Resist the rising tide of propaganda

The more my baby boomer contemporaries age, the more we resemble the doddering, crotchety creatures we disdained in youth. ‘Twas not so long ago we witnessed oldsters set in their ways, defending outdated notions, then declared, “Oh, I’ll never be like that.”

Article by Thomas Gelsthorpe

Idealistic baby boomers would never turn into doomsayers, hypocrites, hypochondriacs, prohibitionists, sore losers, or finger-wagging scolds, like our hideous seniors, teachers and politicians. We would never scoff at the vanities of youth, indulge the vanities of age, nor deceive the public for corrupt, selfish purposes. We would never degenerate into conformists!

Yet examples abound. How could this happen?

An image keeps popping into my head of a poster popular in the 1960s, titled: “Protest against the rising tide of conformity.” The poster’s art was heavy with irony, using a mix of modern lettering and Victorian imagery that made conformity seem like a hidebound practice our liberated youth might outgrow forever. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, in the flower of their early folksinging careers, posed beside the poster in 1964, looking youthful but grim, dressed in black. An irony of “protesting conformity” was that my traditional parents hung the poster in the traditional library of our traditional Cape Cod house long before pop stars posed beside it. Books by Mark Twain, Bruce Catton, and local satirist Kurt Vonnegut shared shelf space nearby. An early inkling Mommy and Daddy might be just as smart as Joanie and Bobby.

Only a year after publication of the Dylan/Baez spoof, Dylan got booed off the stage of the Newport Folk Festival for “going electric” on some of his songs. Was Dylan’s infraction failure to conform to folk music acoustics? Or conforming too readily to the rising tide of electric rock ‘n roll? You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve talked this over with a friend who eyewitnessed the booing, and with music professionals ever since, but I still can’t figure it out.

My contemporaries have bequeathed to the younger generation a suffocating mix of conformist drivel and reckless propaganda that goes by the wishy-washy phrase “political correctness.” Twain, Vonnegut and my father must be squirming in their graves by now. Millennial snowflakes have a tougher assignment sorting truth from falsehood than we boomers ever had. To wit:

Fidel Castro was not a visionary leader who “outlasted” 11 U.S. presidents, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claims. Castro was a traditional Latin American caudillo, a militaristic tyrant who jailed opponents, sent the orneriest to firing squads, exploited mistresses, and amassed ill-gotten gains while his blinkered people suffered. His staying power was due to never holding an honest election, not because of unique leadership qualities.

Castro’s bloodthirsty sidekick, Che Guevara, looked so dashing in a beret that girls still swoon over the image, but that’s not a satisfactory excuse for the special delight he took in summary executions. Fidel and Che’s admirers insist that gosh, Cubans can get their teeth fixed for free; an update of the Mussolini excuse: “He made the trains run on time.”

Disgraced newscaster Brian Williams uttered the goofiest, most hypocritical public opinion in years, that Cubans still “choose” to ply the streets of Havana in donkey carts.}

Scientists’ job is to measure phenomena accurately, and to formulate testable hypotheses. It is not to issue prophecies or manifestos, or to wow the public by distorting variables in complex equations. Climate change doomsayers and skeptics (a.k.a. “deniers”) both measure too short a term. Until someone can explain why Cape Cod now basks in open air and supports forests, rather than smothers beneath the mile of ice that covered it 14,000 years ago, we need more data, not more propaganda.

Ingratitude for industrial and agricultural advances that elevate modern life is not morally elevating. Biting the hands that feed you is a sin, not a virtue.

Cape Cod Times columnist Thomas Gelsthorpe lives in Dennis and welcomes comments at thomasgelsthorpe@gmail.com.

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