where the writers are
The Age (That Never Was) of Aquarius

In the spring of 2006, the cable television network Showtime re-released Liza Minnelli’s 1972 Emmy Award-winning special “Liza With a Z.” The New York Times television critic concluded after re-watching the show that Ms. Minnelli wasn’t a has-been; she was a “never was.’ In retrospective, the same can be said for the Age of Aquarius.

The aspirations of that era are best summarized by the song from the musical Hair: “peace will guide the planets/ and love will fill the skies.” That idealistic generation of Aquarius collectively began to believed that peace was possible, not only because it was possible but because it was the natural state of mankind. Like their Transcendental predecessors did in the 1830’s, the generation of Aquarius shared in the myth of man’s innocence. The Transcendentalists believed that man’s corruption in Europe was rooted in the age-old institutions, the ideologies of war and domination, and ancestral memories where grudges lasted century after century. In America, they believed, man was as if Adam before the Fall, devoid of memory and history; man’s purity would once again emerge and, by extension, peace and love. The parallels between the 1830’s and 1960’s don’t end there. The utopian ideal once again manifested itself in the (re)emergence of communes, believing that private ownership was one of the roots of evil. Evil was never within man’s nature---it came from without, from ideas such as capitalism and its institutions.

The continuing (and more relevant) scientific and philosophic revolution begun in the 18th century—the Age of Reason or The Enlightenment---effectively ended that silliness. (Okay, folks, that wasn’t politically correct. But as my mother says “la verdad no peca, pero incomoda” –truth sometimes ain’t pleasant; too bad it make you uncomfortable.)

The 19th century was filled with unparalleled innovators---Tesla, Pasteur, Planck, among them--- but the two most controversial and pivotal thinkers who revolutionized modern consciousness were indisputably Darwin and Nietzsche because their work effectively revoked the myth of man’s fiat creation by God. Perhaps God wasn’t dead ( I don’t believe for one minute that he is), but God was not responsible for what we are. More specifically, perhaps we are in God’s image in our angelic aspirations so evident in our artistic production, but what we call “evil” is our own. Our seven deadly sins are a result of our organic origins: the brutal, unforgiving, lustful desire to live and survive, eat and reproduce in an uncaring and utterly indifferent universe. We are moral, perhaps because of a moment of enlightenment by God when he chose us among the other animals as the most promising as has been suggested in Wim Wenders’ film, Wings of Desire. But as Nietzsche proclaimed, we make our own destiny despite our fate, our animal fatalistic tendencies. Or perhaps because of our animal heritage we are moral. Unlike the simplistic formluatic solutions suggested by the monothetistic religions, there are no easy answers to the human engima.

Which brings me back to the Age (that never was) of Aquarius. The reason there wasn’t peace on earth and didn’t fill the skies wasn’t because of the military-industrial complex. Or the hegemony of the Western nations. Or because of corporate greed. Or excessive consumption and individualism of Westerners (especially Americans) which, as it has been suggested, could be easily solved by joining a commune and becoming a vegetarian. Or by the republican political system, also supposedly solvable by adopting some pre-modern, elder-based system and getting closer to nature. (Funny, how when I watch the National Geographic channel, tribal peoples living closer to nature are also the easiest victims of nature, be it through an elephant stampede or lion attack.)

The reason we could not achieve the Age of Aquarius is because we are collectively in denial not only that we evolved from animals but that we are animals, still subjected to our primal fears and dark tendencies. It’s all too simple. All we need to do is watch the natural world---for those of you like me who’d rather not get too close to nature and become another animal’s meal, I suggest one of the educational television programs. Animals (besides us) get fearful and angry. They are also remarkably compassionate and more sentient than our religiously-inclined brethren give them credit for, since according to the monotheistic religions God gave us dominion over the animals. They display cunning and avarice, and in the case of our closet relatives the chimpanzee, the capacity for organized warfare. They also, however, possess a sense of community and sacrifice and kinship.

The biggest reason, I think, that a more peaceful world has eluded us is that we have rationalized our basest animal instincts and clothed them in the mantles of self- righteousness, self-pity, and even worse, as the divine directive of God. There isn’t a political, religious, or economic system that can evaporate our nature. That can only be achieved by recognizing our true identity and using self-restraint and reason in the place of raw passion. By denying our organic origins, we only exacerbate our inner darkness. By rationalizing it, we take it new depths unseen in the animal kingdom. Joan Didion, in the essay “On Morality” from her book Slouching Towards Bethlehem, said it best:

 [W]hen we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.

 As long as these madmen are fashionable, as long as they can create false moral imperatives, as Didion said, there cannot be an Age of Aquarius. If anything, repression of our true identity will only push humanity further back into the raw world of nature, where violence and war become the only means of survival.