Third in a Series
In the view of Reality held by the post-modern mind, we suggested, one possible pattern of action is dictated by the Self’s search for security in a world wherein only the Self and the Unpattern are Real. This implies conformity in order to gain emotional security, and such conformity is likely to involve deference to a Group which still retains many of the forms of (vanishing) modern society. But we may also expect Groups which increasingly reject many of these inherited forms and “values,” scorning the first Group as “phony,” ignoring “the Cheshire Cat smile” or remnant of the once formidable body of modern values, and approving modes of action more directly centered around the Self as Reality.
There is some evidence for such an attitude among many teen-agers, and sub-teen-agers (that is, those who know Hiroshima only as “something which happened before they were born”). The late Robert Lindner, well-known psychiatrist and a consultant to Maryland’s state prison system, concluded that “The youth of today is suffering from a severe, collective mental illness … has abandoned solitude in favor of pack-running, of predatory assembly, of great collectivities that bury, if they do not destroy, individuality. Into these mindless associations the young flock like cattle. The fee they pay for initiation is abandonment of self and immersion in the herd.… The youth of the world is touched with madness, literally sick.… It is not youth alone that has succumbed to psychopathy, but nations, populations.…! From loss of identity has come insecurity, and this has bred the soul-destroying plague we know as mass psychopathy.… Mutinous adolescents and their violent deeds now appear as specimens of the shape to come, as models of an emergent type of humanity (Time, Dec. 6, 1954). And, elsewhere, “We are entering an era which will be dominated by primitive emotional appeals rather than reason.… If society continues its present course, we will unquestionably enter another dark age” (New York Times, Apr. 16, 1956).
Such analysis presupposes, of course, the values of the modern mind (or of the Christian mind). For the view of Reality held by the post-modern mind implies that the things which so alarm Dr. Lindner are really quite sensible and consistent. One man’s Dark Age, after all, may be, from another view of Reality, another’s Golden Age.
Joost Van Meerlo, one of the West’s top experts on brain-washing techniques, speaking of mass participation in rock-and-roll, mentions “prehistoric rhythmic trance … mass ecstasy … Duce, Duce, Duce … as in drug addiction, a thousand years of civilization fall away … depersonalization of the individual … ecstatic veneration of mental decline and passivity … infantile … vicarious … pandemic funeral dances” (New York Times, Feb. 23, 1957). To the extent that we deal here with a mind differing from the modern mind, perhaps there is some point to these remarks.
THE BLIND WORSHIPPERS
When rock-and-roll idol Elvis Presley appeared in Oklahoma City, he needed police protection from adoring teen-agers, who proceeded to mob a reporter who had interviewed Presley: “Touch him!” cried one girl, “maybe he’s touched Elvis!” (Time, May 14, 1956).
RCA alone sold over 13 million Presley records in one year. Over $20 million worth of Presley-approved products were sold to teen-agers (New York Times, Feb. 23, 1957).
Three thousand Florida teen-agers battled police and National Guards who tried to stop a teen-age hot-rod drag race down the main street of a resort town (Cleveland Plain Dealer, Feb. 26, 1956).
In New York, crowds of sobbing teen-age girls flocked around disc jockey Alan Freed, fired on suspicion of receiving payola (Time, Dec. 7, 1959).
Bill Haley, rock-and-roll idol, was mobbed by shrieking teen-agers at Waterloo Station when he arrived for an English tour (Time, Feb. 25, 1957).
West Germany’s leading rock-and-roll artist, “Conny,” age 15, has some 10,000 enrolled in her fan clubs, and sold nearly a million and a half records in one year. Twelve-year-old “Gabriele” and nine-year-old “Brigette” also have had major rock-and-roll hits (Time, Dec. 8, 1958).
Hundreds of teen-age girls battled Glasgow police in a rock-and-roll riot, trying to get to the dressing room of “Livin’ Doll” Cliff Richards (New York Times, Oct. 1, 1959).
West German disc jockey Werner Goetze described teen-agers as “clannish addicts … whose god is Elvis Presley, whose idols are their own stars, whose encyclopedia is the comics” (Time, Dec. 8, 1958).
In Sydney, some 700 shrieking teen-agers broke chairs and pushed down music stands in a wild effort to get near rock-and-roll singer Crash Craddock (Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jan. 24, 1960).
Japanese teen-agers go ape over American rock-and-roll; a rockabilly (rock-and-roll plus hillbilly) troupe drew 50,000 teen-agers in Tokyo in one week (Time, Apr. 14, 1958).
American-influenced Japanese younger generation are characterized as stressing deep cynicism and abandonment (Time, Dec. 17, 1956). Suicide is the leading cause of death in Japan’s 15–24 age group (Time, Jan. 26, 1959).
Soviet Culture, a Russian newspaper, denounces “stilyags” (juvenile delinquents), who are becoming a serious problem, as influenced by Western rock-and-roll ethos (New York Times, May 4, 1955). A Moscow “stilyag,” caught robbing stores, denounced work and study as “useless” (Time, Nov. 3, 1958).
The trend has become so significant that it is now reflected by the movies and other mass media. Movie critic Gerald Weales, speaking of stars such as Jimmy Dean (whom many teen-agers believe did not die but lives on), Elvis Presley, Sal Mineo, and others, sums up his impressions thus: “The glorification of the immature has finally hit Hollywood.… The new hero is an adolescent. Whether he is 20 or 30 or 40, he is 15 and feels excessively sorry for himself. He is a lone wolf who wants to belong, but even when he is a member of a gang or group he is still alone.… He can only communicate through a random kind of violence.… The extent to which the sad-boy hero has taken over contemporary culture (is due to) a kinship between himself and the times in which he operates” (Reporter, Dec. 13, 1956). Harrison Salisbury, in an authoritative treatment of New York gangs, concludes that “gang boys perceive the gang as a source of security” (New York Times, Oct. 19, 1958).
It should be noted again that (if our suggestions about post-modernity are correct) this behavior pattern makes “good sense” within the newer outlook, with its definition of Reality as only the Self and the Unpattern, with any values not created by the Self being unreal. Sociologist H. Shibusawa holds that “rockabilly singers are the preachers of a strange new faith: the lowteens are the faith’s blind worshippers” (Time, Apr. 14, 1958).
BEATNIKS AND SUCH
We have been considering the type of ethic resulting from the search for the Self’s security by conforming to the Group. But such an ethic (perhaps dimly related to the philosophy of Dewey) is not the only possible ethic within the framework of the post-modern mind’s definition of Reality as Self and Unpattern.
An attempt can be made to find value for the Self in its freedom—its creative freedom from the Unpattern (the blind world of unfree Being)—as by Sartre.
Or, value for the Self may be sought in contemplation of, or intuition of, the world of Unpattern as something which is mysterious and wonderful, as by Heidegger.
In either case, the Group is regarded as a hindrance to the finding of value within the cosmos of Self and Unpattern. The Group becomes, then, a false road, something to be avoided, and indeed denounced. The Group is a “phoney” answer, a “square” answer, a “false” answer, which stifles the true answer. That is, the Group entangles the free Self, and prevents intuition of the Unpattern.
The attack on the Group as a false way of approach to Reality, whether by the philosopher, by the writer, or by the disciple, is often extreme and angered. Sartre can write a play about nausea; Kerouac writes shouting novels; Ginsberg writes frenetic poems. And this anger has, in a sense, a “religious” concern, for it is basically dealing with the nature of Reality. Thus Kerouac can speak of the “holyboy road,” Ginsberg of the “madman bum and angel,” and of “angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection …” (Howl), Lamantia writes “Come Holy Ghost, for we can rise out of this jazz” (Time, Feb. 3, 1958), and Camus insists with religious intensity that “man must admit that life has meaning only when he admits that it has no meaning” (Time, Oct. 3, 1955). Kerouac has referred to “beat” or “a great revival of religious mysticism,” which “believes in love (of) everything,” which holds that “we are all empty phantoms … and yet, all is well.… We’re all in Heaven now, really” (Time, Feb. 3, 1958). And, if Reality is the Self and the Unpattern, this is sensible enough; indeed, as he continues, when asked whether God exists: “We can give it any name … god … tangerine.…” Such an approach emphasizes (in our analysis) one alternative: finding value for the Self in the intuitive, wondering acceptance of the Unpattern (note, for example, Kerouac’s prose: “grayscreen gangster cocktail rainyday roaring gunshot spectral immortality B-movie tire-pile black-in-the-mist Wildamerica”). Some existentialist philosophers also propose this. In the philosophy of Heidegger, for example, meaning and value in the old (objective) sense have died with the death of “the old God” and the Weltnacht which follows; but “meaning” and “value” in a new sense may emerge from the World of Being, the wondrous Everything-Nothing, the Beyond-all-values—the Unpattern, in our term. We must always act so as to remain “open” to this world of Being. If we do not, the Self lives “unauthentically,” as when it conforms to a Group, and closes itself off from the Beyond-all-categories. Or, in more popular form, the same emphasis appears in Zen Buddhism, now undergoing a minor boom in this country especially among the “beatniks”: Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums is a novel about Zen’s glories. Zen holds to a passive emptiness (a “being open”) in the face of Reality, which is Unpattern. To impose logic on Reality (Unpattern) is nonsense. Does life have meaning, is Christ God, is history true, is there life after death?—these become nonsense questions. The purpose of Zen training is to shock the student into a realization of this. This satori (roughly, explosion of enlightenment) is produced by various means, such as the koan (roughly, shock-question). And it is not far (if our suggestions are correct) from the koan to the shock-answers given by “beatniks” Ginsberg, Corso, and Orlovsky at a plush Chicago cocktail party in their honor: “don’t shoot the wart-hog!” or “Fried shoes! Like, it means nothing,” or “my mystical shears snip snip snip” (Time, Feb. 9, 1959). Or, the shock-language used by Ginsberg in a fairly good poem (Howl): “Real holy laughter in the river … the wild eyes! the holy yells!… our own souls airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself imaginary walls collapse O skinny legions run outside.”
SECURITY IN THE SELF
If the Unpattern is seen as wonderful and glorious, the Self may find security in it. If not, the Self must find security in itself. The most consistent exponent of this position is Sartre, who (with his followers) has also had a notable influence on the “beat” group. The Self finds security in itself, for it is alone in the world of Unpattern, the blind world of unfree Being, the threatening world of the Determined. The Self is defined by its non-Being; it is Existence, not Being; it is Free. It must maintain this Freedom at all costs against the world of Being (Unpattern), and conformity to the Group is a threat to this Freedom. Man is condemned—it is the human condition—to the glorious though perhaps illusory attempt to be completely Free, to be God, to deify the Self. All pattern is created by the Self, and the Self cannot be bound by what it creates. We are not bound (for example) by History; it is true (that is, “accepted by the Self”—for only the Self and Unpattern are Real) only if we accept it. (Norman Mailer, a semi-“beat” novelist, defines a hipster [“beat”] as “a man who has divorced himself from history, who does not give a … about the past,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jan. 28, 1960.) Even death is a triumph, for we then escape completely from the power of the world of Being.
The literature of Self and Unpattern, particularly in the anti-Conformity type of post-modern mind, is expanding and indeed going beyond such “elder statesmen” as Sartre and Camus. American “beats” are experimenting with movies (“Don’t Pull My G-String,” with Kerouac and others) and lines like “Is alligators holy, Bishop? Is everything holy? Are we all in heaven now?” (Time, Dec. 14, 1959). In France, the “New Realists” (Robbe-Grillet, Sarraute, and others) are writing novels in which, as Robbe-Grillet puts it, “the world is neither significant nor absurd. It simply is” (Commonweal, May 8, 1959). And Andre Gorz’s current The Traitors (with an ecstatic introduction by Sartre) describes the author’s attempt “not to be here; to be only a transparent, ineffable and therefore invulnerable presence” (Time, Jan. 11, 1960).
If only the Self and the Unpattern are Real, and since Truth and Morality in any objective sense are thus obviously nonsense, it follows that any means to “dig” Reality (whether understood as Unpattern or Self) are “true” and “good” so long as they do not limit the Freedom of the Self (in one formulation) or the Openness to Unpattern (in another formulation). Thus, the “beat” will consider it “good” to try narcotics, sex, poetry, or whatever else he wishes in his search for the Unpattern (Self’s Freedom).
The Reverend Pierre DeLattre, who runs a mission to the San Francisco “beats” for the Congregational Church, has made some of the same points in a different context. The “beats,” he says, are “trying to gain a more direct insight into reality through emotional and intuitive forms of experience … through poetry, jazz, various narcotics.… (Their community is) one of the most sexually disinterested places I know and one of the most pacifist communities I have ever lived in.… There is a search here for spiritual vitality …” (New York Times, Jan. 31, 1960). The Reverend Robert Spike, Congregational minister and NCC official, suggests that there are “real affinities between this American type of existentialism and the Christian faith” and that the beat world “is a caricature of Christian society” (Christianity and Crisis, Apr. 8, 1958). And indeed, this we should expect, for the “beats” or the existentialists or the Conformists (if our suggestions are correct) are all adherents of a new view of Reality, and thus in a sense are adherents of a new faith.
We are a people striving anxiously
and with an unparalleled vigor
for things we neither need
nor can explain to God.
TERENCE Y. MULLINS
Jacob J. Vellenga served on the National Board of Administration of the United Presbyterian Church from 1948–54. Since 1958 he has served the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. as Associate Executive. He holds the A.B. degree from Monmouth College, the B.D. from Pittsburgh-Xenia Seminary, Th.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and D.D. from Monmouth College, Illinois.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingAfter Nashville, Moral Numbness Is Our EnemyShootings have become normal to the American public. But as Christians, we know better.
- From the MagazineIs It Time to Quit ‘Quiet Time’?Effective biblical engagement must be about more than one’s personal experience with Scripture.
- Editor's PickLiberty Appoints Retired General, Air Force Chaplain as New PresidentAlumnus Dondi E. Costin steps in to lead years after Jerry Falwell Jr.’s scandal.