I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. Many things are written about the 1960s now, some by people who weren’t there, some by people who don’t remember, so I probably don’t have much to add. Things were not a paradise in those days: there were many problems. But there was a feeling in the air then that things could get better: by our own efforts, we could build a fairer, more tolerant, world, one in which artistic and scientific progress for the good of everyone was really possible.
I don’t find that sense any more. One of the main changes is that we are not all humans, all in the same predicament, and all helping each other. Rather, almost everyone has some flag they can rally round, to attack those under a different flag. And I do not only mean political flags, of course. In a world in which male writers are criticised for writing about female characters (and similarly for other pairs of conflicting opposites), people would rather have a safe space among others like them than the adventure of celebrating their common humanity. This also extends to rich and poor; everywhere, the state is retreating from its commitment to offer health services, education, public transport, and social security to all, and the rich (with a few honorable exceptions) have no intention of picking up the burden. Repressive and intolerant regimes force millions of people to live as refugees, and now the US has a president who will build a wall and expel many of his own people.
I think I am not the only one to notice this. Bob Dylan, unlike his creation Mr Jones, knows what is happening. In the 1960s, he sang
When you got nothin’
You got nothin’ to lose
But thirty years later, almost the same lines had a very different feel:
When you think that you’ve lost everything
You find out you can always lose a little more