Over the years since Reich's publication the mainstream media have placed much emphasis on the relative affluence of the young people of '60s generation. Leading journalists and TV hosts often supposed that an unprecedented rise in material wealth was somehow causative of the rebellious spirit that was the hallmark of the youth at that time.
It is clear, however, that great waves of alienation with modern western society had already swelled in the hearts of many individuals that were born in a different time altogether. As much as many former hipsters would hate the thought, the real depths of dissent that shaped the events of the 1960s may have actually come from their parents' and earlier generations. A small, particularly articulate and thoughtful number of people such as the likes of Martin Luther King, Charles Reich (as above), John Kenneth Galbraith, C Wright Mills, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lewis Mumford, Laurence J Peter, Barry Commoner, Karl Polanyi and others took the limelight and shaped the thoughts of many a draft-dodger and pot-smoking greenie.
What was new and potentially revolutionary was the new medium of television and the ubiquity of cheap books; these people mostly understood how to use these media to best advantage. They knew well the ways and means by which public consciousness was actively manipulated and sought to explain this predicament to their large audiences.
In 1970, for instance, Charles Reich drew upon the thinking of Marshall McLuhan to explain how the medium of our lives was the real message:
"....let us borrow some thinking frm Marshall McLuhan. A young boy asks his father, "What do you do, Daddy?". Here is how the father might answer:
"I struggle with crowds, traffic jams and parking problems for about an hour. I talk a great deal on the telephone to people I hardly know. I dictate to a secretary and then proof-read what she types. I have all sorts of meetings wtih people I don't know very well or like very much. I eat lunch in a big hurry and can't taste or remember what I've eaten. I hurry, hurry, hurry. I spend my time in very functional offices with very functional furniture, and I never look at the weather or sky or people passing by. I talk but I don't sing or dance or touch people. I spend the last hour, all alone, struggleing with crowds, traffic and parking."
More likely, the father would respond to his son by saying:
"I am a lawyer. I help people and businesses to solve their problems. I help everybody to know the rules that we all have to live by, and to get along according to these rules."
Reich moves his focus onto the trapped realm of the modern 'liberal-intellectual'. No matter how great their sophistication, he says, they still keep to such goals as excellence, approval of colleagues, recognition and achievement. They may have fewer myths or illusions, but their despairing view of life's possibilities bar their way to a new consciousness and their dependence on goals involving outside approval deprives them of courage to be themselves.
To profess freedom without a change in personal consciousness it seems to me is like wanting the thunder and lightening without the rain, to want the sun without the heat and the light.
“No creature can learn that which his heart has no shape to hold.”**
** 'All the Pretty Horses', McCarthy 1992