Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Better Angels: damn you Keith Moon

And here you thought the Beatles
were all about peace & love
The crime wave of the 1960s - it was the hippies' fault.

Or as Steven Pinker says in his Better Angels book:
...I think Wilson was on to something when he linked the 1960s crime boom to a kind of intergenerational decivilizing process. 
He rules out infrastructure determinism:
The backsliding, to be sure, did not originate in the two prime movers of Elias’s Civilizing Process. Government control did not retreat into anarchy, as it had in the American West and in newly independent third-world countries, nor did an economy based on commerce and specialization give way to feudalism and barter. 

because he's going for idealism:
...the psychological change toward greater self-control and interdependence—came under steady assault in the counterculture of the generation that came of age in the 1960s.
and the socio-biological magic of marriage:
Together with self-control and societal connectedness, a third ideal came under attack: marriage and family life, which had done so much to domesticate male violence in the preceding decades. The idea that a man and a woman should devote their energies to a monogamous relationship in which they raise their children in a safe environment became a target of howling ridicule. That life was now the soulless, conformist, consumerist, materialist, tickytacky, plastic, white-bread, Ozzie and Harriet suburban wasteland. I don’t remember anyone in the 1960s blowing his nose into a tablecloth, but popular culture did celebrate the flouting of standards of cleanliness, propriety, and sexual continence. 
Pinker does offer some other ideas, but the most obvious reason for the existence of hippie attitudes in the 1960s - the Vietnam War - is mentioned just in passing:
After having been steadily beaten down by the informalizing process, the elites then suffered a second hit to their legitimacy. The civil rights movement had exposed a moral blot on the American establishment, and as critics shone a light on other parts of society, more stains came into view. Among them were the threat of a nuclear holocaust, the pervasiveness of poverty, the mistreatment of Native Americans, the many illiberal military interventions, particularly the Vietnam War, and later the despoliation of the environment and the oppression of women and homosexuals. The stated enemy of the Western establishment, Marxism, gained prestige as it made inroads in third-world “liberation” movements, and it was increasingly embraced by bohemians and fashionable intellectuals. Surveys of popular opinion from the 1960s through the 1990s showed a plummeting of trust in every social institution. 117
Pinker doesn't consider the Vietnam war, which ended in 1975, as a major driver of young peoples' attitudes. Perhaps because he is Canadian and never in any danger of being drafted.

But he has plenty to say about naughty rock and roll album covers and Keith Moon.
One could trace the reversal of conventions of propriety on album covers alone (figure 3–17). There was The Who Sell Out , with a sauce-dribbling Roger Daltrey immersed in a bath of baked beans; the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today, with the lovable moptops adorned with chunks of raw meat and decapitated dolls (quickly recalled); the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet , with a photo of a filthy public toilet (originally censored); and Who’s Next , in which the four musicians are shown zipping up their flies while walking away from a urinespattered wall. The flouting of propriety extended to famous live performances, as when Jimi Hendrix pretended to copulate with his amplifier at the Monterey Pop Festival. 
Throwing away your wristwatch or bathing in baked beans is, of course, a far cry from committing actual violence. The 1960s were supposed to be the era of peace and love, and so they were in some respects. But the glorification of dissoluteness shaded into an indulgence of violence and then into violence itself. At the end of every concert, The Who famously smashed their instruments to smithereens, which could be dismissed as harmless theater were it not for the fact that drummer Keith Moon also destroyed dozens of hotel rooms, partly deafened Pete Townshend by detonating his drums onstage, beat up his wife, girlfriend, and daughter, paid a thug to break the fingers of a keyboardist of the Faces for dating his ex-wife, and accidentally killed his bodyguard by running over him with his car before dying himself in 1978 of the customary drug overdose.
So where did all this mayhem come from? Apparently it was just a seemingly randomly-timed mass decision:
Many young men decided that they ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more and, instead of pursuing a respectable family life, hung out in all-male packs that spawned the familiar cycle of competition for dominance, insult or minor aggression, and violent retaliation. The sexual revolution, which provided men with plentiful sexual opportunities without the responsibilities of marriage, added to this dubious freedom.
I've already dispensed with the idea that more marriage = less violence. Marriage rates were quite high in the 1960s and marriage and violence rates both dropped together since then. But Pinker thinks marriage is everything, especially for African Americans:
...A large proportion (today a majority) of black children are born out of wedlock, and many grow up without fathers. This trend, already visible in the early 1960s, may have been multiplied by the sexual revolution and yet again by perverse welfare incentives that encouraged young women to “marry the state” instead of the fathers of their children. 
But let's go back to that Beatles album cover that so deeply shocks Steven Pinker. This is from a Rolling Stone article:
Against his better judgment, Livingston ordered the sleeve into production. Three quarters of a million albums were printed, with a reported 60,000 copies sent to media contacts and retailers in advance of the June 15th release date. Predictably, most balked at the gory cover. "Word came back very fast that the dealers would not touch it. They would not put the album in their stores," Livingston said. Lennon, however, remained defiant. "It's as relevant as Vietnam," he said during a press conference at the time. "If the public can accept something as cruel as the war, they can accept this cover."
Notice the reference to Vietnam.

And at the time of the photo shoot in March 1966 three of the four Beatles were married and in three years Paul McCartney would marry the woman who would be his wife for the next twenty-nine years, ending with her death from cancer.

We can see how feeble Pinker's marriage-centric view of male behavior in the 1960s is because when it comes to explaining the lessening of crime, he drops it completely and has to fall back on eclectic incoherence:

First it's infrastructure:
So how can we explain the recent crime decline? Many social scientists have tried, and the best that they can come up with is that the decline had multiple causes, and no one can be certain what they were, because too many things happened at once. 154 Nonetheless, I think two overarching explanations are plausible. The first is that the Leviathan got bigger, smarter, and more effective.
 Then it's just, people got tired of crime.
The second is that the Civilizing Process, which the counterculture had tried to reverse in the 1960s, was restored to its forward direction. Indeed, it seems to have entered a new phase. By the early 1990s, Americans had gotten sick of the muggers, vandals, and drive-by shootings...
Steven Pinker really didn't like 20th century pop culture. He thought modern art was crap and he thought that rock and roll music was grungy and disrespectful and decivilizing.

He claims to be a member of the baby boom generation but he sounds like their grandparents.

And in his hurry to dismiss The Who as a bunch of hooligans, he misses the artistry and the social commentary of their music. One of their most popular songs "Won't Get Fooled Again" was
...originally intended for a rock opera Townshend had been working on, Lifehouse, which was a multi-media exercise based on his followings of the Indian religious avatar Meher Baba, showing how spiritual enlightenment could be obtained via a combination of band and audience.[1] The song was written for the end of the opera, after the main character, Bobby, is killed and the "universal chord" is sounded. 
And an April 2006 editorial for Time magazine, retired United States Marine Corps Lieutenant General Greg Newbold referenced the song, labeling it an "antiwar anthem" that "conveyed a sense of betrayal by the nation's leaders, who had led our country into a costly and unnecessary war in Vietnam.
Seems like everybody but Steven Pinker gets the connection between 1960s pop culture and the Vietnam War.

The lyrics to "Won't Get Fooled Again" are also illuminating:
The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that's all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again, no, no

And it made for a hell of a live stage performance.

Unfortunately the video above has been removed from Youtube. Here is another one, which is not quite as good - Pete Townsend is slightly less hyperkinetic in this one and there's no knee-sliding across the stage heading right at the camera. At least there's plenty of Townsend's trademark windmill guitar playing. Although I was disappointed that he refrained from another trademark - often at the end of the line "you know that the hypnotized never lie" he would yell "do yah!" at the audience. Not this time, alas.

Keith Moon died at 35 and John Entwistle died at 57 but Daltry age 73 and Townsend, 72 are both still alive. They certainly got plenty of exercise back in the day.

And here is a performance of "Happy Jack" by the Who with nice footage of a wailing Keith Moon.

Enjoy, evo-psycho buzzkills!