New Year 2023: Newer people in a newer world

by Bob Schwartz

“’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulysses (1842)

The transformation that is coming invites us to re-examine our own lives. It confronts us with a personal and individual choice: are we satisfied with how we have lived; how would we live differently? It offers us a recovery of self. It faces us with the fact that this choice cannot be evaded, for as the freedom is already there, so must the responsibility be there.

At the heart of everything is what we shall call a change of consciousness. This means a ‘new head’ – a new way of living – a new man. This is what the new generation has been searching for, and what it has started achieving. Industrialism produced a new man, too – one adapted to the demands of the machine. In contrast, today’s emerging consciousness seeks a new knowledge of what it means to be human, in order that the machine, having been built, may now be turned to human ends; in order that man once more can become a creative force, renewing and creating his own life and thus giving life back to his society.

It is essential to place the American crisis and this change within individuals in a philosophic perspective, showing how we got to where we are, and where we are going. Current events are so overwhelming that we only see from day to day, merely responding to each crisis as it comes, seeing only immediate evils, and seeking inadequate solutions such as merely ending the war, or merely changing our domestic priorities. A longer­ range view is necessary.

What is the nature of the present American crisis? Most of us see it as a collection of problems, not necessarily related to each other, and, although profoundly troubling, nevertheless within the reach of reason and reform. But if we list these problems, not according to topic but as elements of larger issues concerning the structure of our society itself, we can see that the present crisis is an organic one, that it arises out of the basic premises by which we live and that no mere reform can touch it.

Charles Reich, The Greening of America (1970)

I look back to the time around the 1960s and 1970s not with nostalgia but with evergreen hope. Things in America, and in other places globally, had lined up to pair suffering and tragedy with the possibility of fundamental change. Barely a generation past the end of World War II, a newer country and a newer world seemed within reach. Not without struggle, not without resistance, not imminent, but soon, maybe within a lifetime.

In the decades since, changes have happened, some of them substantial and much more than mere style. But the point Charles Reich made in his best-selling book The Greening of America remains central. What seemed to be beginning then and what he deemed essential was a change of consciousness, the emergence a new person. Some have, some not.

Hopeful, we are waiting.

© 2022 Bob Schwartz