This is what democracy looks like.
By Binyamin Babayof
On the evening the victor of the 2020 US presidential election was announced, I found myself aimlessly wandering the crowded streets of Greenwich Village. In another era, this neighborhood had been an incubation chamber for scores of beatnik poets and vagrant folk singers. The Ginsbergs and Dylans have mostly faded away and what has since come to replace them are masses of hipsters who possess a proclivity to sit outside of the Cafe Wha? on a Saturday night drinking $25 mixed drinks and celebrating the results of the presidential race all while a very talented folk singer named Wyndham covers Bob Dylan songs to the attention of no one present. In the air was a sense of tribally fueled elation, their guy had won. The whole scene troubled me.
That same night, while sitting with a group of friends and guiltily indulging in symbolically powerful overpriced cocktails, a puzzling riddle had found its way into my mind. What are the primary differences between the cultural revolution of the sixties and the cultural revolution of today? To speak of the play in terms of its protagonists, what differentiates a hipster from a hippy? The most obvious point of contrast is, at least among the stereotypes of the respective classes, an aesthetic one. The hipster is seen as well-groomed and dressed while the hippy is looked back on as unclean and unkempt. This distinction can seem insignificant as an answer to the question posed but on the contrary, this aesthetic distinction is indicative of precisely the underlying ideological differences I seek to uncover. The archetype of the hippy is almost purely counter-establishment. They see that neither party has any interest in governing toward a better world. They see the failure of the corporatist system and do everything they can to not take part in it. The Hippy is a revolutionary and sees themselves as existing outside of society. Similarly, the hipster also sees the endless flaws of the establishment. Their response to witnessing injustice is drastically different. The hipster believes that their viewpoint is represented in one half of the establishment. In the media, they trust that the true progressive agenda is being reported on. In politics, they believe their politicians to be true progressives. Where the hippy’s naivete is in believing they can change society from outside of its most outer walls, the hipster’s naivete is in believing that those who erected the walls in the first place did so out of true love of mankind.
Present in Washington Square Park was an invasive sense of a chaotically joyous atmosphere. All signs were pointing to the glaring fact that the war is over and the time has come to melt down our collective swords and weld them into plows. I look into the crowd, an entire generation all uncannily comfortable when faced with the prospect of eating ass. In the same way, lip service was being paid to the idea that “the fight isn’t over”. While my neighbor Reginald forcefully insists to passers-by that he “works for tips”, the police were standing idly as people openly violated city law by drinking from bottles of open alcohol. We were all fucked up beyond our wits. Patrons of the madness had formed a line in a corner of the park, taking their turns at public urination. This is what democracy looks like.
Standing out from the crowd of the jolly and complacent was a group of good American church-goers. Burning American flags and loudly chanting accusations of war crimes, these worshippers are committed to the sacrificial rituals of the altar of protest. Unknowingly, they beseech of Shiva at their best and of Seth at their worst. The difficulty of speaking of this group is that they are in fact a non-group. They are by nature unorganized and have no central leadership. Their common thread is the shared ideology that the institutions that are in place are beyond repair. To the revolutionary, the only way to achieve their goal is through a total do-over of the American experiment. There are varying views on the methodology needed to achieve this goal, but it is not uncommon to hear the phrase “by any means necessary”. Do I believe every president of the past several decades to be a war criminal? somewhat, yes. But what worries me most about the ideological extremists of the left is not their opinions, per say. It is the romanticization of what it means to stage a revolution of this nature. In 1929, Bolsheviks arrived in Uzbekistan to liberate the citizenry of their capitalist oppressors. The Bolsheviks received intelligence that my great-grandfather, a middle class merchant, had property that he was not disclosing. After arresting and then torturing him, he confessed to his crimes against the revolution and disclosed the location of his assets. My family would have been fortunate if this story had ended with only financial loss. Even after he showed compliance, the Bolsheviks continued to torture him, insisting he had more means that he was still refusing to divulge. Unable to meet their demand for more money, he was released. Three days after returning home, he died from his wounds.
The intergenerational trauma of revolution lingers ever present in my psyche. Forced compliance in pursuit of an ideal has led to the death of millions. There may be beauty in the ideals but there is no beauty in the bloodshed.
Throughout my conversations with the folks of the protest, hardly a minute could pass without an emotional flare-up followed by them informing me of the problematic nature of my word choices and a prostelative instruction on how to more correctly speak. It is as if the irony of their fascist tactics is entirely lost on then. The only saving grace of this movement is that it has no strong leadership. I fear the day that a hyper-intersectional villain emerges to lead and organize the movement. Until then, the scene at the park is still chock full of fuckery and a healthy serving of various forms of beautifully hedonistic debauchery. The status quo is carrying on quite nicely.
Engraved above the arch at Washington Square Park is a quote attributed to Washington: “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.” He spoke these words at the opening of the Constitutional Convention on May 25 1787. Washington, at least in the pantheon of American mythology, represents a person of principle. Known for a repugnance of moral compromise, he stands firm in his ideals. He too partook in a revolution. The ideals set forth by his generation of revolutionaries led to the creation of the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. Not without sin, but always striving to be more perfect. Acts of protest and sentiments of grievance sit at the foundation of this country. A willingness to risk everything in pursuit of a better world, that is the criterion for the American revolutionary.
What will be the legacy of those of us who support the lesser evil? What will be the legacy of the radical who seeks to tear down this nation? For how long will the disaffected remain so? Can a fair and just democracy ever exist?
For now these questions are left a mystery. The night grew wearier and at 4:00am me and my cross-faded friends decided to head back to Brooklyn. We had come out seeking to attain full-coverage. I had spoken to dozens of New Yorkers, all of whom had something to say. Some with something to prove and others with something to share, most with a little of both. I feel more in-tune with my culture. The feeling that we’re at a monumental crossroads is growing inside of me, fully aware of the likely erroneousness of this feeling caused by my attentional and conformational biases. Sitting in the Uber back to Brooklyn, I wasn’t thinking of any of this. I was wondering if that one girl at the rooftop party liked me or not. Ultimately, that’s the type of shit that’s actually important. Focus on your own life, live it well.