Changing of the Guards

Bob Dylan, when a young man, knew the enemy: the “masters of war,” the profiteers and bureaucrats of death and domination, who wring money and power from bloodshed, torment and fear. He knew too that these wretches of lamed humanity were not confined to a single country or culture or political structure or time.

Beyond this, though, he also knew that conventional politics was not the answer to the evils that beset — and tempt — us. Instead, he saw that the answer was “blowing in the wind” — which is to say that there is no answer, there are only the questions: how many roads, how many times, how many years, how many deaths will it take to shatter the hardened heart, to break down the walls that seal us up in lies, in hate, in fear, in greed, in ignorance, in pain?

These chiming questions are really calls to the endless task of enlightenment: to keep asking them over and over and over — in every age, in every situation, in every confrontation with reality — is a way to form your understanding of the world, and your individual morality. It’s not an answer but a discipline, a way of being, and becoming. (For as the young man also said: He not busy being born is busy dying.)

It is an ancient quest, taking on a multiplicity of forms through the ages, young Dylan’s lightning flash of insight being but one expression. And while it is laid upon each individual in every age, it can, at times, erupt on a wider plane, unlooked for, in a sudden upsurge, like a subterranean stream breaking into the sunlight and flooding the land. “Kairotic moments,” Tillich called them. Not magical, miraculous transformations of human nature or the entirety of human culture, but outbursts of heightened consciousness, of creative engagement and exploration, experimentation. And no matter how much these moments are later diluted, dimmed, beaten back, twisted or lost, they leave behind new soil to build upon, new insights to draw upon, new fragments to shore against our ruins.

There’s nothing mystical about it. These eruptions are brought into being by a coalescence of unimaginably vast and varied elements, on every level of human life in the natural world. And they aren’t clearly defined, like cut glass, but amorphous, shifting, mixed, volatile, like a chemical reaction — a process, an elan vital, not a fixed property or party platform.

They are, invariably, a movement of the young, although naturally they can spread to touch the lives of all those in the bright penumbra of the moment. But they grow out of and belong to the young, to generations suffocating beneath the silt of the past, the betrayals and failures and deep-rutted inertia of those who came before them. They belong to the young, who can see the world fresh, who haven’t “learned” the false lessons of cynicism and conformity and fear, who have nothing to lose and the wide, beguiling expanse of the future to gain. The young, alive with possibility, charged with sexual energy, with the churning, forging fires of chaos and discovery, who have not yet the breath of mortality shiver through their bones. Generations who, for a myriad of reasons, wake up and realize that the world is theirs, to grapple with and shape and push in new directions.

The Occupation movement, which has erupted across the world this year — and is now spreading through the United States from the epicenter of Wall Street — is not the Sixties come again. It might, in small part, build upon some of the fragments left by that now long-dimmed eruption — and others that came before it in history. After all, as the Preacher says, there is nothing new under the sun. But of course to the young, everything is authentically, genuinely, thrillingly new: a leap into the unknown, exhilarating, bewildering, vivid.

Yet whatever it antecedents, the Occupation movement is in essence, and in practice, very much its own thing, its own moment, its own upsurging through the silt into the open air. It will make its own breakthroughs, its own spectacular mistakes, its own many permutations, all formed by the younger generation’s unique experiencing of the world — which older generations can never fully know, having been formed in a different time, under different conditions.

Today, due to the intolerable pressures from the heaped-up follies and failures of the past, the times have been torn open in a special way, and there is now a chance for new energies, new approaches and understandings to pour in. It’s time for us, the older generations, to give way to this new energy — supporting and helping it as far as we are able, but with the realization that it is not ours to direct or shape or scold or instruct. (Young Dylan understood this as well: “Your old road is rapidly fading; please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.”)

We have had our future, but it’s over; we have used it up, and, in so many ways, botched and wasted it; the future now belongs to the young. The kairotic moment of the Occupation movement is theirs, to make of it what they can. It won’t be easy — it may be more difficult, even more horrific than anyone can envision, as the powers that be strike back with growing force against this unexpected, leaderless, shape-shifting challenge to the dead hand of their corrupt dominion. The dangers are great; but this moment — this opening, this rip in time — is alive with rare promise. A slightly older Dylan presciently limned today’s situation well:

“Gentlemen,” he said,
“I don’t need your organization. I’ve shined your shoes,
I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards.
But Eden is burning: either get ready for elimination,
Or else your hearts must have the courage
For the changing of the guards.”

Let’s have the courage. Let’s lend a hand, stand with the young, and not let them face the dangers alone. Let’s go with them down their new road.

Chris Floyd is an American writer and frequent contributor to CounterPunch. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.


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Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.

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