The Center Can Hold

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

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“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity….”

The sad and shocking events this week have come at a time when America is more politically and socially polarized than any other time in recent memory. This has led to casual comparisons between 2016 and the America of the most turbulent year of the Vietnam War, 1968.

They are not the same.

It is not 1968. That year saw the assassinations of MLK and RFK, race riots and arson in 125 American cities and armed troops on the streets. 16,899 young American men were killed in Vietnam that year while massive anti-war demonstrations closed universities and rocked Washington, DC.  Lyndon Baines Johnson, President of the United States, declined under the pressure to run for re-election and a “police riot” broke out in Mayor Daley’s Chicago on live television. America was torn apart on generational, racial and political lines. This week has certainly been tragic for a variety of reasons that go deep into the American psyche, but thankfully we are not even close to reliving 1968.

It might be useful however, to recall Robert Kennedy’s words, spoken after announcing to his supporters at a campaign stop that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated:

….We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

 

8 comments on this post.
  1. Lexington Green:

    RFK made that speech in the Black neighborhood of Indianapolis, minutes after hearing that MLK was dead. The people he spoke to did not know this. The Indy Police said they could not guarantee his safety if there was a riot. He went anyway. A great speech. The situation is getting ridiculous in 2016. It is not 1968, but it’s bad.

  2. zen:

    It is.
    .
    Smaller stakes [than the Cold War] makes for pettier viciousness. there’s a freedom for the political class, lacking an external existential enemy, to be more irresponsible and self-dealing. Not all but a good part of our downward spiral is of our own political doing as most of our fundamentals remain sound (if decaying). America should be on top of the world right now, historically speaking.

    .
    With a better, more ethical, elite, we would be

  3. Charles Cameron:

    Thanks for this, Zen.
    .
    William Carlos Williams, Asphodel, that greeny flower (excerpt):

    My heart rouses
            thinking to bring you news
                    of something
    that concerns you
            and concerns many men. Look at
                    what passes for the new.
    You will not find it there but in
            despised poems.
                    It is difficult
    to get the news from poems
            yet men die miserably every day
                    for lack
    of what is found there.
            Hear me out
                    for I too am concerned
    and every man
            who wants to die at peace in his bed
                    besides.

    In a time when poetry seems less and less relevant to so many lives, those lines of Yeats you quoted at the top of this post are a reminder of just how powerful a prophetic voice great poetry can provide.

  4. morgan:

    America has been acting with mass stupidity as shown by the people they elect to the Presidency and Congress. This stupidity, however, is aided and perhaps is based on by what some describe as Cultural Marxism. Until we the people wake up from this, the stupidity will continue leading us on our current path. Bill Lind, of Fourth General War fame-or infamy–has been talking about the ill effects of Cultural Marxism for years, but few seem to be listening.

  5. larrydunbar:

    “but few seem to be listening.”

    *
    Really, few? I guess you haven’t noticed how many followers the Republican candidate for POTUS has.

  6. morgan:

    I observed how many seem to be listening to the Republican candidate for POTUS has but I wonder if it will be enough–hopefully it will, but being a pessimist, I’ll believe it when I see it.

  7. larrydunbar:

    Well, Kent State was the first shots fired in a civil war. Let’s hope we haven’t seen the 2nd and 3rd.

  8. carl:

    If you look at the various blue/red maps from recent elections, political differences are lining up regionally; rural vs. big city, the south vs. the northeast, the coasts vs. the central part of the country. I don’t know if things were like that in 1968, perhaps so, perhaps not. But I think it is a very great cause for concern when seemingly unbridgeable political differences are also geographical differences.