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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

“You say you want a revolution-uh-uhn … Well, you know … We all wanna change the world …” The Beatles might have been leading a pep rally, as if a revolution were a big party. Well, it’s party time in the Middle East. If Egypt and Tunisia can do it, then so can anybody!

Slapdowns in Libya and Syria have dampened the can-do spirit, but there’s a strong temptation to cheer on revolutionaries the way we cheer on a football team. We eagerly follow their progress on TV, hoping they’re successful. Revolutions shouldn’t be a bummer; the good guys are supposed to win – like they do in the movies.

From the La-Z-Boy bleachers of America, we watch the overthrowing of dictators with optimism and wonder, inspired by the free expression of the human spirit. But in real life, revolutions aren’t fun, sexy or easy. They’re dangerous. Bad things happen – ethnic purges, reprisals, civil war, martial law. From our vantage, however, they’re exciting.



Characteristically, we support the underdogs, as we’re doing in Libya, because we identify with them. We have no idea where it’s all going, but we feel good rooting for guys in street clothes throwing rocks at the palaces of corrupt potentates.

Perhaps it’s the youth in these movements that we are really celebrating, a youth that is boldly demanding a stake in the future by deposing repressors who have been holding them down. America loves the idea of youth rising to self determination, as long as it’s foreign youth.




In America, youth movements have proven ephemeral. They last only until the Establishment swallows them up in the next Establishment. I saw it happen 40 years ago with the revolution rhapsodized by the Beatles.

While the Sixties promised real change, the fire went out with the advent of flared pants. Let me explain: Bellbottoms represented the counter culture. Flares compromised the radical chic. When flared pants hit Madison Avenue, the prevailing culture had absorbed the appearance of revolution. Long sideburns and shag haircuts further trimmed the nation’s freak flags into mod conformity. Sadly, most of what the Sixties epitomized was appearance, which was easily co-opted by the shapers of pop culture. And when disco eviscerated rock ‘n’ roll in the late ’70s, the rest was history. The movement was over.

Where are the revolutionaries of my youth today? They’re running the country into a series of wars, financial debacles and ecological crises, a far cry from the original intent of the Woodstock Generation.

Free love and altruistic idealism from the Age of Aquarius got sold out for a Lexus, a home in the ‘burbs, flat-screen TVs, private schools for the kids, country club memberships. The culture of materialism prevailed. Our kids see this very clearly, and with justified cynicism.

For some Boomers, the capitulation of idealism now fuels despair with apocalyptic hand-wringing. They realize that the peace movement was a passing fad that was supplanted by a renewed embrace of the status quo. Substantive social change surrendered to the inertia of comfortable habit.

So let the crowds chant, the banners unfurl, the tires burn, the defiant few stand before army tanks – but beware the new order. It is likely to become very much like the old order, only with different faces and names.

While we foment that democracy is the birthright of every human being, let those on the frontlines of revolution be wary of modeling their new order too closely on America, where a close examination reveals faults and corruption born of complacency, greed, avarice – the typical human foibles that derail utopian dreams.

If that’s so, then why not wage a sympathetic revolution in America? Thomas Jefferson advocated the same when he said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

Manure stinks when you get too close to it, so we keep our distance. It’s easier to root for Libyan rebels than to man the barricades on Wall Street. Revolution requires a passionate desire to reform corrupt national policies and outmoded cultural mores. Most Americans don’t have the stomach for that, nor do they see the need. We prefer our revolutions to be televised – from elsewhere.


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