“Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…” (Yogi Berra)

Looking back at looking back: an essay

T.C. Weiskel, Yale ’68

Yale-reunion-pic2Looking back at the past in the age of computer data storage and internet exchange has created an entirely new setting for college reunions. Yogi Berra was right: “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.”

The reasons for this are numerous and obvious, but its implications are not yet fully appreciated.  One of the new phenomena that emerges from the technologies of  multi-media storage and instant retrieval is that we can revisit old ideas and resume past conversations — conversations begun, perhaps, fifty years ago but never brought to satisfactory closure.  Here, then, are some of the conversations that we can now continue at the 50th reunion of the Yale Class of 1968.

There are, of course, countless conversations that we will all engage in, but because this particular graduating year — 1968 — was packed with so my major life-re-orienting events and stark choices, it is no surprise that our ongoing conversations at reunions have often touched upon the nature and future of the human prospect itself.  We should not shrink from these dilemmas fifty years later.  After all, in the intervening decades we should have learned something.    

The sobering fact is that we have come to learn that many contemporary Earth scientists now assert quite bluntly that if we wish to survive as a civilization there is an urgent need to transcend the institutions we have inherited and created.

We should, perhaps, ask ourselves: What have we learned about transcending  the institutions and conflicts that we have inherited?  Don’t we run the danger of simply replicating the outlook, the grievances and the tensions we have inherited — and,  more dangerously, perhaps — institutionalizing them for generations to come?

“I became a confirmed institutionalist…”  (Strobe Talbott)

What other perspectives are being marginalized or ignored altogether from this “institutionalist” perspective? It may be understandable that those who are largely in charge of institutions have become “confirmed institutionalists” but what of those people or countries who have been the target of institutions like NATO or whose own institutions have been repeatedly manipulated by “outside influences?” 

“We don’t even think about what other people think. We just think about what we think. That’s the ‘exceptionalism’ of our position. We’re right. What we want counts, and we don’t even hear… what the other side is thinking.” (Oliver Stone)

In assessing the legacy of any graduating class or generation it is useful to consider what institutions they have strengthened or weakened during their time in positions of power of prominence.  They reason this is important has to do with who takes up the reigns of power when they retire from the stage.  The question is what comes of their legacy when they cede power to others — often to others from their same generation?


As difficult as this may be to believe it turns out that the systematic abuse of state power both at home and abroad and its near total capture by private corporations may not prove to be the most shocking accomplishments or enduring legacies of the Yale Class of 1968. 

In recent years — largely under both the administrations of President Barack Obama and President Donal Trump — a much larger and seemingly irreversible  transformation of industrial civilization has taken place.  This far-reaching change has been described with great enthusiasm as a “revolution” by the internationally important participant-observer — Daniel Yergin.   Moreover,  it has now been documented with great clarity by Dutch investigative journalists.  

Because it has extended the “fossil fuel era,” the tragically myopic and delusional thinking underlying this “revolution” has built into industrial civilization an ever stronger pattern of fossil-fuel dependence for the foreseeable future. 

As the Class of 1968 considers what legacy it is leaving to its children it needs to recognize that both corporate and state institutions are now committed to the continued or expanded use of fossil-fuels well beyond the point of global ecosystem stability.  An honest “cost-accounting” of this strategy for future human fuel systems has never been undertaken.  

If an honest cost-benefit analysis is ever to be undertaken by future generations as they examine the legacy that has been left to them, it is understandable that they might well be left with an abiding sense of bitterness and betrayal toward their elders in the Class of 1968.   There is no escaping the fast that we have failed them by our inability to transcend the institutions that we have inherited and created.   

In fact, this sad failure has been emphasized again and again by the very same people we should have learned to listen to 50 years ago.


Context and background for discussion:





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