Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Biology Trumps Reason

One of the few challenges to feeding hummingbirds is keeping ants out of the feeder. Downy woodpeckers also like the nectar, but they don't summon their friends, create long queues and occasionally drown in it, making it unappealing to the hummingbirds. Fortunately you can decrease the chances of ants finding your feeder simply by suspending it from a long wire. Oddly, seeking sugar reminds me of rock and roll, because I saw something similar to ant attraction when I recently watched a video about Jimi Hendrix. From its early days, rock and roll generated a kind of hysteria among young people. I think you can fairly say that it was mostly about sex and hormones. Smitten girls swooned over the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix and most pop artists had slews of attractive women awaiting them after each concert. It is no secret why so many teenage boys aspired to become rock stars; Dire Straits said it well in Money for Nothing on their Brothers in Arms album a few years later.

The 1960's were heady times, and I've been a little disappointed that it all came to naught.  If there was ever any message from Woodstock, no one knows what it was. Some of the best rock performers of the era, such as Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman, died very young, but the ones who are still alive are hardly worth getting excited about now: Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan.... It is even somewhat embarrassing to me to have been part of the baby boom generation. Abbie Hoffman and Phil Ochs committed suicide. Jerry Rubin became a stockbroker on Wall Street. Perhaps the best known baby boomer of all, Bill Clinton, became a corporate crony and was the first president to be caught getting blow jobs in the Oval Office. Overall, it was an exciting postwar period in the U.S., and many of the talented performers who found their ways to commercial success then would probably be unable to today. Beyond that, the lingering image of the 1960's is a confused mixture of sex, drugs and rock and roll with a little politics thrown in for good measure. These days people who look like hippies are usually considered vagrants or losers.

The U.S. was and is a symbol of materialism and gratification, and the baby boomers did nothing to change that. I had hoped that material possessions and procreation might take a less important role in society, but they haven't. To me, this confirms something that I've witnessed all of my life: biology trumps reason. Basically, the appeal of America is instinct fulfillment, not aesthetics or understanding, and although it has evolved slightly over the years, the American Dream, which entails a house, a car, a family and a prosperous life, has never gone away. During the 1960's, materialism was briefly reviled by some of the young, but that has turned out to be a passing fad, and I see no evidence that any idealism from that period survives. The civil rights movement and feminism were both apparently about reaching parity with the now embattled white male. Today, with flagrant wealth inequality in the news all of the time, there is more emphasis than ever on making materially better lives available to everyone.

This is why although I am enmeshed with American life I'd rather think about something else. I find it simpler and more satisfying to take care of the hummingbirds by keeping the ants at a distance.

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