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The Counter-Culture: Reflections

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    Posted: 21-Jun-2015 at 06:52

NIETZSCHE, THE PROBLEM OF VALUES and

THE COUNTER-CULTURE

Part 1:

What has made, and what now makes, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche(1844-1900) so important, is that he recognized with great force, clarity and impressive foresight the most troubling and persistent problem of modernity: the problem of values.  His writings, though, at least for millions in the last century or more, lack a simplicity for readers.  For millions of others, of course, they know nothing of Nietzsche and, like so many things in our knowledge explosion, they will not miss what they don’t know.

As a student and teacher, a lecturer and adult educator with an interest in philosophy over more than half a century, 1963-2015, first in the classroom and lecture-hall, and then in cyberspace, I have found that Nietzsche’s writings have kept both me, my students, and my many contacts in cyberspace, busy unraveling what is often the obscure and enigmatic literary idiom of this 19th century philosopher.  Nietzsche uncovered many of the depths and complexities of value-issues, and these value-issues have defeated generations of the best efforts of philosophers and social scientists to articulate for modern man, a basis for both the individual and community rooted in a coherent set of relevant values.

Part 1.1:

Nietzsche saw modern man’s values as an incoherent pastiche of bits and pieces from a hundred sources. He called this collection of values that most people possess  “a multi-colored cow”.  The smorgasbord of faiths and value systems on offer in the West today wonderfully illustrates what Nietzsche foresaw: values as mix-and-match consumer goods, a type of marketplace for the consumer society.  The mix on offer, however ingenious it often is in the internet marketplace, is an absurd collection of stuff, and the results are pitifully anaemic for a mass society in search of a central survival core, in search of a map for the human journey ahead.

Just how and where human beings are to find the set of values on which to base a life of meaning and coherence is still an enigma, a dilemma. In some ways our global society is a victim of over-choice.  We have so much information, at least those with WWW access,  but what is the big-picture in which we are to place this plethora of wisdoms, this vast soup of knowledge. Vague sentiments of good will, however genuine, are not enough. Some explicit agreement on principles is required for any co-ordinated progress. And principles are often  ify-things.

Part 2:

Nietzsche’s dilemma is our dilemma. His analysis of our modern situation has become an explicit dilemma, a conundrum, for modern humanity, just as he predicted. Nietzsche is the author of the expression God Is Dead. What he meant by these words is that Western culture no longer places God at the centre of things. The death of God has knocked the pins out from under Western value systems, and revealed an abyss below. The values we have continued to live by, that we have put in the place of tradition, in the place of those values that have lost their meaning, result in our being cast adrift, whether we realize it or not. The question is, what do we do now?

Since 1900 we have done many things in our state of being cast adrift. One thing we have done, that western society has put in the place of that tradition, can be seen in the expression: be yourself.1  It is an absurd dream of contemporary culture that people, just by being themselves, can try to live according to what Nietzsche calls their own values. The values people choose are usually not their own values: they are bits and pieces picked up in the bazaar of modernity, and they usually have no idea where these values come from and, even when they do, the package is pastiche and panorama, a panoply of pluralism.

Nothing is more obvious to Nietzsche than the fact that people don’t generally know how to create values.  Due to this fact, they fall back on tradition. Fundamentalism in all its forms afflicts a beleaguered humanity. There have been many values and meaning systems in the last century or more that have had great power to move great numbers of people.  Modern 20th and 21st century history is littered with the results of these values. To Nietzsche, values have power and they spring from power: like works of art, their greatness is in their power to move us. The plethora of schools of philosophy and art, literature and culture, music and medicine, are a testimony to some of these powerful systems of ideas.

Part 3:

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The world has long been struggling with enormous new social and material forces. The context for this struggle increasingly is pointing toward the necessity of unity in diversity or the world will tear itself apart in its attachment to sectarian, political, nationalistic, and racial loyalties of the past. This it is doing with greater and greater efficiency.

The values of materialism are built on the enormous power of science. I take a deep satisfaction and personal meaning in the advances that society has made in the last century or more, and particularly from the processes that have knit together the earth’s peoples and nations through science and technology. But humanity yearns desperately, and it has all my life, for its Soul, for the God that Nietzsche said so presciently had died.

Part 3.1:

I was born in July 1944, in the midst of a war that saw the death of some 60 million people.  I came to believe, by the 1960s, that the one Power which could fulfill the ultimate longing of the peoples of the world for peace and unity, was to find God again. But in our pluralistic secular and sacred world individuals and societies had gradually come to find many gods. The print and electronic media presented modern man with a cornucopia of values and beliefs, gods and ultimate meaning systems.

Nietzsche saw the media as a manipulator of popular sentiment and as possessing the power to create all sorts of values and meanings. The result, at least for that 19th century philosopher, was that almost everybody  merely became a member of the herd or the proponent of an individualism that got in the way of any genuine sense of community and, more importantly, a community of communities. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Eric Walther, Nietzsche, Our Contemporary, Philosophy Now, November/December 2012. Eric Walther taught philosophy from 1967, and computer science from 1983, at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University; he retired in 2003. He holds a PhD in Philosophy from Yale University, and an MS in Computer Science from Polytechnic University.

 

Part 4:

As I was studying history

& philosophy in the fall

of ’63 & ‘64, the counter-

culture began to be felt in

my North American home

in both the USA & Canada,1

& quite visibly at Berkeley

with what was then called

the free-speech movement.2

 

I got caught-up in this student

movement & got my picture on

the front-page of the newspaper.3

But I could not be identified with

the counter-culture because of my

religion which was the main source

of my worldview, my physical and

social reality; namely, that the world

was but one country, and humankind,

mankind, were its world citizens,4 and

that without a centre  mere anarchy was

to be loosed upon the world, and that blood-

dimmed tide. Everywhere, too, the ceremony

of innocence is and would be drowned. And

the best lacked all conviction, while the worst

were and still are full of passionate intensity.5

1 The term counterculture is attributed to professor emeritus of history at California Theodore Roszak(1903-2011), author of The Making of a Counter Culture.  The term became prominent in the news media amid the social revolution that swept North and South America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand during the 1960s and early 1970s. In North America the counterculture of the 1960s became identified with the rejection of conventional social norms of the 1950s.

2 Gary North, Robert Nisbet: Conservative Sociologist, LewRockwell.com, 2002.

3 The Civil Rights Act of July 1964 prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education. It outlawed racial segregation in public facilities. In the summer of 1964, over forty Freedom Schools opened in Mississippi. These schools were part of Freedom Summer, a project of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, with the goal to empower African Americans in Mississippi to become active citizens and agents of social change.

In the late summer and early autumn of 1964 and into the first months of 1965 I was associated with the Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee which, at the time, had a philosophy of nonviolence.  But after the mid-1960s that philosophy migrated to one of greater militancy.  In October of 1964 Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and, by the end of the spring semester in April 1965, I had ceased my participation in that movement.

4 As a student of sociology both at university as a student, after university as a teacher, and on retirement, I came to read: Toqueville, Nisbet, Durkheim, Bell, and many other social theorists. They each and all reinforced the views I had begun university with as a Baha’i. See Robert Nisbet, Dogma and Democracy, The Sociological Tradition, Heinemann, London, 1966, pp. 232-237.

5 W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming.

Ron Price

4/11/’12 to 19/6/’15.

COUNTER-CULTURE

Part 1:

 

A counterculture movement expresses the ethos and aspirations of a specific population during a well-defined era. When oppositional forces reach critical mass countercultures can trigger dramatic cultural changes. Prominent examples of countercultures in Europe and North America include Romanticism (1790–1840), Bohemianism (1850–1910), the more fragmentary counterculture of the Beat Generation (1944–1964) and perhaps, most prominently, the counterculture of the 1960s (1964–1974), usually associated with the hippie subculture.

My life from 1964 to 1974 straddled the edges of the counter-culture but never fully identified with it.  By the 1970s I had left Canada and my years at university when I had got as close as I ever would to the many sources and influences of the counter-culture.  In 1971 I was in Australia where the “Rainbow Region” of northern NSW was the focus of Australia’s counterculture. Its capital was Nimbin. There were the 1971 and 1973 Aquarius Festivals in Nimbin. 

Part 1.1:

 

In May 2013 a two-day conference titled “Aquarius and Beyond: 40 years on…” was held at Southern Cross University(SCU). SCU is a research intensive Australian public university with some 15,000 internal and external students.  This conference marked the 40th anniversary of the Festival which was one of, if not the, defining countercultural event in Australia.

 

In 1971 I had just arrived in Australia and was a teacher in Whyalla South Australia.  In 1972, as Australia was moving to the height of the counter-culture movement, I was the secretary of the local Baha’i community of Whyalla and its 30 Baha’is, mostly youth.

Part 2:

The term counterculture is attributed to Theodore Roszak author of The Making of a Counter Culture. I do not want to confine my exploration of the counterculture to that period, nor do I want to leave the concept far behind in that epi-centre of Nimbin in the early 1970s. I am interested in the specific structure of feeling that is now generally associated with the term, counter-culture.

Those '60s and early ‘70s have long

ago cooled enough to become the raw

material for dissertations, monographs,

PhD theses, & all sorts of retrospectives

which, together, have reduced the protest

movement of the Vietnam era to the phrase:

 "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."…Perhaps it’s

just part of that conservative backlash which

brought us Ronald Reagan, 2 George Bushes,

and our vast global, inter-connected economy.

 

In the 1960s the world in which I lived came to

realize that the country which they thought they

lived in: peaceful, generous, honorable—did not

exist and never had.1 Was it the sex, drugs, and

rock-‘n-roll which woke us up from our day-dream

of Mr Clean, Doris Day, General Ike, luxury without

stress, Negroes or genitalia? Was this the original

source of those mass movements which generated

in their adherents a readiness to die?1

1D.T. Miller and M. Nowak, The Fifties: The Way We Really Were, Doubleday and Co., NY, 1977.

Ron Price

19/6/’15.

1 Theodore Rozak, “When the counterculture counted,” in SFGate,

 December 23, 2001

Ron Price

19/6/’15.

YET MORE ON THE COUNTER-CULTURE

Part 1:

By 1968, having spent the 1960s seeking an alternative to what C. Wright Mills called an elite military-industrial complex, a center to what Daniel Bell called “the exhaustion of the political ideas of the fifties”, to what I saw as the emerging crisis of modern capitalist society, to the irrelevance of the dominant political and religious institutions, I found myself living on Baffin Island and working among the Inuit.  I was one of those “restless youth” described below.

I also found myself, for at least six months of 1968, in mental hospitals dealing with my own personal psychiatric crisis. The year 1968 was an eventful one: Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, and many people of fame and prominence in society died: Dorothy Gish, Helen Keller, Charlie Chaplin, John Steinbeck, inter alia.

Part 2:

The search for “authenticity” against established habits of power spread with astonishing speed across societies in the mid-to-late ‘60s. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was overwhelmed in late 1968 to find that countercultural activities were evident and politically disruptive on every continent. The CIA’s report to the president on “Restless Youth” described a “world-wide phenomenon” that had undermined allies such as West Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

Dissent was also causing internal conflict in the so-called “Communist Bloc” especially Czechoslovakia, Poland, China, and the Soviet Union; as well as disorder in “third world” societies:  Argentina, Chile, Egypt, and Tunisia, among others).1 Prior  moments of revolution had had an international quality, but the simultaneity of countercultural activities in so many societies in 1968 made that year seem unprecedented in promise and peril for those living through it.2

1  CIA report, “Restless Youth,” September 1968, Folder: Youth and Student Movements, Box 13, Files of Walt W. Rostow, National Security File, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, Texas.

2 On this point, see Mark Kurlansky, “1968: The Year That Rocked the World,” New York, 2004 in The American Historical Review, “The Rise and Fall of an International Counterculture, 1960–1975,” Jeremi Suri, February 2009.

Part 3:

There was a revolt against authority

back then as my adolescence turned

into adulthood; the 1960s advanced

from year to year, as civil rights, as

feminism, as the Cold War turned to

the counter-culture, as the old-politics

and religion became irrelevant…and I

turned to what I thought then, & what

I think now, was & is a very real option,

choice, alternative, to born-again values,

a dominant secular humanism that was

really materialism, & a basis for law and

order in an emerging pluralist society when

all the olds isms were wasms, & my simple

world of the ‘50s & ‘60s was going crazier

and crazier. Things were falling apart;  the centre

had not held; mere anarchy was slowly being loosed

upon the world; the blood-dimmed tide was also and

slowly spreading everywhere, the best I knew lacked

all conviction, while the worst were full of passionate

intensity and that rough beast had finally been born.1

1 W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

Ron Price

21/6/’15.

 



Edited by RonPrice - 21-Jun-2015 at 06:55
Ron Price has been married for 47 years(in 2014) and a teacher for 35. He has been a writer and editor for 15, and a Baha'i for 55(in 2014).
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