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Ed Driscoll

Recreate ’68!

August 30th, 2010 - 3:16 pm

As Tom Wolfe wrote at the start of his classic “The Great Relearning” essay, reprinted in his Hooking Up anthology from 2000:

In 1968, in San Francisco, I came across a curious footnote to the hippie movement. At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, there were doctors treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot. And how was it that they now returned? It had to do with the fact that thousands of young men and women had migrated to San Francisco to live communally in what I think history will record as one of the most extraordinary religious fevers of all time.The hippies sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start from zero. At one point, the novelist Ken Kesey, leader of a commune called the Merry Pranksters, organized a pilgrimage to Stonehenge with the idea of returning to Anglo-Saxon’s point zero, which he figured was Stonehenge, and heading out all over again to do it better. Among the codes and restraints that people in the communes swept aside–quite purposely–were those that said you shouldn’t use other people’s toothbrushes or sleep on other people’s mattresses without changing the sheets, or as was more likely, without using any sheets at all, or that you and five other people shouldn’t drink from the same bottle of Shasta or take tokes from the same cigarette. And now, in 1968, they were relearning…the laws of hygiene…by getting the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot.

This process, namely the relearning–following a Promethean and unprecedented start from zero–seems to me to be the leitmotif of the twenty-first century in America.

It can’t happen soon enough, based on this Return of the Primitive moment spotted by The Grand Rants blog this weekend:

You’ve probably heard of heirloom vegetables. You know, they’re the ones that have been preserved by passing seeds down from generation to generation. Heirloom varieties are generally at least 50 years old, but many are 100 years or older.While heirloom vegetables are actually benign–and frequently very tasty–it seems to me that we are currently witnessing an alarming wave of another type of heirloom: diseases. I started thinking about it when I read this post from Gateway Pundit earlier today, about an outbreak of typhoid (yes typhoid) in California and Nevada. Typhoid, once the scourge of many major cities, was nearly eradicated by the advent of clean water technologies in the early part of the twentieth century. Yet typhoid is back, and it’s not the only heirloom disease we’re seeing in America of late.

We’ve probably all seen the reports in the paper, on blogs, and on the nightly news of outbreaks of bedbugs in places like New York City (replete with video that’ll make you think twice before climbing into bed). But it’s not just there. Those little suckers (ha!) are appearing all over the country.

In the Daily Caller, Jonathan Strong asks, “Is the EPA to blame for the bed bug ‘epidemic’?”

But why are bed bugs back? Though they’ve been sucking humans’ blood since at least ancient Greece, bed bugs became virtually extinct in America following the invention of pesticide DDT.There were almost no bed bugs in the United States between World War II and the mid-1990s.

Around when bed bugs started their resurgence, Congress passed a major pesticides law in 1996 and the Clinton EPA banned several classes of chemicals that had been effective bed bug killers.

The debate isn’t over long-banned DDT, since modern bed bugs have developed a tolerance for that chemical. But in the pre-1996 regime, experts say, bed bugs were “collateral damage” from broader and more aggressive use of now-banned pesticides like Malathion and Propoxur.

Now some health officials are clamoring to bring those chemicals back to help solve the bed bug “emergency.” Meanwhile, EPA bureaucrats have downplayed the idea and environmentalists are pushing hard against the effort, citing safety concerns.

The issue has led to a standoff between Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and EPA chief Lisa Jackson, who shot down Strickland’s appeals over the issue in a tersely worded letter in June.

While the debate continues regarding the role of EPA regulations in the rapid spread of bed bugs, both sides agree the problem is dire.

But of course, the EPA merely reflects the worldview of the individuals who control it, which is why The New Ledger is exploring, “Science and Its Enemies on the Left, Part I.”

Think of it as a case of “Progressives Against Progress,” as Fred Siegel notes in the latest issue of City Journal.

Related: This might actually speed up the Great Relearning:  The “Last days of the academic ruling class.”

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