Your picture of the corner café says it all. First off, I think you’re too hard on the harder generation. Your posit—that things have only gotten worse—is arguable. Hitler and the Fascists were taken down, along with the Iron Curtain. Today, more people live on the planet with more individual rights and dignity than at any time in human history. That, because of courageous folks like MLK, Gandhi, Dorothea Dix, Walter Reuther, Mandela, etc. When I locked myself in my San Francisco apartment for one year in 1983 to study the philosophers, I came across an ancient Greek or Hindu God who believed in the cosmic duality of all life. That for every negative there was its dialectical opposite: a positive. Thus, to put it plainly, for every tragedy—at the same exact second—a wonderful creation blossoms, whether it’s falling in love, holding your baby for the first time, or just chuckling wordlessly with a old friend. (I think this is where Nietzsche was before that fateful day in Milan when he lost his mind). And this is how I stayed centered.
Secondly, when I look harder at the younger generation, so welded to their tech gizmos, with nobody talking or looking at each other, I feel only the loneliness of a crowded NYC subway car. When my generation returned from our poverty-laden Grand Tours of Europe in the mid-70’s, cafés almost immediately sprang up all over Berkeley and San Francisco’s outer suburbs, mirroring the café culture of Paris, SF’s North Beach, and NYC’s Greenwich Village. What was striking was the community one found there with political and cultural conversation. At times, one found friendship. One didn’t have to join a formal monthly book club because all the important books were being discussed—informally—at the café table. It would’ve been rude to bring a typewriter to a café, not because of the noise but because it would be such a Private Action in a place of Public Interaction. Now I only go to a café when you and I meet every once in awhile, because I know I’m promised a public interaction, or to put it plainly, a conversation. Otherwise, I seek conversation in other locales or do without. I think Johnson and Boswell would have a stroke if they saw how their tea/café culture of public interaction has disappeared into lonely, private computer cells. As Sartre would say, “It’s nauseating.”
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Editor’s note: PNA Village author Dick Gillett’s most recent post, “The Working Class at Herkimer Coffee”, generated the above response from a reader friend. Dick’s numerous articles for our Village blog include, “Martín’s Journey to the White House”, “Johnny Cash & Global Warming”, and “Monthly Book Group at Couth Buzzard”, and we hope to hear more from Duke in the future!