The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened
by Bill McKibben
Paul Kiczek‘s Goodreads review
Feb 08, 2023
Bill McKibben, the renown environmental activist, has written a very easy to read and thought provoking book that attempts to explain how a 50-year timeline of trends and events have taken us to where we are today. It seems our lives are an unwitting product of many avenues of “progress” from politics to religion to technology. The changes we have experienced have been shaped by a “hyper” drive toward individualism, capitalism and new forms of communicating.
At age 75, I have even lived through a decade more change than Bill. I have learned to accept most of it. Employed at one time in the tech sector I once cheered on innovation, automation and efficiency. But, I’ll be damned if I can figure out why things have turned so negative, unreasonable and intractable. Tribalism permeates more and more of our lives every day. Surely, the amount and frequency of change has been a major factor. This book calls on us to stop and try to understand the injustice that exists from these changes.
The fact that McKibben is from the Lexington, MA area helps draw a clear comparison and contrast to today’s politics. Revolutionary America was largely an aspirational community of individuals that depended on each other and shared core beliefs. Today, we are not even sure what to aspire to other than wealth. And, foundational religious beliefs have withered in the face of individualism or have been diluted by the proliferation of religious sects. Frankly, a community based on shared higher ideals seems difficult to imagine these days.
The problem with technology has been an inability to see or predict the negative effect of its progress. Whether an unanticipated end product is pollution, inequality or a social breakdown, we don’t seem to know how to fix it without destroying the comfortable lives we built upon it. We are programmed to be transactional. There may be talk of reparations but what we really want is our money’s worth. We hesitate to take responsibility for previous generation’s mistakes while we minimize our cost and distress.
Can we change our way of thinking? Will we be better able to evaluate the long term and negative side of the latest technology or untethered capitalism. It seems like there’s no better time to give pause to what we are doing than right now, especially with the oncoming age of AI.
McKibben recently started an organization for people over 60, like me, called Third Act which is directed toward activism about big issues such as the environment. It seems many of us are out there wondering what went wrong too and how we might help. It’s a great idea since we have more free time and are probably healthier and wealthier than past seniors.
I recently joined Third Act and hope that I can play a role in helping solve problems that had seemed beyond the “old” me. Issues that seemed impossible to change might seem Quixotic but may be just what we are looking for. I still want the world to be a better place for my wife, three children and eight grandchildren and I want them to know I’m not too old to do something about that.