In this social era one of the roles of young adult Millennials is to clean up the culture after a long period of decadence and degradation called the Unraveling (I’m talking “turnings” theory here). I submit that an excellent example of this phenomenon is the subreddit wholesomememes. Here you will find only happy and affirming thoughts, positivity and love. It’s the Internet’s biggest safe space.
I also submit that the subreddit acts as a forging ground of an emerging values consensus for the new order of the ages. If it fits into this subreddit, its acceptable values. That means that inclusivity is in, and religious moralism is out. All the weird culture that our society has generated over the past decades is in – as long as it serves to boost the esteem of others and bring us all together.
I’ve been reading the Federalist papers and while I certainly agree that they are an intellectual treasure and a great achievement of the American generation of the Revolutionary period, I often find the arguments weak. Hamilton in particular is prone to argument from incredulity (“nobody could possibly believe that…”) and a special brand of argumentum ad populum (“any intelligent person could see that…”). Now obviously there’s considerable risk in establishing a Constitution more or less from scratch, and despite the best efforts of the founders to find precedents they had to make important choices about the structure of the government without being able to predict the eventual consequences. As Machiavelli put it, there is nothing more difficult to plan than the creation of a new system. In their pamphlets, Hamilton et alia were just trying to pummel their opponents into submission with repeated assertions that their system was as good as it could get – as anyone could plainly see.
One of the most important trains of argument in the Federalist papers relates to separation of powers and checks and balances. These are foundational principles of government going back to the classical ancients whom the founders admired so much, as articulated by the influential Enlightenment era philosophe Montesquieu. One such check, of course, is the legislature’s power of impeachment – hugely important for restraining the much feared threat of a tyrannical executive. As ancient Republican Rome had rejected Kings, so would the new American Republic.
The other great fear expressed in the Federalist papers is that of faction – the natural tendency of men to form groups based on mutual interest and then, in Hamilton’s phrase, use “cabal and intrigue” to manipulate the system in their favor. Vesting the power of choosing representation in the people would – as anyone could plainly see – prevent such factions from working against the interests of the public, at least for very long.
So you can imagine that reading the Federalist in these times has been painful, as I’ve watched the chief executive abuse his powers, enabled by partisanship within a party that has lost its integrity, but nonetheless has popular support despite its many policies that work against the people. A chief executive who is, apparently, untouchable. Hamilton, I imagine, would be flabbergasted. No one could possibly believe that the legislature would tolerate a charlatan in the highest executive office who intrigues with foreign powers, he might have written. Yet here we are.
Or have been, I add, hopefully. With the House finally opening an impeachment inquiry into the President, I can see that there’s still life left in this old Constitution of ours. The fact that the Senate voted unanimously for the release of the whisteblower complaint means that Congress has at least a little integrity left. So maybe, just maybe, we have entered a new chapter in the saga of our ongoing Constitutional crisis – a turning point which will decide if We the People still retain our sovereignty.
Last weekend I went to Washington D.C. and saw the show What the Constitution Means to Me. That’s where I got this pocket copy of the Constitution of the United States of America, which I have been carrying around. The show was amazing, funny and sad, and thought provoking.
The play is kind of a stand-up routine, and kind of a biographical monologue, and kind of a lecture on political philosophy, and kind of a lot more. It ties in playwright Heidi Schreck‘s experience debating the Constitution in high school with the further evolution of her thinking about it, in light of later life experience and developments in jurisprudence.
Using the vehicle of a recreation of her high school debates, Schreck specifically discusses the 9th amendment, and section 1 of the 14th amendment. The 9th amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, and basically says that the Constitution is not making claims about the limits of anyone’s rights; it’s not saying, “we’ve listed these rights, and that’s all you get.” So there is room in the future to define more rights of the people and limitations of the government in infringing upon them.
The 14th amendment was part of the Reconstruction era, and an important followup to the 13th amendment which banned slavery. Section 1 of the 14th amendment is clarifying that all States within the Union are bound to the laws of the United States; it is explicitly binding the States to the Federal system which is the genius of the government of the United States. For in the U.S., you are a citizen both of the State in which you reside and of the United States as a whole. And the government of your State of residence cannot deny you rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
That is why a gay couple can get married today, even in a State where the government in charge would like to deny them that right. And that is why, in my opinion, secession or splitting the country up would be a terrible, terrible idea. It would leave too many disadvantaged people without essential legal protection. I’ve thought about that before, and this play helped fix that belief in my mind.
Now Schreck is mainly concerned with the issues of reproductive rights and of violence against women. In discussing this, she pulls her family history into the narrative, going back to her mother’s experience growing up in a troubled household. As she relates this to the story of women’s rights under constitutional law, a depressing picture emerges in which women are underprivileged, lower-class citizens. Just consider that women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.
The stark truth is that the law is in the hands of those who interpret it and enforce it, and these tend not to be women. Schreck’s disappointment at this state of affairs becomes the overarching theme of her play. And this raises some compelling questions – is the Constitution still working? Is it reformable? The show shifts formats at the end to address these questions in a fun and exciting way.
If you feel that the Constitution doesn’t work for you, well, you may well be in the majority, considering that many people today have tuned out of the democratic process. I mean, technically our President should be a dotted outline, considering how many people didn’t vote in 2016. But if the government is so corrupt or ineffective, does that really mean we should give up on it?
Heidi Schreck’s play doesn’t answer that question for you, but it will make you think about it. It sure did for me, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it. I hope you will, too. It is probably too late to see it in D.C., but it should be touring in numerous American cities next year.
Silents of the Week: the Cast of Grace and Frankie
Undoubtedly, the Silent Generation has made a huge impact in the field of arts and entertainment. Their careers go back to the Golden Age of film and to the dawn of the TV era. For my generation, which was weaned on television, they were the young actors of the sit coms and dramas to which we were first addicted as children.
So it is amazing to me today, after we have evolved past the convergence of TV and the Internet and into the streaming era, that their generation still has its own television show. That’s right, I’m talking about Grace and Frankie on Netflix. Every one of the four actors in the roles of the two comically disordered couples is from the Silent Generation: that would be Martin Sheen (b. 1940), Sam Waterston (b. 1940), Lily Tomlin (b. 1939), and Jane Fonda (b. 1937).
Now, it’s true that the show is produced by Boomers and the lead characters are probably meant to be parodies of Boomers, but the Silent personality still comes out. The characters are neurotic and confused, the tone warm and humane. The show is about elders opening up, pushing boundaries, and staying hip with the latest social trends and language – in the 2010s!
Grace and Frankie is the swan song of a generation that has managed to keep itself relevant through over half a century of social change. It is a reminder of the long-reaching effects of the transformative time of their youth – embodied in part in the family dynamic with the main characters’ quirky Gen-X adult children. The plot may be contrived, the writing clichéd and predictable, but the show is always fun.
We’re in the middle of the fifth season and we like the show almost as much as these guys do:
I discovered the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore by listening to the music CD A Gift of Love II. This is the second of a pair of albums by New Age author Deepak Chopra which put to music love poetry read by an ensemble of notable guest speakers (the first album uses the poetry of Rumi and is just as good). Tagore is considered to be a national treasure by the people of India, and from the great wisdom of his very quotable sayings it is easy to see why.
When I contemplate his many teachings, I find that I truly believe what the master says about love – that it is the ultimate meaning of life. For when the unity of consciousness, which is the ground of all being, separates into the duality of subjective observer and experienced world, it creates a yearning for reunion. This desire propels the Universal Will as it seeks higher and higher forms of expression within consciousness. Thus, love is the very reason for existence.
When you love, you are extending your conception of what you are, what belongs to you, outward into the world. You are expanding your ego-identity. Love is seated in the 4th chakra – anahata – which manages emotions, the confluence of your mental and vital natures. In other words, the meaning of your life. Anahata is the central chakra, and so love is central to your being. It radiates out from you in every worshipful act.
One thing I love about Vampire Weekend is that the two leads who formed the band are Jewish (Ezra Koenig), and of Iranian descent (Rostam Batmanglij). It’s like they represent the great hope of America – that people of all origins, even countries which are geopolitical enemies, are recognized for their common humanity and given equal opportunity to pursue their happiness. And what more American way to pursue happiness than to form an indie rock band?
If you haven’t heard them, you should check them out. They’re one of the best of the rock bands that the Millennial generation has produced. And considering how many generations of rock and roll there have been, they have a lot to live up to – I mean, all the great classic rockers are from a few generations before. Now, Rostam has recently left Vampire Weekend – on friendly terms – which means he wasn’t there when we got to see them last week.
Yes. that’s right, I was really just posting this to humblebrag about attending a hip indie rock concert with my BFF and her son. It was at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, and the crowd was huge, and energetic, and twenty to thirty years younger than us. We paid $10 for cans of beer and stood up and danced and were up way past our bedtime.
The opening act was the very talented blues guitarist Kingfish. He played old school rock with virtuosity, like a reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix. I actually felt like I had been transported back in time to Woodstock. This guy is only 20 years old, so he is a prodigy.
When the main attraction came out, the crowd leaped to its feet. The band kept the energy going through a long set, which included old and new material, as well as a couple of covers.
I must have looked foolish – a fiftysomething man bouncing around like he thought it was 1989 and he was at a Grateful Dead concert – but I didn’t care. For the encore, the band took requests, and the crew threw a couple of big inflated balls into the audience for us to toss around. It was so much fun.
As for the music, well, the way we see it, the songs of Vampire Weekend are all Millennial anthems. They perfectly capture the zeitgeist of their generation – anxious, questioning, dissatisfied with adult life after being raised with high expectations.
The chorus from their latest hit says it all, I think. When I hear it, I hear the Millennial generation’s disappointment in the corruption of the institutions run by their elders. They long to make the world a better place. But for now, all they can do is sing.
And the stone walls of Harmony Hall bear witness Anybody with a worried mind could never forgive the sight Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die