" XXI "

congress2008

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Theodore Roszak and Counterculture

Rethinking the World's Challenges

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countercultmira@yandex.ru

 

 

 

 

Abstract

In his works for a few decades since the 1960s, Theodore Roszak, professor of California State University, has made an emphatic call to rethink all the fundamental objectives and values of the techno-scientific civilization and consumer society. His name became famous when he published his book The Making of a Counterculture. Reflections on the Technotronic Society and Its Youthful Opposition (New York, 1968), supporting the oppositional movement of the young Americans which he named counterculture. Theodore Roszak came to the conclusion that the consumer society did not bring happiness to all people, that it could rapidly bring mankind to an environmental disaster, and that it is a blind alley in terms of social development.

Counterculture has given a powerfull impulse to the process of critical rethinking over morals and democracy, justice and equality, man and society, man and nature, role and responsibility of man, science and technology etc. It reflected the most acute global problems, common to all the mankind, to all the techno-scientific civilization, it brought the society to rethink the utmost questions of being,, of the meaning of life, it brought a human being to a new level of understanding of himself and the surrounding world, that might help to withstand the worlds challenges.

 

 

 

 

Great socio-political transformations and the global ecological crisis at the end of the XX century and the beginning of the Third Millennium especially manifested themselves in the crisis of ideas, on the level of Weltaunschaung. The world picture, that has been formed during centuries, now is being swiftly changed. We witness the devaluation of the historical aims and values of both the western consumer societies and the soviet variant of communism as an alternative to capitalism.

In mass and social consciousness, in social sciences there is observed an evident cognitive and value vacuum, the absence of a high historical perspective of development, of a high social ideal, capable to answer the challenges of our time. But together with disillusionment in the old ideals, an intensive search for new ideals takes place in philosophy, in all the spheres of human activity.

The XXII World Philosophical Congress underlines that the great mission of philosophers of our days is to rethink fundamental aims and values of the contemporary society in the face of the worlds challenges in search of new aims and values of a more humane type of civilization.

One of the philosophers, whose work during several decades of the 20th century has always been an emphatic call to rethink all the basic ideas and values of the up-to-date industrial-postindustrial society is a professor of the California State University Theodore Roszak. The problems round which his attention was always focused were that of science and technocracy, technology and human soul, ecology and nature, the youth protest movement and the fate of the techno-scientific civilization as a whole.

The name of professor Roszak became popular when in 1968 he published his book, The Making of a Counterculture (Reflections on the technological society and its youthful opposition) (New York, 1968), devoted to the youth protest movement in the USA of the 60s-70s.Together with Charles Reichs book, The Greening of America, Roszaks book became a real manifesto of the rebellious youth of the West at that period.

This point calls for a mentioning of what counterculture is and how it came about. As it is known, at the end of the 1960s and during the 1970s there appeared in the USA and was widely spread over all the industrial countries a bright, powerful youth protest movement. Theodore Roszak, who was one of the first to call this a counterculture, took the side of the rebellious students (as did many other intellectuals) and formulated the philosophy of counterculture. Analyzing this phenomenon, he tried to understand its essence and to answer the question why it appeared in the USA, the most developed, prosperous, and democratic country of the world. In answering this question he came to the conclusion that it is high time to rethink the basic objectives and values upon which had been shaping the Western society for a few hundred years. It is worth noting that neither of his works is written as an academic treatise. He looks at the complex philosophical issues as well as challenges of the contemporary science and society and explains them in a simple, commonly understandable language. Furthermore, his books are written in such an emotional, sincere, and exciting manner that leaves no one indifferent.

We must also mention that the whole system of education and child raising in America, represented by school and church, family and TV, cinema and media, are all oriented towards the cultivation of a happy consciousness in a young generation, aspiration to a successful and happy life, respect of personal independence and dignity of a citizen, patriotism and businessmans initiative, etc. This is a typical element of this countrys socio-cultural life since youth is loved and cherished here.

Quite unexpectedly, this youth who has, it would seem, everything to be happy, began to rebel, reject, and deny everything it had... Many of them quit their universities or left their families, rejecting their carriers, secure futures, often joining hippy communes. Their professors often said in regret that among those were some of the best, most talented, most educated, and well-read students.

The youth criticized not only the ossified mental stereotypes and hypocritical values of their fathers, but the petty bourgeois, hypocritical atmosphere of the consumer society and many its real drawbacks and unfairness. They suffered from understanding that they could do nothing besides manipulating their outward appearance. As most of them were coming from the American middle class a privileged, financially secure layer of the society they switched to wearing torn jeans and patched-up jackets, patches being a sign of solidarity with paupers, they accessorized themselves with iron chains, chains being a symbol of feeling oppressed in the modem society, they cut and dyed their hair in unusual styles all of this constituted a special code, a special language which permitted them to identify each other and to express their philosophy the philosophy of Great Refusal (as termed by Herbert Marcuze). It is these children of technocrats, that American philosopher places his hopes to transform this society, culture, civilization.

This youth wholeheartedly turned towards the poor and the outcast, especially in the Third World, and began to help them, joining the Peace Corps, later the Green Peace, and other alternative movements.

Having emerged at university campuses, the youth protest gradually acquired the intenseness of social criticism, evoking a shock in the society and in social consciousness. The youth also protested against their youthful energy being used towards achieving the goals of transnational corporations and monopolies, of the military-industrial complex, against reducing them to the mutually replaceable cogs. Roszaks emphatic critical power, coupled with a rare social insight, helped the youth in shaking and startling the society, in bringing it to rethinking and reappraising many intrinsic values of the American lifestyle. Counterculture, the youthful opposition to the techno-scientific society, showed that material well-being did not bring happiness to everybody, and that the American society could not give its younger generation neither moral guidance, nor higher meaning of life that prosperous America did not guarantee spiritual prosperity. (Roszak emphasizes the important role of the rock culture that appeared simultaneously with counterculture, in disseminating democratic and humanistic ideas of counterculture the ideas of freedom and equality, of mutual understanding and support, of brotherhood and love among people.)

This was a special revolution not a socio-political, but an ethical and cultural one. This was a revolution at the level of consciousness, spirit, culture, and cultural values a revolution on the level of an individual.

The rebellious students and youth, supported by some university professors, artists, and intellectuals, rejected even the protestant ethics of work with its oppressive puritan dogmas, since, according to this ethics, the meaning of life was in the accumulation of material wealth by way of hard, heavy, self-denying work. Instead, this youth painstakingly looked for another meaning of life they were sure that a person should be able to be happy here and now, not in the afterlife or after the triumph of some political party. In search of another meaning of life, they turned to the Eastern philosophy, culture, and religion, thus beginning the dialogue of cultures that is so highly appreciated today. From Buddhism, the youth borrowed such principles of life as Here and now, Paradise immediately!, Small is beautiful!, etc. It was in this movement that new anti-consumer, post-material, post-bourgeois values began to originate.

It is with these children of technocrats that Roszak connects his hope to transform this society, this culture, this civilization. Though this youth movement has already faded, its influence on many sides of life of developed societies is obvious. By way of parody and self-parody, counterculture ridiculed, devaluated, reappraised the whole value system of the western consumer society, distorting its cultural nucleus, cultural matrix, promoting transformation in mentality of an individual and hence transformation of society as a whole.

The phenomenon of counterculture is rather complex. Today, for example, the term is used to denote quite different youth subcultures that have sometimes quite different ideological coloring not only countercultural, but also anti-cultural, not only radical lefts, but also radical rights, down to criminal subcultures and those inclining towards racist and even fascist ideologies.

Today not only hippies and bitnics are referred to as countercultural, as was the case in the 60s and 70s, but also punks, metallists, rockers, skinheads, bikers, etc. These youth subcultures do not belong to the privileged classes, they are not the children of technocrats, the cherished characters of Roszaks books they mainly unite the youth of the poor suburbs, the urban slums, who are eager to take vengeance on the society for their poor, unhappy life.

The protest movement of radical left students and youth from the privileged middle class of America indicated that within the upper class of the American society and the West a new phenomenon was being formed, a new culture of protest the counterculture.

Counterculture was subjected to some severe criticism, and in many ways this was deserved. Undeniably, counterculture had its destructive, self-ruining elements, too, and for many years the critics attention was focused on these negative sides, including sexual revolution, drugs, and rejection of the moral rules and values which humanity had painfully worked out throughout the centuries. However, from my perspective, in criticizing counterculture, one should not deny its powerful humanistic and democratic potential, owing to which it produced a deep influence on many sides of life of contemporary societies and became popular all over the world. The protestant youth was the first to proclaim the human being as the highest value of the world, and love for him, for all living creatures on the Earth as the main principle of their life. (One of the leading critics at the 60-70s was an American neoconservative analyst Irving Kristol some decades later confessed that counterculture is certainly one of the most significant events in the last half-century of Western civilization. It has reshaped our educational systems, our forms of entertainment, our sexual conventions, our moral codes. That is why it is more important to understand it, than to criticize it, he concluded).

Indeed, this was a strange revolt the revolt of the rich and un-oppressed. In analyzing this phenomenon, Roszak showed that counterculture was a serious symptom not only of a moral crisis of the consumer society, but also that of a universal, global crisis of the techno-scientific society as a whole.

Roszak recognized the historical significance of counterculture in the fact that it reflected the most acute global problems, common to the entire mankind, to the entire techno-scientific civilization; it brought the society to rethinking the utmost questions of being, of the meaning of life, it brought a human being to a new level of understanding himself and the world surrounding him.

In search of the fatal of the industrial society, bringing the world to a global crisis, the American philosopher critically revised and rethought all of its values and objectives. In doing so, he formulated the following philosophical concepts: antiscientism, antitechnicism, and ecological personalism.

In fact, these concepts reflected the disillusionment of the modem society in the rational mind, science, and scientism as an ideology, according to which science and technology could solve all the worlds problems. This denoted the failure of the Enlightenment Project, (on which the Western civilization relied for over 300 years), as well as of the aspiration to rationally ground all the spheres of life in human society.

When Roszak formulated these concepts, they really created a shock in the scientific community. Now, in the 21st century they appear somewhat trite today nearly everyone realizes that the excessive anthropogenic pressure on nature has long gone beyond every acceptable limit... But his criticism is still very important and valid, since so many people on Earth dream to live in the consumer society, to build an American life-style

With pain and anger Roszak depicts the 20th century industrial society as a tragic paradox of progress: on the one hand, there is the wonderful advancement of science and technology which brings people so many benefits; on the other hand, nature and human beings are put through real torture, being used as raw material...

Why, in our time, have societies well endowed with industrial plenty and scientific genius turned uglier with totalitarian violence than any barbarous people? Why does the moral blight of nationalist bigotry and the disease of total war continue to haunt the children of the Enlightenment, more oppressively now than in the age of Voltaire? (Where the Wasteland Ends, 1972, P. XXVIII). Because when we conquered nature, we lost the best part of a human being the sensitivity of his soul, his ability for compassion and sympathy. This is an anthropological catastrophe, which is even worse than an ecological one, Roszak affirms.

War and technology fill the seas with weapons and sludge; they fill the air with terror and noxious exhaust. The one threatens the planet with slow, environmental death, the other with instant ecological calamity. (Person/Planet, 1979, P. 131). Isnt this too much like the picture of our life today?

The main reason why the urban industrialism is proving to be a failed experiment leading to catastrophe lies in the Newtonian-Cartesian science with its mistaken epistemology, methodology of cognition, the cognitive pathology of science with its mechanistic, simplifying approach to nature and human being, distorting the real picture of the world. Denying the Old Gnosis (the intuitive, emotional means of world cognition) and supporting itself only on the rare flashes of rationality, the Cartesian science depicted only the seeming world picture, not a real one, Roszak affirmed.

Science is the prime expression of the wests cultural uniqueness, the secret of our extraordinary dynamism, writes Roszak, but it is the curse and the gift we bring to history. (Where the Wasteland Ends, 1972, P. XXIV). Science and technology might really solve the worlds problems those of famine, poverty, and disease. However, they primarily serve the purposes of transnational corporations, monopolies, the military industry, and the establishment, whose priority is profit, while nature and man only serve as raw material, as simple elements in the process of production and consumption. The worlds problems have not been solved, they acquired a global dimension, bringing humanity to the verge of calamity.

As a matter of fact, Roszaks concept of ecological personalism combines both personalistic ethics and ecological ethics: he is sure that man and nature are made of the same material, they have equal rights to life, to respect as unique creatures, to careful treatment and love. Cruel, unhumane treatment of them as simple row material ruins both man and nature. The loss of spirituality of man Roszak understands as a real anthropological catastrophe even worse than an ecological one. At the same time the American philosopher is sure that a man has an immeasurable potentials of love, kindness, nobleness in his soul, these potentials can be restored, developed...

Roszak is absolutely sure that it is a duty of the rich and developed countries to help poor ones solve the challenges of famine and poverty without any delay. However, for the consumer societies the challenge of affluence is no less urgent, making it necessary to rethink and shift their priorities towards the non-material wealth.

It is nonmaterial consumption that must receive positive appraisal, a higher status in social consciousness: higher level of aspiration and controlled consumption must be given a positive quality. People must study to be happy from things that are not connected with money - communication with little ones, with friends, with arts, with nature...All the system of education and the means of mass communication must be used to up-bring people in this direction.

In his book The Voice of the Earth (1994) he continues to unmask consumerism and plenitude, calling them shameful and wretched, because for the sake of consumerism our Planet, nature, our environment is being finally ruined. Roszak confirms that it is necessary to find moral alternative to consumerism, richness...

Roszak reminds that in the works of old philosophers - in Platos Republic, in Thomas Mores Utopia, in Abbey of Theleme of Francois Rabelais and Francis Bacons New Atlantis there is defined the basic strategy for an economics of plenitude: people of these Utopias placed their hope for happiness in nonmaterial wealth, that diminishes the need to acquire and consume. The good of the soul must be made to seem of a greater appeal than the pleasure of flesh.(The Voice of the Earth, N.Y.,1994,P.256)

American humanist sees the way out of the global crisis first of all in the revolution of consciousness, in the restoration of the lost spirituality of a human being, which require the development of self-consciousness, profound self-reflection, intense inner work of an individual. He must be not only a mere consuming pawn, he must become a responsible citizen, who might withstand the worlds challenges, if for the only reason that only good man can build a good society.