any real ethos or creed. We didn’t subscribe to any overt tenets of faith, except for a vague understanding that we were liberal in our sensibilities-and this really just meant being tolerant of others. Yes, it’s that simple.

The 1990’s came, and with it the First Gulf War, and an attendant recession. Bush Senior was out of touch with the people. While Bill was trying to charm the Generation That Hates Being Called Generation X on MTV, George refused to pander to the ‘teeny-boppers‘ as he called us and went out on some quixotic nonsensical train ride tour of the country. We voted George out and let Bill in. The 90’s marked the longest period of economic growth in the country’s history-since they were followed by the Lost Decade (almost no growth at all during the aughts), the times seem almost mythic today. Astonishingly, despite the capable performance of Mr. Clinton, amid sex scandals and possible voting fraud, we let the Republicans back into the White House.

I voted for George Walker Bush. I admit it. The real question is, why? How could I betray the ideals I held so dearly in my youth? I may have worn all black, wrote bad poetry and acted like I didn’t give a damn about anything-but the truth was, I did. I cared dearly about the environment, civil rights, gay rights (which are really civil rights), women’s rights. I lamented the fate of the Native Americans, and the terrible practice of chattel slavery that this country was built on. I thought that colonialism and imperialism had caused much misery all around the planet. I felt that all this needed to be addressed-and actively.

So what changed? My family came to this country in 1904, when my great-grandfather Cristofalo Ristuccia stepped off a boat called The Prince of Napoli in New York harbor on December 24th. He came here with nothing. My grandfather worked as a fireman in New York City. On that meager income, he supported a family of five children. My father went to college and became an engineer. I myself went to college and worked my way through. Nobody handed us anything. We had no ill-gotten gains. Everything that was ours we had byway of our own tears, sweat and blood.

But in the circles of political liberalism, there was a festering malcontence, a resentment that lashed out against whatever wore the guise of the perceived enemy. The achievements of my family were somehow suspect. Just because I was a white male heterosexual Christian, I was a part of the engine of oppression. Never mind that my family hadn’t been here for a hundred years, or that during our time in America, we worked our asses off. No-somehow, we were granted an unfair entitlement just by being who we were. Our efforts and accomplishments were suspect, and I was expected to lay down my ambitions so that others could achieve and get a slice of a pie that only had so many pieces.

Yes, that was my perception (and alas, probably an inaccurate one). An unspoken one that is, no doubt, shared by many middle income Americans who regularly vote Republican. I voted for Bush because I was, as any person could expect, voting in my own interests. On my way to my thirties, I had lost my heart and gained my brain it would seem.

Then, the next eight years passed: 911, Afghanistan, Iraq, not one but two recessions. The government detained without due process at Guantanamo, they spied on citizens, they TORTURED PEOPLE!

I was, of course, horrified. My friends who were fellow Republicans didn’t want to face the facts, and found every excuse they could to apologize for the excesses of a government that was running amok around the world. I felt more burned and disillusioned than ever, as my thirties drew to a close and I was paying over two fifty for a gallon of gas.

But then, I realized some things. Or rather, I returned to some ideas I always had. Dispensing with government, and considering just the human being it is supposed to serve, certain understandings come to light. Human beings are inherently good. They don’t want to hurt each other. The average person just wants to provide for their family. They want food, clothing, shelter and an opportunity. And a safe world to enjoy it all in. It’s that simple. War is something that is enacted by governments, not by those who fight in them. Conflict is fomented by institutions (political parties, for example), not by individuals.

Looking at the world and society, we can’t just value the self at the expense of the whole. As members of society we are obligated to serve it-this is the best way to ensure its health and stability. The values of this are simple, summed up, they are: Peace Love and Understanding. Hmm. That sounded familiar.

Recently, our country elected its first African American president. I woke my children up to see it announced officially. I saw tears (of joy, and something more) in the eyes of many-my own were misted. I said to myself, as history was being made: “This country works. It really works.”
Here, ideals had, in a rare example of concordance, converged with reality.

Dark times fell on the land and a hard wind blows. But at least, we have our hearts back. Yes, our hearts are beating and they keep us warm. We can face trial if we know we’re in it together, as a people.

Things are cyclical, the wheel turns and we find ourselves in the same place we once were-the same, but different. Life is a spiral.

Churchill said if you’re not a conservative when you’re thirty five you have no brain. Well, if you’re not a moderate by the time you’re forty-five, you have no soul.

7 comments

  1. Julie /

    Enjoying your blog, Peter. Great writing & commentary on society – Julie, who used to live in Athens many years ago.

  2. Melinda Leigh /

    well said.

  3. Peter; Please don't fall into the same trap that the "hippies" did.
    America voted for a slogan, and a new page for the history books.Being a moderate is fine in times like the 90s, the only problem with it is
    that sooner or later a perfect storm of tyrants comes along, and a fence stradler can get knocked off. Liberal or Conservative must be decided.The only chance for P.L.& U. is to not give in to monsters like Islamic murderers,Cuban & Venezuellan & N.Korean freedom deniers. These people would destroy all of your "moderate" hopes and dreams in a heartbeat, and the Liberals are doing there very best to aid them. Real Conservatives are needed to battle them.
    Hopefully the Brain wins out,the love of your life takes care of the Heart,and God takes care of the soul.

  4. Good stuff man!

    Individuals are not the problem, people are.

  5. Sean McDevitt /

    “Human beings are inherently good. They don’t want to hurt each other.”
    sounds like buddhism

    “Liberal or Conservative must be decided.” from Dano
    Sounds like “yer with us or yer against us”

    What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding ?

  6. Thanks for reading Sean. Yes, I definitely believe that human beings are inherently good.

  7. Yes, Dave. Individuals are usually very magnanimous-when we get into groups, things get a little more complex…

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