Wednesday, July 09, 2014

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN...THE TIMES THEY HAVE A-CHANGED.

I was born in 1944. Yeah, old. The lines from a Dylan song are a constant ear-worm:

Come gather round people where ever you roam,
and admit that the waters around you have grown.
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone,
If your time to you is worth savin',
Than you better start swimming' or you'll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a-changin'!

Every generation sees great changes during their lifetimes. My generation is no different, and yet I somehow feel that the pace of change has been so much greater than before. 

Computer-information technology, for example, has progressed light years from my first computer, a Times-Sinclair box hooked to a cassette tape recorder and a black & white TV - in the late 1970's. Now we have the internet, on which people in every corner of the world can read this blog, and every word I enter on this blog will be harvested, aggregated and my profile will be sold to marketeers. 

Climate change. It is no longer a matter of when but a matter of how quickly and how severe. We humans have finally pushed the climate of our planet past a tipping point, and there is no going back. 

I also think that the chasm between the older and younger generations is wider than ever before. The Millennials are not a generation I completely understand. Unlike previous younger generations, they are not just about different clothing and hair length and rebelliousness. They understand things intuitively that we older folk have to struggle to understand just a little bit. It's not just that they can pick up and instantly use a remote control or smartphone, it's that the technology is part of who they are. Another way to say it is that what my generation tends to call gadgets are integral to young people's lives and personnas. 

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,
And don't criticize what you can't understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,
Your old road is rapidly agin',
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand,
For the times they are a-changin'.

When I look at the news every day, I see a struggle between these old and new generations that continues building towards a series of tipping points. The Congress of the United States is primarily old, white men and some newly elected younger but old-minded white men who are waging what to them must seem like a holy battle to save the old order of their generation. The battles are being fought on the holy battlegrounds of marriage, immigration, petroleum hydrocarbon energy, corporate profits, and free-market greed. The old guard will lose these battles, that much is clear. What the new order will be is anyone's guess. President Obama, in my view, stands in the middle between these generations. He is old enough to understand the old guard and young enough to understand that things are very different now. 

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call,
Don't stand in the doorway don't block up the hall.
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled,
There's a battle outside and it's raging',
It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'! 

The world is aflame with terrorism, something we older generation folks never saw much of in our lifetimes. These terrorists, mostly Islamic extremists, are a manifestation of the struggle between the old and the new. The jihadists want to keep, or go back to an extremely fundamental view of Islam in which their religion is the controlling force over every life. Those who don't agree are to be killed. End of conversation! What these old-minded extremists understand is that the world has changed, and they don't like it. 

The never-ending war between Israel and Hamas is another example of the struggle between the old and new. Hamas has a very clear goal: get rid of Israel (and all the Jews, too) and implement a fundamentalist Islamic state. Israel, faced with never-ending terror and missile attacks, maintains a strong defense-offense to periodically knock Hamas back to a tolerable nuisance. Many people on all sides (Israel, Gaza, West Bank) would prefer peace; however, the old men in charge of all sides can't get past the old hatreds, the old resentments, the old injuries to body and psyche and find a way to make peace. Imagine what it would be like if the young generations of Israelis and Palestinians lived side-by-side and were free of the conflict that keeps them from realizing their true potential. 

The young people who took to the streets during the Arab Spring revolts clearly know that they are trapped in the old world while the new world goes on without them. In most cases, the outcomes of these revolutions have been a retrenchment of the old order, with associated imprisonment, torture and death for the rebellious young generation. But the old order can't stay in power forever; they will die and hopefully be replaced by a new order sown by the seeds of revolt in the 2010's. 

We Americans are at a turning point, both internally and externally. We seem to have lost our way, our identity, our ability to be One Nation, united. We have become mean - to the old, the poor, the immigrant, women, and the "other." We are divided by a wide chasm of intolerance based on politicsgender, sexual orientation, race and religion. 

America's standing in the world has also taken a downturn. We remain the lone - and lonely - superpower, but that might not last. We are still looked up to, but our recent political history, at home and abroad, has dimmed the shiny patina of America, Land of the Free. The world is changing rapidly, but we seem not able to stay in step with those changes. 

The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast,
The slow one now will later be fast.
As the present now will later be past,
The order is rapidly fadin',
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'. 

To the generations that follow mine I can only say "good luck, we did our best and we know that we failed you in many ways." This is not glibness, it is actually said with an aching sadness. If only we had heeded the Prophet Dylan's words when he wrote them a half-century ago. 

---
The Times They Are A-Changin' words and music by Bob Dylan



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