Richard Rorty’s Philosophical Prophecy

Sure does look visionary now. Adding an odd quirk of my own,  I posted the following more than three years ago when the current situation would have seemed, yes, like a nasty joke:

Impossible to understand when you’re a youth is the tone and texture of pangs you perceive after five or six decades hanging around. What follows is a weird metric of public life by any measure, but I just discovered it and it hit a gong inside.

Sixties activist Carl Oglesby, at one time the president of the mighty Students for a Democratic Society, is mentioned only twice in The New Yorker: first in a piece by Renata Adler about a speech he gave at the height of his influence in 1965; then comes 43 years of silence; then comes a “Briefly Noted” review of his book Ravens in the Storm, which calls it “a mournful tribute to the spirit of an age gone awry.” Three years later he was dead.

I liked Ravens in the Storm a great deal. Despite the rather stiff prose, I understood and felt more than before how that spirit went awry. (Even inspired me to check out the songs Oglesby recorded for Vanguard in ’69-’71: they’re terrible.) The textured pang came from one of Oglesby’s strongest arguments — that the New Left did not have to go the way it did. Jerks like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn were not the inevitable tone-setters. But they sure founded a corrosive legacy. Reactionaries constantly repeat, until this day, that Ayers is a big-time, long-term buddy of President Obama, though this has been proven utterly false over and over and over. But we now live in an age with a spirit so awry that the vision of the Prophet Reagan has come to pass: “Facts are stupid things.”

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