The Counter Culture Critiqued

Charles Reich's Greening of America, 1970 (New York. Random House, 1970). Taken from the paperback edition, pp.240, 393-394, 427. Reprinted by permission of Random Rouse, Inc.

Among today's youth, the phenomenon of "conversions" is increasingly common. It is surprising that so little has been written about these conversions, for they are a striking aspect of contemporary life. What happens is simply this: in a brief span of months, a student, seemingly conventional in every way, changes his haircut, his clothes, his habits, his interests, his political attitudes, his way of relating to other people, in short, his whole way of life. He has "converted" to a new consciousness. The contrast between well-groomed freshman pictures and the same individuals in person a year later tells the tale. The clean-cut, hard-working, model young man who despises radicals and hippies can become one himself with breathtaking suddenness. Over and over again, an individual for whom a conversion seemed impossible, a star athlete, an honor student, the small-town high school boy with the American Legion scholarship, transforms himself into a drug-using, long-haired, peace-loving 'freak." .

The new generation insists upon being open to all experience. It will experiment with anything, even though the new 'trip" does not fit into any preconceived notion of the individual's personality. If a Consciousness II person, old or young, is asked whether he wants to see a far-out film, try a new drug, or spend a week living in a nature-food commune, he feels uncomfortable and refuses; the experiment is out of keeping with his already established character. The new consciousness is always flexible, curious, and ready to add something new to his "character." At the same time, the new generation constantly tries to break away from the older, established forms which, in a changing society, must forever be obsolete. Authority, schedules, time, accepted customs, are all forms which must be questioned. Accepted patterns of thought must be broken; what is considered rational thought" must be opposed by "nonrational thought' 'drug-thought, mysticism, impulses. Of course the latter kinds of thought are not really nonrational" at all; they merely introduce new elements into the sterile, rigid, outworn "rationality" that prevails today.

Young people today insist upon prolonging the period of youth, education, and growth. They stay uncommitted; they refuse to decide on a formal career, they do not give themselves fixed future goals to pursue. Their emphasis on the present makes possible an openness toward the future; the person who focuses on the future freezes that future in its present image. Personal relationships are entered into without commitment to the future; a marriage legally binding for the life of the couple is inconsistent with the likelihood of growth and change; if the couple grows naturally together that is fine, but change, not an unchanging love, is the rule of life.

How long ago was it that we first heard of hippies? That we first heard the sounds of acid rock? That we saw the first student demonstration, the first peace march? By the standards of history, the transformation of America has been incredibly, unbelievably swift. And the change to Consciousness III is not, so far as we know, reversible. Once a person reaches Consciousness III, there is no returning to a lower consciousness. And the change of generations is not reversible either. Every evidence we have is that youngsters in high school are potentially more radical, more committed to a new way of life, than their elders in college.