POLITICAL ACTIVISM - JANUARY 1996
Since the 1960's our social/political arena
has been defined in terms of an ongoing struggle
between the conservative and liberal factions
within our society. In an age when right wing
conservatives control the economic and religious
institutions, and left wing liberals dominate
the media and universities, American life
has become a battlefield of opposing ideologies
in which personal liberation and free thinking
have been buried beneath the dogmatisms of
both sides of the struggle.
It is this personal liberation and independent
thinking, which has been thrown by the wayside
in the current battle between left and right,
which I hold as the highest goal and the end
The political question is actually a spiritual
issue. As Americans, we are taught that there
is a separation between church and state.
In reality the two define each other and can
never be separated. When considering political
issues one always finds that they ultimately
rest on values and morality.
Before considering a political issue we must
first ask: towards what goal are our politics
aiming? For me, the political objective is
those spiritual goals of independent thought,
personal liberation, and self knowledge. But
the dynamic runs both ways because I have
enough faith in humanity to believe that if
individuals think for themselves instead of
allowing their beliefs to be ruled by the
dogmas of the left, right, or any other source,
that in a democratic situation they will find
the best answers to political questions.
Our current political landscape can really
be traced back to the failed revolution of
the 1960's. What is forgotten by many who
look back fondly at the 1960's is that the
social unrest of that period originated with
a group of intellectuals who theorized a new
social model where spiritual values were held
above materialism. The true radical base of
these intellectuals was that they dared to
question the very foundations of our industrial
economic system: the consumer economy, the
Protestant work ethic, and third world imperialism.
From the ideas of this group, a small counterculture
emerged. While attempting to create dissent
and bring about social change, this counterculture
was soon buried in the tide of historical
circumstances. First the battle for racial
integration captured the nation's attention
and became lumped by the media under the generic
title of 'revolutionary forces.' It was a
case of a specific issue overshadowing the
overall ideological platform.
Even more dramatic, the Vietnam war was an
issue that directly affected young Americans,
making it easier for the original dissidents
to add recruits to their legions, but likewise
obscuring the original goal of social change
on a fundamental level.
Jimmy knows that as an American, if he
works hard he can have a bright future and
over 300 channels of cable TV!!!
The biggest factor in this
process of inflating the membership of the
counterculture while simultaneously obscuring
it's original aim, was simply the allure of
sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Protest became
the hip trend and rebellion was the latest
fashion. Not unlike the hula- hoop a decade
As herds of kids tripped out and turned on,
they repeated catch phrases and paid lip service
to ideals without any understanding of their
deeper implications. 'Free love' was quickly
transformed into 'easy sex.' 'Down with Nixon'
became 'Let's replace him with a Democrat.'
The counterculture ranks soon swelled with
drugged out middle class kids looking for
high times, and the alternative social model
was soon completely forgotten except by a
few die hards, most of whom had to go into
hiding to escape the FBI.
When the fervor of the sixties was over, we
were left with a corroded traditional ideal,
but nothing new to replace it with. The old
American ideal of the nuclear family in a
house with a white picket fence and a lifestyle
based on good Christian values has been hopelessly
degraded. While we might applaud that we were
given new freedoms from the old moral codes,
at the same time there has been created a
great void of meaning.
In the universities they promote a new adjusted
version of the old social/economic system.
In most cases, the 'adjustments' to the old
system have been quickly exploited by the
economic superstructure as is the case with
The spirit of the American counterculture
that once questioned the very foundations
of our social/economic system and the mechanized
lifestyle that goes with it is long dead.
These days the liberal counterculture is more
concerned with whether they can sport tattoos
and multiple body piercings and still land
a job at a major corporation.
Everyone now supports the economic
system and the accompanying materialistic
values. Rather than a new enlightened moral
standard we have a decadent version of the
old Judeo/Christian morality. In the media
and in advertising there is much talk about
individual creativity and independence, but
look just below the surface and we find that
with young and old alike, Americans are more
conformist than ever.
Cultural anthropologist Joseph Campell once
noted that in humankind's earliest cities
the religious buildings were the tallest structures
to be seen. In later times the government
buildings were the tallest structures in every
city. Over recent decades, in every American
city the tallest buildings are now those of
the financial institutions. This fact is an
accurate symbol of what we hold of highest
value. Money is our God. Regardless of how
much we pretend otherwise, money rules our
lives and dictates our actions.
Most Americans spend more time at their jobs
than on any other activity in their life.
Many Americans work 40 to 60 hours a week,
50 weeks a year, for their entire lives. And
when old age withers our bodies and life is
nearly over, we look back and wonder what
it all amounts to when death sums up the final
tally. Since the beginning of the industrial
age, this is what life is.
Myself, when I walk the streets of New York
City I feel like I am a voyeur in the land
of the insane. Their values are not mine.
Their way of life is an obscenity to my eyes.
Amid great shining skyscrapers we walk upon
streets that are filthy and filled with noise.
Next to the symbols of mankind's greatest
achievements people eat out of garbage cans.
The quality of day to day life is valued as
It is clear that as humans we have accepted
decadence. If we are to be judged by our actions,
then nihilism is the gospel of our era. And
I would find the nihilism more bearable if
it weren't for the hypocrisy with which we
delude ourselves into a clear conscious. We
pat ourselves on the back for being the highest
and most civilized life-form yet children
starve while we in America waste beyond belief.
The word 'humanity' is itself the greatest
of all hypocrisies.
When I stop and reflect on what I really feel,
the truth is I do still question those fundamental
values which make up our social systems. I
question everything. I've spent my life working
for poverty wages at jobs that only serve
to steal away life's meaning, while providing
me with little hope for a better future. In
my heart I feel this can not be what life
is about. This means nothing to me. There
must be something more.
I turn on any television news show and the
pundits continue to argue those tired stances
of the left and right. Our wise intellectuals
are too blind to see that social progress
can never occur until we transcend the dynamic
of the old conservative/ liberal confrontation.
The very terms 'conservative' and 'liberal'
have become meaningless. They are two sides
of the same coin.
The conservatives stay locked in their Victorian
straightjacket, and the liberals have thrown
out the baby with the bath water. All are
too out of touch to be lucid. And none are
visionaries who can help us define our future.
POLITICAL ACTIVISM - AN ARTICLE by caeser pink
on counter culture political activism|