With revolution in our hearts, we cut our hair, we leaned on the railing and we went forward into the clockwork of daily life.
The car clicked past 25, past 30, into the respectable future. Spouse,
job, house, dog. A world of boundaries: Fence, car, child.
It’s the way we’re brought up. A thousand voices in our ears saying
settle down, sit back, relax, close your eyes. It’s there on the
billboard, on the train, on the walls lining the escalator, on the TV,
on the radio, on the phone when the family calls, on your lover’s
breath. Hold on, it’s a natural thing, that’ll be .95.
You’re all growed up now. So, stop.
But what of the minds that question? What of the revolution?
Forget it. It’s the territory of the young and you, yes, you are grown
up. You have failed. You have lost the war. There was no war to loose,
anyway. It was lost before you were born. So sit back, put your hands
together, and let’s talk about how you can bring the walls crumbling
down without wasting your words in meaningless shouting and your
Sharpie on signs ignored.
You see, the people won’t change. We need the machine. We need the
organized life. 20% of the world will do our thinking, our dreaming,
our forward motion. The remainder will work the handpumps, build the
citadels, wash the feet of the noble and the mighty. They are mindless,
the unread, the uneducated, and we need them.
You there with your computer, you there with your booze and your
cigarettes, you there with your microwave and your DVD player and your
cell phone. You’re a radical, I can see. I can tell from all the way
over here that you aren’t about to shut down when you turn 25 or 30.
But you love those things around you. You tighten your laces and you
sneer at the settling down instinct, but you love your comfortable
material desires. You know what, that’s just fine. I do, too. There is
Is the modern American rebel a hypocrite? Not at all. We all must fit
into the machine in some way. Even the lunatic fringe culture is part
of the world of the billboards and the Golden Arches. America absorbs
revolution. Our culture learned how to do that after the 60’s. Never
again will there be social upheaval on that scale. What is considered
deviant and radical today will be on a Nike commercial tomorrow. There
is no niche within our society that will allow you to be free.
But, in a mindless, machine society, you are even more empowered than
in a society that allows a fringe youth culture to spring up. In a PC,
controlled, pseudo-fascist society, the power of the rebel knows no
bounds. Especially when you get older, when you cut your hair and stop
coloring it pink. The rebel in the cheap suit can cause more damage
than an army of hippies.
It’s a great Human paradox.
Besides, the counterculture of the 60’s and 70’s wasn’t run by the
young. Everyone behind the varied movements – the Hippies, Yippies,
Weathermen and Panthers – were men and women in their 30’s. People who
had grown up and seen a hole in our culture through the eyes of the
establishment. Abbie Hoffman was 36 years old when he wrote Steal This Book.
Huey P. Newton was 25 when he started the Black Panthers. His
co-founder and Chicago Eight member Bobby Seale was 30. Eldridge
Cleaver, the Panther’s “Minister of Information” was 32 when he joined.
The Port Huron Statement is where historians say the New Left, what
would become the counterculture, began. It was written by a graduating
class of students in 1962, representing the Students for a Democratic
Society, which had been organized in 1960. These were the leaders of
the cultural explosion that grew throughout the 60’s and flew apart
dramatically between 1968-1975.
Let’s take a look at some choice selections from the Port Huron Statement that can be applied to modern America.
We’ll start from the top:
We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort,
housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we
When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest
country in the world: the only one with the atom bomb, the least
scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we
thought would distribute Western influence throughout the world.
Freedom and equality for each individual, government of, by, and for
the people — these American values we found good, principles by which
we could live as men. Many of us began maturing in complacency.
As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss.
The authors of the Statement said that it was a living document that
would change with the times and experiences. A “dialogue with society.”
We have changed. Insert terrorism for Cold War, insert the continuing
segregation of America for the Civil Rights Movement. The paradoxes of
American society continue to exist in full force. Instead of
indignance, however, the next ruling generation meets them with
complacency. Apathy. Because there are no statements for us, because
our media can stop every revolutionary act over night. But that, of
course, was also true 40 years ago, with the exception of certain key
events. Let’s continue:
Although mankind desperately needs revolutionary leadership, America
rests in national stalemate, its goals ambiguous and tradition-bound
instead of informed and clear, its democratic system apathetic and
manipulated rather than “of, by, and for the people.”
For them, in 62, the revolution was made clear by the beginning stages
of Vietnam. We had just entered that colonial war. The final, great
worldwide revolution against the last vestiges of imperialism had
begun, and it would last until the 70’s. The dissatisfied youth culture
of the late 50’s and early 60’s had a gift delivered to them – a world
on fire. The perfect seedbed to rise up and gather like minds around
them. A purpose. International disorder.
We have war today, we have troops out there fighting, but it isn’t the
same thing. If there is international disorder, it’s washed clean by
the press and sold to us on the silver platter of entertainment, of
schadenfreude. But, of course, today’s international disorder isn’t
close to what it was then. Where the second half of the 20th century
saw the dismantling and destruction of Empires, the 21st century sees
the slow decline of our own very unique empire. Democracies aren’t
dismantled, they just fade away.
The vast majority of our people regard the temporary equilibriums of
our society and world as eternally-functional parts…the message of our
society is that there is no viable alternative to the present. Beneath
the reassuring tones of the politicians, beneath the common opinion
that America will “muddle through”, beneath the stagnation of those who
have closed their minds to the future, is the pervading feeling that
there simply are no alternatives, that our times have witnessed the
exhaustion not only of Utopias, but of any new departures as well.
Feeling the press of complexity upon the emptiness of life, people are
fearful of the thought that at any moment things might thrust out of
control. They fear change itself, since change might smash whatever
invisible framework seems to hold back chaos for them now. For most
Americans, all crusades are suspect, threatening. The fact that each
individual sees apathy in his fellows perpetuates the common reluctance
to organize for change. The dominant institutions are complex enough to
blunt the minds of their potential critics, and entrenched enough to
swiftly dissipate or entirely repel the energies of protest and reform,
thus limiting human expectancies. Then, too, we are a materially
improved society, and by our own improvements we seem to have weakened
the case for further change.
Some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst
prosperity — but might it not better be called a glaze above deeply
felt anxieties about their role in the new world? And if these
anxieties produce a developed indifference to human affairs, do they
not as well produce a yearning to believe there is an alternative to
the present, that something can be done to change circumstances in the
school, the workplaces, the bureaucracies, the government?.
The Statement tumbles down an intellectual trap, discussing the values
of our culture and the potential of our people. It studies the attitude
of modern America, especially outside the halls of academia. It
preaches bringing awareness and change to the world as a whole which,
as I’ve suggested, is slightly misguided. The platform for the SDS is
laid out, the battle plan for the counterculture is pieced together
throughout the Statement. A decade later, the New Left would be
splintered, and extinct before the Republican backlash of 1976. The
mistake, from my viewpoint, was ambition: The perfectly justified (for
the times) desire to correct a very sick society that was spinning off
its axis. What they got was revolution, and that’s something that can
only succeed if it is achieved completely. When the New Left
splintered, it was because the voice of revolution had been muddled,
partly by politicians and Nixon’s Silent Majority, but also by the
counterculture itself. They couldn’t change the world. No one can.
Especially true in our brave new world, the best path towards
successful personal revolution is subversion, culture jamming,
hacktivisim, guerilla tactics. Activities and thoughts that quietly
chip away at the world around us.
For the counterculture, when they splintered, the old establishment was
reborn with a new face. Thus began a world best marked by Reagan. He
lost the game in 76, but he was always above the waterline. The media,
newly empowered after the fall of Nixon, grew to dominate every facet
of our lives. Keep track of how many advertisements you see in a 24
hour period. Keep track of the percentage of those ads, movies, and
shows that tell you how you should live – even if it’s an abstract
image. A man and his wife in the background on an ad for allergy
medication. I can’t contribute enough intelligence to the machine to
say these are intentional social controls. Instead, I believe they are
the images and expectations of a world that rode the tiger and didn’t
like it one bit.
So there is no revolution. The counterculture is dead. Your parents lost a war and have left you as the latchkey kids, Fight Club’s
“middle children of history.” You raised yourselves with TV and frozen
pizzas, and when you were old enough to speak with your own voice you
were living in a world where John Lennon sold Nikes and Dr. King sold
cell phones, not to mention that you would get three to five at San
Quentin if you called your roommate a nigger. Now you’re 30. Now you’re
in a world that is shockingly complacent in the face of terrible Human
tragedy. But it isn’t Human tragedy with a cause. It’s the Human
tragedy that has always been with us. If it has a cause, it’s to strive
against America, and that just doesn’t set right. Impossible. Petty.
Our world, here in the land of “modest comfort,” is one where the only
unifying causes are unnecessary road projects and additives placed in
our wheat. Even those select social causes that haven’t been
bastardized by the media and our celebrities are a mockery of
There is nothing. So when you’re told to shape up, you do so. Why not?
You there, with your computer. The rebel. Come back for the second
installment. We’re going to discuss how to apply the sentiment voiced
in the prologue of the Port Huron Statement to the 21st Century. We’re
going to discuss how best to rebel against the machine in the face of
your 30th birthday, how best to remain loose and unsubdued.
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