In this 1969 lecture delivered at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum, Ayn Rand contrasts two prominent events from that summer’s news: the Apollo 11 moon landing and the Woodstock music festival. Using the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus as symbols of “the fundamental conflict of our age” — reason versus irrational emotion — Rand explores the mindsets of participants, commentators and spectators in search of the two events’ philosophical causes and meaning.
In the Q&A session following the lecture, Rand expands on the subject matter of the lecture and also addresses such topics as the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, the “space race” and reasons for going to the moon, the morality of the Vietnam War and the war’s protesters, Rand’s view of her purpose in life, and government controls on pollution.
This essay was originally published in the December 1969 and January 1970 issues of The Objectivist and later anthologized in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971) and Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1999). A lecture version was delivered in November 1969 at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston.
The audio lecture lasts 44 minutes, followed by a 17-minute Q&A.
On July 16, 1969, one million people, from all over the country, converged on Cape Kennedy, Florida, to witness the launching of Apollo 11 that carried astronauts to the moon.
On August 15, 300,000 people, from all over the country, converged on Bethel, New York, near the town of Woodstock, to witness a rock music festival.
These two events were news, not philosophical theory. These were facts of our actual existence, the kinds of facts — according to both modern philosophers and practical businessmen — that philosophy has nothing to do with.
But if one cares to understand the meaning of these two events — to grasp their roots and their consequences — one will understand the power of philosophy and learn to recognize the specific forms in which philosophical abstractions appear in our actual existence.
The issue in this case is the alleged dichotomy of reason versus emotion.
This dichotomy has been presented in many variants in the history of philosophy, but its most colorfully eloquent statement was given by Friedrich Nietzsche. In The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, Nietzsche claims that he observed two opposite elements in Greek tragedies, which he saw as metaphysical principles inherent in the nature of reality; he named them after two Greek gods: Apollo, the god of light, and Dionysus, the god of wine. Apollo, in Nietzsche’s metaphysics, is the symbol of beauty, order, wisdom, efficacy (though Nietzsche equivocates about this last) — i.e., the symbol of reason. Dionysus is the symbol of drunkenness or, rather, Nietzsche cites drunkenness as his identification of what Dionysus stands for: wild, primeval feelings, orgiastic joy, the dark, the savage, the unintelligible element in man — i.e., the symbol of emotion.
Apollo, according to Nietzsche, is a necessary element, but an unreliable and thus inferior guide to existence, that gives man a superficial view of reality: the illusion of an orderly universe. Dionysus is the free, unfettered spirit that offers man — by means of a mysterious intuition induced by wine and drugs — a more profound vision of a different kind of reality, and is thus the superior. And — indicating that Nietzsche knew clearly what he was talking about, even though he chose to express it in a safely, drunkenly Dionysian manner — Apollo represents the principle of individuality, while Dionysus leads man “into complete self-forgetfulness” and into merging with the “Oneness” of nature. (Those who, at a superficial reading, take Nietzsche to be an advocate of individualism, please note.)
This much is true: reason is the faculty of an individual, to be exercised individually; and it is only dark, irrational emotions, obliterating his mind, that can enable a man to melt, merge and dissolve into a mob or a tribe. We may accept Nietzsche’s symbols, but not his estimate of their respective values, nor the metaphysical necessity of a reason-emotion dichotomy.
It is not true that reason and emotion are irreconcilable antagonists or that emotions are a wild, unknowable, ineffable element in men. But this is what emotions become for those who do not care to know what they feel, and who attempt to subordinate reason to their emotions. For every variant of such attempts — as well as for their consequences — the image of Dionysus is an appropriate symbol.
Symbolic figures are a valuable adjunct to philosophy: they help men to integrate and bear in mind the essential meaning of complex issues. Apollo and Dionysus represent the fundamental conflict of our age. And for those who may regard them as floating abstractions, reality has offered two perfect, fiction-like dramatizations of these abstract symbols: at Cape Kennedy and at Woodstock. They were perfect in every respect demanded of serious fiction: they concretized the essentials of the two principles involved, in action, in a pure, extreme, isolated form. The fact that the spacecraft was called “Apollo” is merely a coincidence, but a helpful coincidence.
If you want to know fully what the conflict of reason versus irrational emotion means — in fact, in reality, on earth — keep these two events in mind: it means Apollo 11 versus the Woodstock festival. Remember also that you are asked to make a choice between these two — and that the whole weight of today’s culture is being used to push you to the side of and into Woodstock’s mud.
In my article “Apollo 11” (The Objectivist, September 1969), I discussed the meaning and the greatness of the moon landing. To quote: “No one could doubt that we had seen an achievement of man in his capacity as a rational being — an achievement of reason, of logic, of mathematics, of total dedication to the absolutism of reality. . . . The most confirmed evader in the worldwide audience could not escape the fact that . . . no feelings, wishes, urges, instincts or lucky ‘conditioning’ . . . could have achieved this incomparable feat — that we were watching the embodied concretization of a single faculty of man: his rationality.”
This was the meaning and motive of the overwhelming worldwide response to Apollo 11, whether the cheering crowds knew it consciously or not — and most of them did not. It was the response of people starved for the sight of an achievement, for a vision of man the hero.
This was the motive that drew one million people to Cape Kennedy for the launching. Those people were not a stampeding herd nor a manipulated mob; they did not wreck the Florida communities, they did not devastate the countryside, they did not throw themselves, like whining thugs, at the mercy of their victims; they did not create any victims. They came as responsible individuals able to project the reality of two or three days ahead and to provide for their own needs. There were people of every age, creed, color, educational level and economic status. They lived and slept in tents or in their cars, some of them for several days, in great discomfort and unbearable heat; they did it gamely, cheerfully, gaily; they projected a general feeling of confident goodwill, the bond of a common enthusiasm; they created a public spectacle of responsible privacy — and they departed as they had come, without benefit of press agents.
The best account of the nature of that general feeling was given to me by an intelligent young woman of my acquaintance. She went to see the parade of the astronauts when they came to New York. For a few brief moments, she stood on a street corner and waved to them as they went by. “It was so wonderful,” she told me. “People didn’t want to leave after the parade had passed. They just stood there, talking about it — talking to strangers — smiling. It was so wonderful to feel, for once, that people aren’t vicious, that one doesn’t have to suspect them, that we have something good in common.”
This is the essence of a genuine feeling of human brotherhood: the brotherhood of values. This is the only authentic form of unity among men — and only values can achieve it.
There was virtually no comment in the press on the meaning of the popular response to Apollo 11; the comments, for the most part, were superficial, perfunctory, mainly statistical. There was a brief flurry of nonsense about “unity” — as if it were some mysteriously causeless emotional primary — with suggestions about directing this unity to such inspiring goals as the crusades against poverty, air pollution, wilderness-desecration, even urban transportation. Then the subject was dropped, and the Apollo 11 story was dropped as of no further significance.
One of the paradoxes of our age is the fact that the intellectuals, the politicians and all the sundry voices that choke, like asthma, the throat of our communications media have never gasped and stuttered so loudly about their devotion to the public good and about the people’s will as the supreme criterion of value — and never have they been so grossly indifferent to the people. The reason, obviously, is that collectivist slogans serve as a rationalization for those who intend, not to follow the people, but to rule it. There is, however, a deeper reason: the most profound breach in this country is not between the rich and the poor, but between the people and the intellectuals. In their view of life, the American people are predominantly Apollonian; the “mainstream” intellectuals are Dionysian.
This means: the people are reality-oriented, commonsense-oriented, technology-oriented (the intellectuals call this “materialistic” and “middle-class”); the intellectuals are emotion-oriented and seek, in panic, an escape from a reality they are unable to deal with, and from a technological civilization that ignores their feelings.
The flight of Apollo 11 brought this out into the open. With rare exceptions, the intellectuals resented its triumph. A two-page survey of their reactions, published by The New York Times on July 21, was an almost unanimous spread of denigrations and denunciations. (See my article “Apollo 11.”) What they denounced was “technology”; what they resented was achievement and its source: reason. The same attitude — with rare exceptions — was displayed by the popular commentators, who are not the makers, but the products and the weather vanes of the prevailing intellectual trends.
Walter Cronkite of CBS was a notable exception. But Eric Sevareid of CBS was typical of the trend. On July 15, the eve of the launching, he broadcast from Cape Kennedy a commentary that was reprinted in Variety (July 23. 1969). “In Washington and elsewhere,” he said, “the doubts concern future flights, their number, their cost and their benefits, as if the success of Apollo 11 were already assured. We are a people who hate failure. It’s un-American. It is a fair guess that failure of Apollo 11 would not curtail future space programs but re-energize them.”
Please consider these two sentences: “We are a people who hate failure. It’s un-American.” (In the context of the rest, this was not intended as a compliment, though it should have been; it was intended as sarcasm.) Who doesn’t hate failure’? Should one love it? Is there a nation on earth that doesn’t hate it? Surely, one would have to say that failure is un-British or un-French or un-Chinese. I can think of only one nation to whom this would not apply: failure is not un-Russian (in a sense which is deeper than politics).
But what Mr. Sevareid had in mind was not failure. It was the American dedication to success that he was deriding. It is true that no other nation as a whole is as successful as America, which is America’s greatest virtue. But success is never automatically immediate; passive resignation is not a typical American trait; Americans seldom give up. It is this precondition of success — the “try, try again” precept — that Mr. Sevareid was undercutting.
He went on to say that if Apollo 11 succeeded, “the pressure to divert these great sums of money to inner space, terra firma and inner man will steadily grow.” He went on to discuss the views of men who believe “that this adventure, however majestic its drama, is only one more act of escape, that it is man once again running away from himself and his real needs, that we are approaching the bright side of the moon with the dark side of ourselves. . . . We know that the human brain will soon know more about the composition of the moon than it knows about the human brain . . . [and] why human beings do what they do.”
This last sentence is true, and one would think that the inescapable conclusion is that man should use his brain to study human nature by the same rational methods he has used so successfully to study inanimate matter. But not according to Mr. Sevareid; he reached a different conclusion: “It is possible that the divine spark in man will consume him in flames, that the big brain will prove our ultimate flaw, like the dinosaur’s big body, that the metal plaque Armstrong and Aldrin expect to place on the moon will become man’s epitaph.”
On July 20, while Apollo 11 was approaching the moon, and the world was waiting breathlessly, Mr. Sevareid found it appropriate to broadcast the following remark: no matter how great this event, he said, nothing much has changed, “man still puts his pants on, one leg at a time, he still argues with his wife,” etc. Well, each to his own hierarchy of values and of importance.
On the same day, David Brinkley of NBC observed that since men can now see and hear everything directly on television, by sensory-perceptual means (as he stressed), commentators are no longer needed at all. This implies that perceived events will somehow provide men automatically with the appropriate conceptual conclusions. The truth is that the more men perceive, the more they need the help of commentators, but of commentators who are able to provide a conceptual analysis.
According to a fan letter I received from Canada, the U.S. TV-commentaries during Apollo 11’s flight were mild compared to those on Canadian television. “We listened to an appalling panel of ‘experts’ disparage the project as a ‘mere technological cleverness by a stupid, pretentious speck of dust in the cosmos.’ . . . They were also very concerned about the ‘inflated American ego’ if the voyage succeeded. One almost got the impression that they would be greatly relieved if the mission failed!”
What is the actual motive behind this attitude — the unadmitted, subconscious motive? An intelligent American newsman, Harry Reasoner of CBS, named it inadvertently; I had the impression that he did not realize the importance of his own statement. Many voices, at the time, were declaring that the success of Apollo 11 would destroy the poetic-romantic glamor of the moon, its fascinating mystery, its appeal to lovers and to human imagination. Harry Reasoner summed it up by saying simply, quietly, a little sadly, that if the moon is found to be made of green cheese, it will be a blow to science; but if it isn’t, it will be a blow to “those of us whose life is not so well organized.”
And this is the whole shabby secret: to some men, the sight of an achievement is a reproach, a reminder that their own lives are irrational and that there is no loophole, no escape from reason and reality. Their resentment is the cornered Dionysian element baring its teeth.
What Harry Reasoner’s statement implied was the fact that only the vanguard of the Dionysian cohorts is made up of wild, rampaging irrationalists, openly proclaiming their hatred of reason, dripping wine and blood. The bulk of Dionysus’ strength, his grass-roots following, consists of sedate little souls who never commit any major crime against reason, who merely indulge their petty irrational whims once in a while, covertly — and, overtly, seek a “balance of power,” a compromise between whims and reality. But reason is an absolute: in order to betray it, one does not have to dance naked in the streets with vine leaves in one’s hair; one betrays it merely by sneaking down the back stairs. Then, someday, one finds oneself unable to grasp why one feels no joy at the scientific discoveries that prolong human life or why the naked dancers are prancing all over one’s own body.
Such are the Dionysian followers. But who are the leaders? These are not always obvious or immediately identifiable. For instance, the greatest Dionysian in history was a shriveled little “square,” well past thirty, who never drank or smoked pot, who took a daily walk with such precise, monotonous regularity that the townspeople set their clocks by him; his name was Immanuel Kant.
Kant was the first hippie in history.
But a generalissimo of that kind needs lieutenants and noncommissioned officers: Apollo cannot be defeated by buck privates who are merely the conditioned products of their officers. Nor can the buck privates unleash the Dionysian hordes on the world, out of the zoos, the coffeehouses and the colleges where they are bred. To do that job — and to blindfold the keepers — requires some men of stature, but men with a split face who have worn an Apollonian half-mask on the side turned to the world, thus convincing the unwary that a “compromise” is possible.
This brings us to one of Kant’s noncommissioned officers (he is not the only one, but he is typical), a man who serves as a transmission belt to Dionysus and to Woodstock: Charles A. Lindbergh.
Forty-two years ago, Lindbergh was a hero. His great feat — the solo flight across the Atlantic — had required major virtues, including a significant degree of rationality. As a grim demonstration of the nature of man’s volition — of the fact that neither rationality nor any other virtue is automatically permanent, but requires a constant, volitional practice — I offer in evidence a letter from Lindbergh, commenting on Apollo 11 ’s coming flight, published in Life magazine, July 4, 1969. It demonstrates what is left of what had once been a hero.
Mr. Lindbergh confesses that he does not know all the motives that prompted him to fly the Atlantic (which proves nothing but a failure of introspection). “But I can say quite definitely that they sprang more from intuition than from rationality, and that the love of flying outweighed practical purposes — important as the latter often were.”
Observe that the choice and love of one’s profession are here regarded as having no connection with rationality or with practical purposes, whatever these might be.
“Then, as the art of flying transposed to a science, I found my interest in airplanes decreasing. Rationally I welcomed the advances that came with self-starters, closed cockpits, radio and automatic pilots. Intuitively I felt revolted by them, for they upset the balance between intellect and senses that had made my profession such a joy.”
A great deal could be identified, in this sort of statement, about the nature of Mr. Lindbergh’s “intuition” and about the motives he finds so mysterious. But I shall let him speak for himself and let you draw your own conclusions.
“And so, as intuition had led me into aviation in the first place, it led me back to an early boyhood interest, the contemplation of life.”
He does not state by what means he intended to contemplate it, since he had rejected reason.
“I found the mechanics of life less interesting than the mystical qualities they manifest. With these conclusions, I began studying supersensory phenomena and, in 1937, flew to India in the hope of gaining insight to yogic practices.”
Some years later, he states, he made expeditions into the wildernesses of Africa, Eurasia and the American continents, which gave him a new perspective, “a perspective that drove into my bones, as well as into my mind, the fact that in instinct rather than in intellect is manifest the cosmic plan of life.”
When he attended the launching of Apollo 8, he was momentarily impressed. “Talking to astronauts and engineers, I felt an almost overwhelming desire to reenter the fields of astronautics — with their scientific committees, laboratories, factories and blockhouses, possibly to voyage into space myself. But I know I will not return to them, despite limitless possibilities for invention, exploration and adventure.
“Why not? Decades spent in contact with science and its vehicles have directed my mind and senses to areas beyond their reach. I now see scientific accomplishment as a path, not an end; a path leading to and disappearing in mystery.”
Observe the motive of placing one’s own motives outside the power of reason: it permits one to regard an explanation of that kind as satisfactory, and an epistemological claim of that kind as requiring no further proof.
From the incoherent paragraphs that follow, one can gather only that what Mr. Lindbergh holds against science is the fact that science does not give us omniscience and omnipotence. “Scientific knowledge argues that space vehicles can never attain the speed of light, which makes a puny penetration of the universe within a human lifespan; and that, therefore, cosmic distances will confine our physical explorations to those planets which orbit the sun . . . scientifically established principles now seem to limit [man] to the space-territory of the minor star he orbits. We are blocked by lack of time as we were once blocked by lack of air.”
But, he wonders, are we perhaps cracking open the entrance to another era, “one that will surpass the era of science as the era of science surpassed that of religious superstition? Following the paths of science, we become constantly more aware of mysteries beyond scientific reach. In these vaguely apprehended azimuths, I think the great adventures of the future lie — in voyages inconceivable by our 20th Century rationality — beyond the solar system, through distant galaxies, possibly through peripheries untouched by time and space.”
If this does not make sense to you, the fault lies in your “20th Century rationality.” Mr. Lindbergh claims a different means of cognition. “We know that tens of thousands of years ago, man departed from both the hazards and the security of instinct’s natural selection, and that his intellectual reactions have become too powerful to permit him ever to return. . . . We must find a way to blend with our present erratic tyranny of mind the countless, subtle and still-little-known elements that created the tangible shape of man and his intangible extensions.”
There follows an incoherent paean to “wildness” — not “nature,’’ but “wildness.” In “wildness” — as opposed to technological progress and civilization — Mr. Lindbergh has found “a direction . . . an awareness of values . . . and the means of our salvation.’’
To help you untangle this, I can only quote Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead: “Don’t bother to examine a folly — ask yourself only what it accomplishes.” Mr. Lindbergh accomplishes the following:
“If we can combine our knowledge of science with the wisdom of wildness, if we can nurture civilization through roots in the primitive, man’s potentialities appear to be unbounded . . . he can merge with the miraculous — to which we can attach what better name than ‘God’? And in this merging, as long sensed by intuition but still only vaguely perceived by rationality, experience may travel without need for accompanying life.
“Will we then find life to be only a stage, though an essential one, in a cosmic evolution of which our evolving awareness is beginning to become aware? Will we discover that only without spaceships can we reach the galaxies; that only without cyclotrons can we know the interior of atoms? [Italics his.] To venture beyond the fantastic accomplishments of this physically fantastic age, sensory perception must combine with the extra-sensory, and I suspect that the two will prove to be different faces of each other.”
What are the puny little compromises sought by today’s politicians, compared to a quest for a compromise of this kind?
I have said, in Atlas Shrugged, that mysticism is anti-man, anti-mind, anti-life. I received violent protests from mystics, assuring me that this is not true. Observe that Mr. Lindbergh regards life, spaceships and cyclotrons as equally dispensable, that he talks of “experience” which travels “without need for accompanying life” — and that his intuition promises him achievements greater than those reached by the advocates of life, reason and civilization.
Well, reality has obliged him. He does not have to wait for tens of thousands of years, for evolution, for a reunion with wildness, for intergalactic travel. The goal, the ideal, the salvation and the ecstasy have been achieved — by 300,000 people wallowing in the mud on an excrement-strewn hillside near Woodstock. Their name for the experience of travel unaccompanied by life, to peripheries untouched by time and space, is “LSD trips.”
The “Woodstock Music and Art Fair” did not take place in Woodstock; like everything else about that event, its title was a phony, an attempt to cash in on the artistic reputation of the Woodstock community. The fair took place on an empty thousand-acre pasture leased by the promoters from a local farmer. In response to $200,000 worth of publicity and advertising, 300,000 hippies showed up for the occasion. (These figures are from The New York Times: some sources place the attendance estimate higher.)
According to Newsweek (August 25): “The three-day Woodstock fair was different from the usual pop festival from the outset. It was not just a concert but a tribal gathering, expressing all the ideas of the new generation: communal living away from the cities, getting high, digging arts, clothes and craft exhibits, and listening to the songs of revolution.” The article quotes one of the promoters as declaring: “People will all be going into their own thing. This is not just music, but a conglomeration of everything involved in the new culture.”
So it was.
No living, eating or sanitary facilities were provided; the promoters claimed that they had not expected so large a crowd. Newsweek describes the conditions as follows: “Festival food supplies were almost immediately exhausted . . . and water coming from wells dug into the area stopped flowing or came up impure. A heavy rain Friday night turned the amphitheater into a quagmire and the concession area into a mudhole. . . . Throngs of wet, sick and wounded hippies trekked to impromptu hospital tents suffering from colds, sore throats, broken bones, barbed-wire cuts and nail-puncture wounds. Festival doctors called it a ‘health emergency,’ and 50 additional doctors were flown in from New York City to meet the crisis.”
According to The New York Times (August 18), when the rainstorm came “at least 80,000 young people sat or stood in front of the stage and shouted obscenities at the darkened skies as trash rolled down the muddy hillside with the runoff of the rain. Others took shelter in dripping tents, lean-tos, cars and trucks. . . . Many boys and girls wandered through the storm nude, red mud clinging to their bodies.”
Drugs were used, sold, shared or given away during the entire festival. Eyewitnesses claim that 99 percent of the crowd smoked marijuana; but heroin, hashish, LSD and other stronger drugs were peddled openly. The nightmare convulsions of so-called “bad trips” were a common occurrence. One young man died, apparently from an overdose of heroin.
The Newsweek report concludes with: “The promoters had hired members of the Hog Farm, a New Mexico hippie commune, to peacefully police the fair. At week’s end near the Hog Farm campsite, a hard core of crazies barked like dogs and freaked out in a bizarre circle dance lit by flashing strobe lights. The songs seemed to sum up what the young Aquarians believed, despite all misadventures, the festival was all about: ‘Now, now, now is all there is. Love is all there is. Love is. Love.’”
Who paid for this love-feast? Apparently, the unloved ones: those who know that there is more than the “now” for a human being — and that without it, even the “now” is not possible.
The citizens of Bethel, the nearest community, were the victims, abandoned by their law-enforcing agencies. These victims were neither bums nor millionaires; they were farmers and small businessmen, who worked hard to earn their living. Their stories, reported in The New York Times (August 20), sound like those of the survivors of a foreign invasion.
Richard C. Joyner, the operator of the local post office and general store on Route 17B, “said that the youngsters at the festival had virtually taken over his property — camping on his lawn, making fires on his patio and using the backyard as a latrine. . . .
“Clarence W. Townsend, who runs a 150-acre dairy farm . . . was shaken by the ordeal. ‘We had thousands of cars all over our fields,’ he said. ‘There were kids all over the place. They made a human cesspool of our property and drove through the cornfields. There’s not a fence left on the place. They just tore them up and used them for firewood.’ . . .
“‘My pond is a swamp [said Royden Gabriele, another farmer]. I’ve got no fences and they used my field as a latrine. They picked corn and camped all over the place. They just landed wherever they could. . . . We pulled 30 of them out of the hay mow smoking pot. . . . If they come back next year I don’t know what I’ll do,’ Mr. Gabriele said. ‘If I can’t sell, I’ll just burn the place down.’”
No love — or thought — was given to these victims by the unsanitary apostles of love (and someday the world will discover that without thought there can be no love). Furthermore, the universal loving was not extended by the promoters of the festival even to one another. “In the aftermath of Woodstock,” writes The New York Times (September 9), “as the euphoria of the ‘three days of peace and music’ dies out, the tales of the problems, the bickering, the power struggles and the diverse philosophies of the four young businessmen are coming out.”
The promoters were four young men, all of them in their twenties; one of them, the heir to a drugstore products fortune, pledged his fortune to cover the festival’s losses. Inasmuch as the Woodstock hordes broke down the ticket-selling procedure, and half the people got in without paying the $7 admission, the fair was “a financial disaster,” according to the young heir who said (in an earlier story) that his debts might reach $2 million.
Now the four promoters are splitting up and fighting over control of the Woodstock Ventures Corporation.
One of them was described as “a hippie who keeps one foot in the financial world at all times” and as a boy “who eschews shoes, shirts and barbers (but who likes chauffeured Cadillacs and overseas jet travel and plunges in the stock market) . . .” All of them, apparently, have connections with “several large Establishment-oriented corporations and Wall Street investment firms [who] are interested in cashing in on the youth market . . .”
One of them stated openly: “Maybe the best way to define the Underground Industrial Complex . . . is materialistic people of the underground trying to make money off of a generation of underground kids who feel they aren’t materialistic.”
The problems that plagued these promoters “before, during and after the festival reflect the difficulties in merging the ideas of ‘making money off the kids’ and trying to let the kids believe that a rock festival, for example, is, as [one of them] likes to put it, ‘a groovy meeting of the tribes, a part of the revolution.’”
If this is disgusting, there is something more disgusting still: the psychology of those hundreds of thousands of “underground kids” — who, in justice, deserve no better.
Under the title “Woodstock: Like It Was,” The New York Times (August 25) published a lengthy interview with six young people who had attended the festival. The interview gives only their first names; five boys: Steve, Lindsey, Bill, Jimmy and Dan; and one girl: Judy. Most of them were college students; the youngest one was “a 16-year-old junior at one of the city’s better private schools. . . . All were from comfortable middle-class backgrounds.”
I shall quote some of this interview. It is a remarkable psychological document.
“Q. Why did you want to go [to the festival]?
“Lindsey. It was the music. I wanted to go because of the music. That was the only reason.
“Judy. They had the most fantastic line-up of stars that I’ve ever heard about, more than any place I’ve ever heard of, better than Newport.
“Q. Did you have any idea where you’d sleep or what there would be to eat?
“Judy. Well, we drove down in a caravan of two cars — there were four girls and two guys — but we were supposed to meet 20 or 30 other people who were driving down from New Hampshire and they were supposed to bring a tent, but we never met each other. We just scattered.
“Q. What about food?
“Judy. We brought a bag of carrots. And some soda.
“Q. Did you expect to be able to buy more there?
“Judy. We never really thought about it.”
When they were asked what they felt at the scene, Judy answered: “I just had a feeling that, wow, there are so many of us, we really have power. I’d always felt like such a minority. But I thought, wow, we’re a majority — it felt like that. I felt, here’s the answer to anyone who calls us deviates.
“Q. Was that before you heard any music?
“Judy. I never made it to the concert. I never heard any music at all.
“Q. The whole weekend?
“Judy. Yeh. The whole weekend.”
Further: “All the participants stressed a sense of what they called ‘community.’ . . .
“Steve. Everyone came there to be together — not that everyone would cease to be an individual — but everyone came there to be able to express their life style. . . .
“Q. Was there a lot of sharing?
“A voice. Everything was shared. . . .
“Bill. I was sitting in a group of people and it was hot and the sun was beating down. All of a sudden you’d have a box of Cocoa Puffs hit you in the side. They’d say, ‘Take a handful and pass it on.’ And like Saturday afternoon we were sitting there and this watermelon came by with three mouthfuls taken out of it. You were supposed to take a bite and pass it on. Because some guy three rows over said, ‘Give those people some watermelon.’”
Further: “All the panel participants carried some kind of drug to the festival — mostly marijuana. . . . Not infrequently drugs were given away by young people eager to share. What couldn’t be had free could be bought from dealers roaming freely through the crowd. . . . Most of the participants regarded the drugs as an essential part of the scene . . .
“Q. How much of the time were you people up there stoned [i.e., deeply drugged]?
“Lindsey. About 102 percent. . . .
“Q. Could you have had the festival without the drugs?
“Steve. I’m sure there were people there you would have had trouble with if there had not been drugs there.”
One of the boys remarked that some of the older ones were using cocaine.
“Q. The older ones? How old?
“Judy. About 24 or 26.”
When they were asked what they wanted to be in the future, they answered as follows:
“Jimmy. All my life I’ve had just about everything I want. And I have to have whatever I want for the rest of my life, except from now on I have to begin to think of how to provide it for myself. And I don’t want to work because I can’t have everything and do everything I want if I have to stay in the same place from 9 to 5.
“Judy. I’m going to try everything at least once. I lived on a communal farm for a month on the Cape. And, well, I liked it and I really enjoyed staying there and I’ve always wanted to go back and try this thing again, grow tomatoes and things.
“Q. Do you want a family?
“Judy. One child. Just, you know, to procreate. But I don’t want a family because I don’t want to get into that much responsibility. I want to be able to move. I want to be able to leave at any time. I don’t want that much restriction.”
Further: “Q. Was sex an important part of the scene [at Woodstock]?
“Dan. It was just a part. I don’t know if it was an important part or not.
“Steve. In any society of 500,000 people over the course of three days you’re going to have sex — let’s face it.
“Jimmy. . . . They were no more free or less free in Woodstock than they are any other place.
“Dan. There was some society to what people did. I mean, they waited until night.
“Q. You mean there were certain standards of decorum?
“Dan. I think there were, yes. People still have some reservations. Some. Not as many.”
Has it ever occurred to you that it is not an accident, but the psychological mechanism of projection that has made people of this kind choose to call their opponents “pigs”?
These are the young people whom the press is hailing as a “new culture” and as a movement of great moral significance — the same press and the same intellectuals who dismissed or denounced Apollo 11 as “mere technology.”
Of the publications I have read, Newsweek was the most fastidious in regard to Woodstock: it offered no praise. The New York Times started by denouncing the festival in an editorial entitled “Nightmare in the Catskills” (August 18), but reversed itself the next day and published an editorial with a softened tone.
Time magazine went whole hog: it published an essay under the title “The Message of History’s Biggest Happening” (August 29). This included such statements as: “As the moment when the special culture of U.S. youth of the ’60s openly displayed its strength, appeal and power, it may well rank as one of the significant political and sociological events of the age.” And: “The spontaneous community of youth that was created at Bethel was the stuff of which legends are made . . .”
Life magazine straddled the fence. It published a special edition devoted to the Woodstock festival; the best skill that technology has created in the field of color photography was used to fill that issue with beautiful pictures of scummy young savages. And only toward the end of the two laudatory articles did the writer strike a note of alarm: “The great stoned rock show had worked a countermiracle, trading on the freedom to get stoned, transforming it into a force that tamed the crowd and extracted its compliance. Not that anyone minded, of course — the freedom to get stoned was all the freedom they wanted. . . . In the cold acid light, the spoiled field took on the aspect of an Orwellian concentration camp stocked with drugs and music and staffed with charming police. The [loud]speaker’s coaxing voice only enriched the nightmare . . . I fear it will grow groovier in memory, when the market in madness leads on to shows we’d rather not see.”
I found one brief letter to the editor of The New York Times (September 3), as a lone voice of cognitive and moral sanity. It said, in part: “Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of this event, if we are forced to regard the festival as symbolic, is the awful mindless conformity of external appearance and behavior, and the manifest desperation of this lonely herd of pilgrims doing what Dharma demands — the lack of personal will or spirit . . .”
These publications demonstrate that the hippies are right in one respect: the culture of today’s Establishment is done for, it is rotted through and through — and rebelling against it is like rebelling against a dead horse.
The hippies are wrong, however, when they fancy themselves to be rebels. They are the distilled essence of the Establishment’s culture, they are the embodiment of its soul, they are the personified ideal of generations of crypto-Dionysians now leaping into the open.
Among the various types of today’s younger generation, the hippies are the most docile conformists. Unable to generate a thought of their own, they have accepted the philosophical beliefs of their elders as unchallengeable dogma — as, in earlier generations, the weakest among the young conformed to the fundamentalist view of the Bible.
The hippies were taught by their parents, their neighbors, their tabloids and their college professors that faith, instinct and emotion are superior to reason — and they obeyed. They were taught that material concerns are evil, that the State or the Lord will provide, that the Lilies of the Field do not toil — and they obeyed. They were taught that love, indiscriminate love, for one’s fellow-men is the highest virtue — and they obeyed. They were taught that the merging of one’s self with a herd, a tribe or a community is the noblest way for men to live — and they obeyed.
There isn’t a single basic principle of the Establishment which they do not share — there isn’t a belief which they have not accepted.
When they discovered that this philosophy did not work — because, in fact, it cannot work — the hippies had neither the wit nor the courage to challenge it; they found, instead, an outlet for their impotent frustration by accusing their elders of hypocrisy — as if hypocrisy were the only obstacle to the realization of their ideals. And — left blindly, helplessly lobotomized in the face of an inexplicable reality that is not amenable to their feelings — they have no recourse but to the shouting of obscenities at anything that frustrates their whims, at men or at a rainy sky, indiscriminately, with no concept of the difference.
It is typical of today’s culture that these exponents of seething, raging hostility are taken as advocates of love.
Avowed anti-materialists whose only manifestation of rebellion and of individualism takes the material form of the clothes they choose to wear, are a pretty ridiculous spectacle. Of any type of nonconformity, this is the easiest to practice, and the safest.
But even in this issue, there is a special psychological component: observe the hippies’ choice of clothing. It is not intended to make them look attractive, but to make them look grotesque. It is not intended to evoke admiration, but to evoke mockery and pity. One does not make oneself look like a caricature unless one intends one’s appearance to plead: Please don’t take me seriously.
And there is a kind of malicious wink, a contemptuous sneer, in the public voices acclaiming the hippies as heroes.
This is what I would call “the court-jester premise.” The jester at the court of an absolute monarch was permitted to say anything and to insult anyone, even his master, because the jester had assumed the role of a fool, had abdicated any claim to personal dignity and was using self-abasement as his protection.
The hippies are a desperate herd looking for a master, to be taken over by anyone; anyone who would tell them how to live, without demanding the effort of thinking. Theirs is the mentality ready for a Führer.
The hippies are the living demonstration of what it means to give up reason and to rely on one’s primeval “instincts,” “urges,” “intuitions” — and whims. With such tools, they are unable to grasp even what is needed to satisfy their wishes — for example, the wish to have a festival. Where would they be without the charity of the local “squares” who fed them? Where would they be without the fifty doctors, rushed from New York to save their lives — without the automobiles that brought them to the festival — without the soda pop and beer they substituted for water — without the helicopter that brought the entertainers — without all the achievements of the technological civilization they denounce? Left to their own devices, they literally didn’t know enough to come in out of the rain.
Their hysterical incantations of worship of the “now” were sincere: the immediate moment is all that exists for the perceptual-level, concrete-bound, animal-like mentality; to grasp “tomorrow” is an enormous abstraction, an intellectual feat open only to the conceptual (i.e., the rational) level of consciousness.
Hence their state of stagnant, resigned passivity: if no one comes to help them, they will sit in the mud. If a box of Cocoa Puffs hits them in the side, they’ll eat it; if a communally chewed watermelon comes by, they’ll chew it; if a marijuana cigarette is stuck into their mouth, they’ll smoke it. If not, not. How can one act, when the next day or hour is an impenetrable black hole in one’s mind?
And how can one desire or feel? The obvious truth is that these Dionysian desire-worshipers do not really desire anything. The little parasite who declared: “I have to have whatever I want for the rest of my life,” did not know what he wanted; observe the “whatever” in his statement. Neither did the girl who announced that she would “try everything at least once.” All of them are looking desperately for somebody who will provide them with something they will be able to enjoy or to desire. Desires, too, are a product of the conceptual faculty.
But there is one emotion which the hippies do experience intensely: chronic fear. If you have seen any of them on television, you have seen it leaping at you from the screen. Fear is their brand, their hallmark; fear is the special vibration by which they claim to recognize one another.
I have mentioned the nature of the bond uniting the admirers of Apollo 11: the brotherhood of values. The hippies, too, have a brotherhood, but of a different kind: it is the brotherhood of fear.
It is fear that drives them to seek the warmth, the protection, the “safety” of a herd. When they speak of merging their selves into a “greater whole,” it is their fear that they hope to drown in the undemanding waves of unfastidious human bodies. And what they hope to fish out of that pool is the momentary illusion of an unearned personal significance.
But all discussions or arguments about the hippies are almost superfluous in the face of one overwhelming fact: most of the hippies are drug addicts.
Is there any doubt that drug addiction is an escape from an unbearable inner state, from a reality one cannot deal with, from an atrophying mind one can never fully destroy? If Apollonian reason were unnatural to man, and Dionysian “intuition” brought him closer to nature and truth, the apostles of irrationality would not have to resort to drugs. Happy, self-confident men do not seek to get “stoned.”
Drug addiction is the attempt to obliterate one’s consciousness, the quest for a deliberately induced insanity. As such, it is so obscene an evil that any doubt about the moral character of its practitioners is itself an obscenity.
Such is the nature of the conflict of Apollo versus Dionysus.
You have all heard the old bromide to the effect that man has his eyes on the stars and his feet in the mud. It is usually taken to mean that man’s reason and his physical senses are the element pulling him down to the mud, while his mystical, supra-rational emotions are the element that lifts him to the stars.
This is the grimmest inversion of many in the course of mankind’s history. But, last summer, reality offered you a literal dramatization of the truth: it is man’s irrational emotions that bring him down to the mud; it is man’s reason that lifts him to the stars.