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Home : American History : 20th Century 
AMERICAN HISTORY : 20th Century


 

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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 generation.

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 congressional stalemate makes men narrow their view of the possible, the specialization of human activity leaves little room for sweeping thought; the horrors of the twentieth century, symbolized in the gas-ovens and concentration camps and atom bombs, have blasted 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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