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Child of the (Real) Sixties
February 14, 2020
by William P. Meyers

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Mention the Sixties, or 1960s, and certain images are conjured up: John Kennedy, the Beatles, Martin Luther King, hippies, the Vietnam War and protests against it. This is all fine and good, but it misses what was going on for the vast majority of Americans. True, rock and roll became the most popular form of music. But hippies were scarce even in San Francisco, and for much of America were a sight only seen on TV.

I arrived in Jacksonville, Florida as a child in 1960, and was still a teenager when the decade flipped on the first day of 1970. The decade only began to change me. My real mental and cultural changes did not become very meaningful until about 1971. While my family was more repressive than most, and better at keeping me insulated from the "change all around" most of my peers (white working class or middle class males, anyway) were on similar timelines. In fact, of my neighborhood gang of four, only I did not eventually make a career in the military.

I find it hard to explain what was really going on to today's young people. The idea that there were only three television channels, but that almost everyone subscribed to at least one of the local newspapers [Jacksonville Journal and Florida Times Union] is not hard to accept, but the effects of that on minds young and old is hard to fathom in these days of social media. There was only one bubble, and it was corporate. True, the era had its Democrats and Republicans, but Republicans were northerners who did not support racism or segregation, so might as well have been Martians.

For me life was a daily paradox of lower middle class luxury and trying to get through a day without being beaten by Mother, former Marine Corps Private First Class Meyers. School days were easier. I was never hit while in school. I am pretty sure there were parents of some of my friends who seldom if ever subjected them to physical punishment. On the other hand my parents were careful to not actually bruise us (my older brother and younger sister constituting this us); my father had, at times interrogated prisoners for the Marine Corps, and knew his business. But some of my friends did occasionally show bruises, and many also were obviously afraid of their parents. If you read the critique of beating children in say, The Way of All Flesh, beatings and their rationalization had not changed a bit between 1805 and 1965. In my family there was the added rationalization that I was to grow up to go to the Naval Academy and the start my Marine Corps career as a lieutenant, thus eventually becoming a General, whereas my father began as a private and only made it to Captain. My brother Tom did make a stab at the family dream, skipping Annapolis, but joining the Marine Corps with a college degree and eventually making it to the rank of Colonel.

I lived in a white community. Everyone I knew lived in a white community. There was an ancient black community, Cosmo, tucked in the woods along one of the two roads from our suburban development. Driving by it, I was curious. I also saw the black slums of downtown from the bridge over the river. While there were plenty of poor white people around Jacksonville, these slums looked particularly appalling. They became food for thought when I considered the argument that America was the greatest, most prosperous nation in the world.

Despite the sexual revolution, sex was frowned upon, though I suspect practiced more than people admitted. Homosexuality was suppressed; I thought allusions to it were just part of patriarchal culture, used to dis men who were not sufficiently manly. A boy told me of homosexual acts of other boys in our neighborhood. I thought he was lying. I am pretty sure now he was feeling me out, whether he was lying or not.

People were mostly conservative. Change is uncomfortable. I have, as an adult, noted that liberals and leftist radicals are actually as conservative as Conservatives. Confronted with information, hard data, that they are factually wrong about something, they will mostly reject it.

I was conservative too. I changed slowly. I was raised Catholic; that was the first belief system to go. It was just too obviously stupid. I was very proud to consider myself a rational person in 1969, though there was no one I could share this secret with. Next came racism. The civil rights movement influenced me. I would not actually talk to a black person until I was 17, but I heard black people on TV arguing for civil rights who seemed much smarter than many of the people I grew up with. Of course you don't just shed racism overnight when you have been brought up to be a racist. In fact there was a transition moment: I had been brought up to hate Jews. In 1968 I switched schools and met some Jews. Having decided hating Jews was stupid, it was just part of Catholicism, it was relatively easy to believe that if my class mates were black I would like them.

I was really slow in accepting that women were the intellectual equals of men. I think this is because, in addition to the patriarchal culture, I went to an all-male high school. When I got to college I was quickly disabused of this concept. Again, there was a time lag between my intellectual conversion and my always thinking and acting appropriately.

When the sixties ended most Americans still supported the war in Vietnam. Many had not accepted the equality of blacks or women, must less homosexuals. The main change that was statistically obvious was that Conservative Democrats were starting to re-register as Republicans, and liberal Republicans were re-registering as Democrats.

In the 1960s one of my childhood hobbies was collecting things like fossils and butterflies. I also read science fiction and science books. My Marine Corp parents encouraged this because they thought it would help me do well at Annapolis. One of my favorite collecting sites was a treeless swampy area, not quite a lake and only a meadow when there was a long rainless period, less than a mile from my house. Not suitable for building, not without draining and adding dirt. Amazing things were in this fen. My favorite memory was catching some fairy shrimp. When I went to visit, back in the 1990s, they had indeed drained it, filled it, and built single family homes there. So things can change for the worse. On the other hand, some black families had moved into my old neighborhood, and seemed to be accepted. Of course they were educated, upper-middle class Americans, but still. Over time, even conservative communities do sometimes learn to behave better than they did in the past.

Given how light the touch of the lefty-cultural sixties was on most of us, the later turn of the nation towards conservatism should not surprise us. In 1972 we had a much-hated man, Richard Nixon, defeat a quasi-socialist, George McGovern, in the race for President. Jimmy Carter was a much-more centrist Democrat. Then the Conservatives showed their appeal with Ronald Reagan. Despite that, some progress has been made. Conservatives were more open to issues of racial and sexual equality than they were to pushing the New Deal more towards Democratic Socialism. So while there is still prejudice, on the whole non-white, female, and homosexual Americans are more accepted than they were in 1969. I think the ruling class of America simply found it easier to oil certain squeaky sections of society than to risk the kind of revolution that leftists in the sixties thought they were about to create.

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