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The Sixties


Most of the time, when thinking back to the sixties, people
remember hearing about things such as sex, drugs, and
racism. However, what they often tend to overlook is the
large emphasis "freedoms" had on the era. This does not
just refer to the freedoms already possessed by every
American of the time. This focuses on the youth's fight to
gain freedom or break away from the values and ideas left
behind by the older generation. While some authors when
writing about the sixties give serious accounts of the
youths' fights to obtain these freedoms, others tend to
take a different and more dramatic approach to showing the
struggles involved in these fights. Yet, all of the authors
have the same basic values and messages in mind. They all,
more or less, aim to show the many freedoms which their
generation was fighting for. These fights were used to help
push for freedoms from areas such as society's rules and
values, competition, living for others first, and the older
generation's beliefs as a whole including the freedom to
use drugs. The younger generation just wanted a chance to
express their own views rather than having to constantly
succumb to the values and rules left behind by the older
The two different approaches used by authors to express
these views are often representative of the two main
systems used by youths to help gain their freedoms. The
first approach, taken by the Port Huron Statement and
authors such as Gerzon, Reich, Revel and Gitlin, follows
the ideals of the New Left. The New Left represents youths
striving for political change through cultural means.
People are encouraged to work for their ideals. In
contrast, the second approach, taken by Rubin and Didion,
reflect the ideals and mannerisms of the "Be-in" society.
The "Be-ins" represent another group of youths who attempt
to gain freedoms through more radical means. This group
focuses on more idealistic goals. The members yearn for a
utopian society. However, both groups feel that the youth
in society should be able to express themselves and live
their lives in their own way, not some way left behind by
the previous generation.
The way left behind by the older generations is greatly
influenced by events which occurred during that time.
Unfortunately, because of many of these events, Americans
lost their sense of hopefulness in the American society.
The reasons are various: the dreams of the older left were
perverted by stalinism and never recreated; the
stalemate makes men narrow their view of the possible, the
specialization of human activity leaves little room for
thought; the horrors of the twentieth century, symbolized
in the
gas-ovens and concentration camps and atom bombs, have
hopefulness (Port Huron Statement 166)
Unfortunately, however, these feelings possessed by the
previous generation seemed to contribute to their views of
man as "a thing to be manipulated, and that he is
inherently incapable of directing his own affairs" (Port
Huron 166). Supporters of the New Left disagree strongly
with these views. In fact, the Port Huron Statement makes a
point of cutting down these beliefs, claiming that the New
Left will not support the idea of human beings as things or
objects. Then the document takes it one step further in
saying that the incompetence attributed to humans is, in
fact, caused by the society in which they live. They have
been manipulated into thinking they were incompetent by
their surroundings (166). Reich even goes as far as to say
that "it is a crime to allow oneself to become an
instrumental being" (Reich 56).
The older society, by viewing man as incapable of
controlling his own life, has also led their generation to
concentrate primarily on institutions, public interest, and
society as the basic reality. However, the younger
generation deals more with the self. One should be able to
create their own values, lifestyle, and culture (Reich 56).
Rubin seems to claim, in a more vocal manner, that the
older generation has not left a place in the world for the
younger generation to live. The older society has already
done everything which can be done. Instead of helping the
youth in society to learn about being themselves, they seem
insistent on controlling the youth. They place them in
schools to keep them off the streets, they send them away
to Vietnam. The older members of society are only trying to
keep the youth from spoiling what already exists. They are
intent on molding the youth into what they want them to be,
rather than what the youths want to be (Our Leaders Are
Seven-Year Olds 41).
Just as the New Leftists and Be-ins felt that everyone
deserves the right to live for themselves and create their
own lives, they also tried to emphasize "the absolute worth
of every human being" (Reich 56). Therefore, they only
agreed with the concept of competition in events of
pleasure. However, in day to day life, "they do not measure
others, they do not see themselves as something to struggle
against....Instead of insisting that everyone is measured
by given standards, the new generation values what is
unique and different in each self" (Reich 57).
In order to find these unique and different qualities in
each other and themselves, the younger generation often
turned to drugs. This was another freedom which they were
required to fight for since the older generation did not
support drug use as a source of pleasure or creativity.
This could basically be considered an outright rejection of
the older society's values. Drugs were also seen as a
freedom from reality. They enabled the youths to escape to
a different kind of world. In one of Rubin's works, it is
implied that the people of that era considered drugs as a
tool for love and peace. " 'There's got to be more love in
this room: Roll some more joints'" (We Are All Human Be-ins
39). Because of the youths' great desire to achieve a
univesal sense of peace and harmony, drugs were sometimes a
very important part of one's life. Didion, by telling of
her adventures with various families, often describes in
great detail the importance these families placed on their
drug usage. Sometimes, they would plan a day or evening
around the use of a major drug so that they could enjoy it
to the fullest extent. This could almost be considered
ironic in the sense that while trying to gain one freedom,
the ability to use drugs, the youths appeared to have lost
another freedom, the ability to live their own lives. It
seems more as if their lives were controlled by the drugs
and the drugs' effects than by the people themselves.
Drug use was perhaps, in actuality, one of the most obvious
freedoms which the sixties generation aimed for. However,
the people of that era also made it clear that they were
after other freedoms, most of which involved a moral
separation from the generation which came before them. Many
of these freedoms were never fully gained. However, their
attempts to gain them left a very noticeable impact on
today's society. The freedoms may not be fully there, but
many of the beliefs and values behind the struggle to
acquire those freedoms are still there.


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