In 1966, Stephen Stills, while jamming with Buffalo Springfield, wrote "For What It's Worth." And now, a half century later, I stumble upon an article in the Wall Street Journal informing me that, according to Pew Research Center, almost half of Americans get their news from Facebook. And when they finish getting their news from Facebook and other social media sources, they share and comment on it in increasingly prodigious quantities. What do these pieces of information have to do with each other? I don't know for sure. Maybe nothing. Maybe something.
First things first.
It's been 50 plus years, a half century, since "For What It's Worth" peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Five decades since Dick Clark's American Bandstand previewed this very undanceable song. Yet another half century before, World War I, the war to end all wars, was being waged. But in 1967, an additional war to end all wars behind us, to an eighteen year old like me with a fresh, unfettered draft card, 1917 was ancient history. Really ancient. So I have to suppose that an eighteen year old today spending any time at all thinking about a song from 1967, a wobbly vinyl disc revolving on a dinner plate of a turntable at forty-five rounds per minute, would seem just as ancient. Real old-people stuff.
But stay with me because there is something there. Something there in that song. Something there in our current state of affairs.
"There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind."
I recall the battle lines in 1967. When you think of what happened within a year of this song, you can't help but see it as eerily prophetic. Within two months of each other in early 1968, we would lose Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy to the bullets of assassins. Disenchantment with the Vietnam War would accelerate and all of it would take on a apocalyptic tenor weeks later in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention. And all of my young, long-haired, hippie contemporaries were right smack dab in the middle of it. Getting clubbed and kicked and generally pummeled by every law enforcement adult in reach.
Thank goodness we had no social media to fan the flames in those days. We might have seen the Second Civil War or the third war to end all wars.
"What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side."
We don't need to carry signs now. We can post our signs on our timelines daily. We can tweet and Instagram support for our side at the speed of a Jefferson Starship. Hey...forget the signs...an appropriate emoticon will do just fine.
"Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away."
"We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down."
I believe there is much to be optimistic about today. I really do. But I also believe we are living in an era of unprecedented paranoia, from our national leadership all the way to the man and woman on the street. Or rather, the man and woman on-line.
You know, I started this particular blog a few months ago and had pretty much dispatched it to the "Saved" column. The place where many well-intentioned blogs go to spend their last days, and, ultimately, to be transferred to that electronic trash bin in the sky. But things happen.
Minor and major. (And really, who's to define what's minor or major?)
This morning I was cruising Facebook (shame on me) and witnessed the sudden and apparent end of a long-term friendship. All because of - yep, you guessed it - a difference of opinion around something political in nature. And I really have to question the "political" part. Forgive my assumption, but most of the division and derision and frustration today stems from whether one chooses to strongly support, or wishes to quickly deport, our current head of state. We can throw around all the cliche-ish tags like conservative or liberal or gun-toting or snowflake or blah, blah, blah...till our strained eyes glaze over. We can claim our rightful and righteous place as a Democrat or a Republican. We can be blue or red or whatever other color we choose to represent our biases. But if there is a battle line drawn (and there is), the President of the United States is soft-shoeing and thumbs-upping right in the middle of it. Self-inflicted or not. Deserving or not. Believe it or not. And as I witnessed this increasingly tense exchange between these two ladies, both of whom appear to be very nice and intelligent people, I realized, at best, a huge crack erupted in their friendship, and, at worst, a knife pierced it through the heart.
Two other headliners since the time I first considered this blog: the horrific school shooting in Florida and the brain-numbing Waffle House murders in Antioch, Tennessee.
"There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware."
"Stop children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down."
Before you jump to conclusions, this piece isn't about guns, the Constitution, or the President of the United States. It's not about keeping score or winning. I promise. This piece is about humanity and its future. Period.
If you know me and have read my blogs, you know I would much rather write about animals or trees or wax sentimentally about my childhood. I would rather make you smile than cause you wrinkles. And my goal is always to entertain. But there is something happening here. Social media is changing the fabric of our lives. And it's not a slow evolution, one patiently rendered cross-stitch at a time. No, no, no. It's a seam-busting, cloth-ripping, button-popping change. It's louder than the Titanic getting filleted by that iceberg. Listen. I'm as endeared to whole connection process as you are. I like virtual visits as much as you do. I like knowing what's going on around the world in warp-speed time. And I can embrace (most of the time) the new voyeuristic spin on friendship.
But we have to heed Buffalo Springfield's fifty year old warning. There is something going down. Never before have school children's ears had to be on alert for certain sounds. The rack of a bullet entering the chamber. The staccato swarm of a beehive of hot lead. The muffled thuds of sneakers tearing down the hallway. Never before have battle lines been so deeply, so distinctly, so seemingly irrevocably drawn. Not even in my beloved 1960s did I see adults brutally ostracize young people for speaking their minds and acting upon their preferences. Vilifying children for having the audacity of an opinion. It's been a long time since I've seen "so much resistance from behind."
Metaphors shouldn't be mixed, we're told. And I probably shouldn't mix Stephen Stills with T.S. Eliot (cue the sound of dozens of folks hitting their "Escape" button). But we all should be wondering what "that sound" is, exactly. Maybe it's many sounds. Maybe it's gunshots. Maybe it's voices, being increasingly raised above the others. Or doors slamming on long-term friendships. Maybe it's simply the thundering silence of growing tensions.
In Eliot's "The Hollow Men," published almost 100 years ago, the ending verses are these:
"This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."
Take a few minutes and read the poem. I consider it a prophecy just as I consider "For What It's Worth" a prophecy. And what is a prophecy, if not a warning? And what is a warning, if not an opportunity for change? Or, in this case, an opportunity to stop detrimental change.
As usual, I don't have the answers. Just the observations. So now I'll let this little blog simmer for at least 24 hours. And, when I revisit it, I'll make the decision as to whether I want to share it with the few dozens who don't mind tuning me in for a few minutes. If you're reading this, you know that I chose to let it see the light of day. If you're not, well, your none the worse for wear and probably out there cruising Facebook land, discarding unreasonable, old friends and making new, agreeable ones.
Whichever, I'm not ready for the world to end with either a bang or a whimper. I'm not ready for us to be divided by something that has a finite shelf life, if we can just wait it out. And I certainly believe that the mental and moral price of continuing down this forked path is much more than we are willing to pay. I am ready for us to move on to more important things. Like dogs, and trees, and the glorious days of youth. And for a future that embodies harmony and rejects discord.
For what it's worth.