concessions

 

In Berkeley in the mid-1960s, I used to marvel at the way friends made the world anew each day by cartwheeling down the street, moment to moment exchanging Trotskyism for anarchism for Stalinism for the occult for drugs for religion while Professors who in the 1930s were Communists and were now Freudians explained it all. In every case there was a received answer to every question, which meant that there were no questions. Everything seemed possible, and the prospect was terrifying— so “nothing is true”, one basis for “everything is possible”, was exchanged for one Truth, whatever it was. Everything was present save a critical spirit, which might have made real the great adventure in doubt that, as Descartes described it, lay behind his “Cogito, ergo sum”: his dead slogan. No doubt the mad multiplication of choice by which “the sixties” are known led straight to a surrender of choice in the next decades, a surrender to authoritarian religion, authoritarian politics- for some, freedom from doubt was always the point, peace of mind worth any price. An aide to Senator Jesse Helms, tribune of the American right, could speak of the need to go back beyond Descartes, explaining that inside all the vulgar propaganda of fetus murder and racist nightmare was a true project: the repeal of the Enlightenment, the rebuilding of a world where the affirmation of one’s own thoughts was a sin, the return of the will to God. Everyone knows history moves in circles; the surprise is how big the circles are.

—Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century

(Courtesy my dear friend Pete, who dug up the quote so I wouldn’t have to.)

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