But let us not congratulate ourselves too quickly. There are ways in which we have passed from eros to thanatos — from the chaos of unrestrained desire to the stability of senescence. Our era is less overtly sexually destructive in part because we are giving up on sex itself, retreating into pornography and other virtual consolations. In the 1970s people left their marriages because they believed some higher fulfillment awaited; in the 2010s they marry less, have less sex once married and have fewer children, opting out of promiscuity and procreation both. Abortion rates are down, but suicide rates are up. Hefnerism seems to have led us through orgiastic excess to depressing onanism.
Meanwhile despite their moral turpitude the ’70s still occasion nostalgia, for bad reasons but also one good one: They featured our civilization’s last great burst of creative energy. Those predatory directors and rape-y rock stars made great movies and memorable music. Our sclerotic interest groups were born as idealistic causes then; our repetitive religious and intellectual debates were fresh and new. Our era is calmer and safer and less vicious (Trump and Twitter notwithstanding), but its peace feels like cultural exhaustion.