Pure Freedom Versus Commitment - The changing values of the Counter Culture - By James DeWilde

Published by The Paper, Volume 3, Number 2, September 14, 1970, as a student weekly newspaper for the Loyola College and Sir George Williams University of Montreal. 

Both the college and university merged on August 24, 1974 and created Concordia University.

The article was researched by John Whelan for the Ottawa Beatles Site.

Clean keyboard format has been transcribed underneath the report.



Pure Freedom Versus Commitment - The changing values of the Counter Culture - By James DeWilde

Published by The Paper, Volume 3, Number 2, September 14, 1970, as a student weekly newspaper for the Loyola College and Sir George Williams University of Montreal. 

Let us re-examine the word commitment. Relegated to the garbage pile of commercialized (i.e. prostituted) words of the Sloganist (i.e. Medium - message) world which was the 1960's, it died an ignoble death.

"Smile! You're in the middle of a revolution."

Enter the young.

Troubadors and bombers; acid-heads and urban sociologists. So much for the monolithic view of the youth counter-culture.

Somehow, you have to feel that the class of '75 is drastically different from the class of '70. The Class of '70 wanted with Jim Morrison the world, and it wanted it now. The Class of '75, with Jim Morrison, seems to want someone to touch them.

This is a cultural revolution.

It's not that all revolutions haven't been cultural; it's just that this is the first time that we have admitted it. Marcuse is being replaced by Norman O. Brown; Mao, by encounter groups and astrology, "Commitment", so often misused as a word, was unable to withstand the test of cynicism. It was replaced by the search for something which might be called "pure consciousness". The liberation of satori began to seem more relevant than the liberation of, say, the Canadian Indian from colonized status, or just the average guy from meaningless depersonalizing labour.

What happened? Timothy Leary was around in 1965. The phenomenon of the uncommitted, as Kenneth Keniston calls them, is not new. But the decline of radicalism of the political sort is obvious to any participant in student affairs in the last two or three years. Did the media kill the revolution? Have the Mark Rudds of North American society suffered the price for taking themselves too seriously? Is this just a new cycle in that magnificent sine curve we call 'history'? Are we beginning to realize the futility of politics and start a new, more inevitably successful escapade?  

Yet the question must ultimately be asked: How can we reject political action whom others don't? Will we become silent victims of events like the assassinations at Kent State, the invasion of Cambodia, the less-publicized final purges of the Czechoslovakian Communist party, etc. Even if, as the "uncommitted" maintain, political action is futile, how can man, Camus' eternal Sisyphus, just sit there, chanting "Hare Krishna!", and blissfully contemplating the zodiac while the world ends, not in fire but in suffocation. Granted, if everyone was so concerned with existential pursuits, there would be no need for political action. But, everyone isn't, and until they are ready to be, a total escape from politics can result only in the passive acceptance of an out-of-control technological nightmare which we could very easily watch being created.  

Why are people generally (not just the young) so ready to give up on politics these days? Perhaps it is partly because we are more sophisticated. There are few clear-cut evils left for us to fight. (Thank Goodness for pollution and Spiro Agnew and South Africa). Look at the heroes in MASH. So cool. So sophisticated. Just sit back and enjoy the war. Only a fool would try to change it. Byronic adventures are out this year. And the last dragon perished with the last unicorn.

Perhaps it is also because counter-culture political radicalism, despite the protestations of Abbie Hoffman and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, have, to some extent or another, remained prisoners of Marxian dogma. Marxism fitted in very well with the Jello culture. Pre-packaged instant revolution. It had all the makings of a Hollywood movie or a totalitarian nightmare and somewhere along the line you have to think it contributed to both. Complete with universal truths, historical determinism, and a ready-made utopia emerging from the womb of decadence with the mid-wife called violence assisting. A revolution to end all revolutions. The apocolypse. The world now. Of course, a hundred radicals chanting the inevitability of the proletarian revolution didn't do a damned thing for the people of Little Burgundy. But it did disillusion a number of sincere and sensitive people who saw that the revolution and total redemption were not at hand. It was easier to be the Godard hero who went around each week collecting signatures on a petition demanding the release of political prisoners in (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, Upper Volta, Tchad, Tonga, and the Bronx) than to become involved with (i.e. committed to) the tutoring of the underprivileged, or more correctly, under-righted children. What the world needed was radicalized entomologists like Commoner, eloquently warning the world of the hazards of its ecological madness. What the world needed was radicalized artists, like Picasso, painting the scene at Guernica with a self-transcending vision. What the world needed, and still needs, was very simply more people doing their own thing well.

The process of disillusionment flourished in a Chicago summer and a Prague night two years ago. The demands had not been unrealistic or apocolyptic. "Peace Now!" is not an unreal demand, especially when you're a nineteen-year-old guy from Middletown, U.S.A., who has more interest Rico Carty's batting average than in killing women and children in some country where they number villages because they can't pronounce the names. "Socialism with a human face" was not an unreal demand for those who wanted to storm Kafka's Bastilie-Castle and open it for the people to dance in. The simple dreams were crushed with the apocolyptic visions.

This is the time for the renaissance of the simple dreams and the funeral of the apocolyptic visions. Above all, it is not time to lose faith. It is time to resurrect cliché wisdoms spoken by nameless apochryphal bartenders, like: One knockdown doesn't make a K.O. The fact that we didn't make it the first time is no reason we won't the next time. We have learned from our mistakes and revolutions take many forms.

Some who have rejected politics to persue Zen or the Dionysian bacchanale of Norman O. Brown rightly point out that "we have it now." In other words, that which is the eventual goal of political action can be had by individuals now. But the natural or logical or natural and logical extension of self-realization, self-actualization, self-fulfillment is to reach out to others, to share, to assist others in their self-realization, self-actualization, self-fulfillment (i.e. to become political). True self-actualization does not take place in vacuum.

We are in search of the total man. The urban sociologist reading Lao-Tsu and practising yoga by a silent lake. The artist creating a more aesthetic inner city. The poet as politician. The trick is not to postpone the meditation and the bacchanale until after the revolution, as Marx would have us do. It is instead to integrate them into the life process which is politics. It is to create the total man, whose total and existential selves cooperate and blend harmoniously. The polarities within the counter culture must not be seen as mutually exclusive but as mutually reinforcing.

"Smile! You're in the middle of a revolution". And always will be.

The above article was e-published on August 27, 2020

Related link from the National Film Board of Canada: "Little Burgundy"

When an old area of a city is to be demolished to make way for a new low-rental housing development, is there anything that the residents can do to protect their own interests? This film, produced in 1968, airs such a situation in the Little Burgundy district of Montréal. It shows how citizens organized themselves into a committee that made effective representations to City Hall and influenced the housing policy.

Little Burgundy, Bonnie Sherr Klein & Maurice Bulbulian, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

This page was updated with the inclusion of the NFB video on December 3, 2020