Friday, October 30, 2009

A revolution is not a change in management. It is a change in man.

Forty years ago many writers and thinkers and poets (and even economists) talked of a revolution that was coming. The 'Age of Acquarious', the 'Limits to Capitalism', 'The Greening of America', the 'New World New Mind', the 'Limits to Growth' and 'The End of Certainty' etc.

One of these writers, Carl Rogers [1], wrote about the increasing disbelief in the democratic process in the early 1970s. He also stated unequivocably 'that a revolution was coming', not 'a gun carrying army with banners, not in manifestos or declarations, but through the emergence of a new kind of person, thrusting up through the dying, yellowing, putrefying leaves and stalks of our fading institutions.'

This new kind of person, Rogers wrote, would have the following traits:

** deep concern for authenticity against the climate of half-truth, exaggeration, scandal, sensation and double talk, or talk without meaning at all;

** an opposition to all highly structured, inflexible and impersonal institutions;

** fundamental indifference to material comforts and rewards, although accustomed to affluence [2];

** deep desire for close personal associations, not confined to the old 'familiar areas', with all others excluded;

** a rejection of national and racial discrimination;

** deep distrust of science and established truth with is so much in the 'head' that in fact it suppresses truth;

** strong desire for self-knowledge including dreams, mediation, mysteries and psychic phenomena, and for feeling and understanding rather than 'knowledge' which seems to have no real social value;

** a feeling of closeness to nature, an identification with it, and a desire to act in no way against it;

** an awareness of living in an ever-changing process in which he or she is vitally alive and willing to risk;

** a trust in one's own experience as a validation of life.

Unfortunately governments and political parties have continued to enforced authoritarian and capitalist hegemonies around the world. They "themselves need transformation almost as much as most of the people who elect them, or comprise them. That hegemony is central in control, bureaucratic in form, relying upon leadership, and embarassed at the very idea of liberation" wrote the ousted left-wing radical of the Australian Whitlam Labor Government, Jim Cairns. [3]

Rogers and Cairns were writing words as a silent plea for the world to find the individual and group strength to counter the zero sum game of imperialism, corporatism, and the coups and wars that go with it. Their predicament was dire and so eloquently put in a song by Simon and Garfunkel:

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share
Noone dare
disturb the sound of silence

Fools said I
you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you ...
Take my arms that I might reach you

But my words like silent raindrops fell...[4]

Decades earlier George Orwell appeared to mirror this message when he wrote despairingly that "Traditions are not killed by facts."

[1] 'The Man and His Ideas', Richard I Evans (ed), EP Dutton and Co Inc New York, 1975. As quoted by Jim Cairns (former Australian Deputy Prime Minister in the early 1970s) in 1976 book entitled 'Oil in Troubled Waters'.

[2] "An important question here is whether affluence is needed to produce the new, emerging person." wrote Jim Cairns

[3] Jim Cairns.1976. 'Oil in Troubled Waters'. Page 151.

[4] Lyrics in the song: 'The Sounds of Silence'. Sung by Simon and Garfunkel

17 comments: said...

Actually looked more like John Lennon's "Imagine" than Simon and Garfunkel to me...

gordon said...

No, it really is S. & G. from the song "Sounds of Silence". That song was a great feature of the film "The Graduate". Remember? Or perhaps you were too young.

Brenda, you might enjoy Arthur Koestler's "The Yogi and the Commissar", an essay which contrasts change through personal transformation with change through improving social/ political institutions. It's a dichotomy which will always be with us, and though I don't think Koestler said the last word, at least he sharpened the issues for a modern audience.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Well, perhaps it was an awkward attempt from me to try and describe a sense of despair I often feel when I write. That words just don't make the grade. That stark evidence staring people in the face doesn't generate urgently needed change.

Thanks, I'll try to check Arthur Koestler's book out. I think I have one of his books already 'Darkness at Noon', sitting on the shelf unread.

Anonymous said...

The change of man described is similar to the transformation from the fourth turning into the first turning as described by Strauss and Howe.

gordon said...

Brenda, "The Yogi and the Commissar" is an essay, published (I think) in 1945 and later republished in a book of essays with the same title. If you find the book, some of the other essays are pretty interesting too.

"Darkness At Noon" is probably K's best known book; I haven't read it either. To me, K. is the author of "The Sleepwalkers", about Copernicus, Kepler and how mediaeval cosmology was overturned. It was Kuhnian before Kuhn. Well worth reading, if you ask me.

Jack said...

Rogers was a humanist first and a psychologist second, though his admirers would have preferred that Rogers be seen the other way round. He understood the role of our social environment and interactions in the development of the mind and seemed to be looking for a way to enhance individual development through the recognition of the turmoil of the world. He understood the need for a humanist approach to life if one defines humanist as focusing on humane behavior. Unfortunately Rogers did not understand that there is nothing inherently humane about human behavior. He seemed to hope that humanism would prevail. Nice idea.

Toby said...

Fascinating post. I only know of Carl Rogers by name, and had a vague idea that he was "new age" before reading this. Thanks for introducing me to him.

I guess the question about affluence hinges upon exposure to a system in decay and access to information that educates about viable alternatives. In that, at least typically, affluence might be considered a precondition for the two qualifiers I mention, then affluence might well be an important component. Certainly if we take affluence to mean relative freedom from immediate material worries such as food and shelter, then it would be a must.

Great post.

Anonymous said...


as we've known for a century, this system of social relations called capitalism has always had a limited shelf life, self-destructs into barbarism or socialism.

'should you choose to accept it', your job - through those means appropriate to the moment and yourself - is to strangle the former and help birth the latter.

do not despair - bend the curve of history

[rogers et al emphasis on the individual favors crisis induced, spiritualist-type 'solutions' which play well to the dominant class and cannot solve]


Myrtle Blackwood said...

Thanks all. I do actually feel a little less despairing after reading what you had to say ;-)

I like this quote by Arne Naess (1977)

"In prevalent individualistic and utilitarian political thinking in western modern industrial states, the terms "self-realization," "self-expression," "self-interest" are used (in ways that assume) the ultimate and extensive incompatibility of the interests of different individuals. In opposition to this trend thee is another, which is based on the hypothesis (that) self-realization cannot develop far without sharing joys and sorrows with others, or more fundamentally, without the development of the narrow ego of the small child into the comprehensive structure of a Self that comprises all human beings. The ecological movement - as many earlier philosophical movements - takes a step further and asks for a development such that there is a deep identification of people with all life."

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Juan: [rogers et al emphasis on the individual favors crisis induced, spiritualist-type 'solutions' which play well to the dominant class and cannot solve]

Could you elaborate, Juan? said...


Just to clarify, I knew it was S&G, just was thinking that maybe Lennon's "Imagine" was even more an expression of what you were getting at.

Anonymous said...


I tend to see a 'person-centered' approach as assisting individuals' acceptance of systemic status quo, as helpful opiates which dull necessary confrontational tendencies and organization so mitigate against overcoming the same social relations which generate the need for those approaches.


Anonymous said...

Wyatt Earp, that cowboy of our childhood - "an American officer of the law in various Western frontier towns, farmer, teamster, buffalo hunter, gambler, saloon-keeper, miner and boxing referee. He is best known for his participation in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, along with Doc Holliday, and two of his brothers, Virgil Earp and Morgan Earp" - died in Los Angeles, where he had been working for Hollywood.

My point? In just 200 years we went from yeoman farmers to cubicle rats, and none of us, given the option, living in one setting would change for the other.

That is a revolution of man.

I do not doubt that, at leaswt with regards to Work Time Reduction, and a post economic society that it will be imposed on us as a necessity. And, we will hardly like it anymore than did our ancestors welcome their eviction from thousands of years of agrarian life

Anonymous said...


'post-economic society' would be a society unable to reproduce itself, would cease to exist -- post-capitalist makes more sense

Anonymous said...

A post-economic society, as I use the term, is a society no longer under the regime of economic laws. It is one in which socially necessary labor time is not, and cannot be, a basis for the organization of productive activty.

In other words, in a post-economic society, productive work is optional.

media said...

r inglehart also had this notion of 'post-materialist consciousness'.

i think he gets this from Frank Tipler's omega-point theory ('physics of immortality') in which, following Georges-Roegescu's entropy law, after the universe has run down and converted all massive matter into radiation , one still has an infinitely living post-materailist consciousness (which Tipler identifies----it seems correctly---with the eternal life of those who are born again, like in virginia---and yes there is one).

Tipler applies poincare's recurrence theorem in the spirit I think of Vellupai or Badiou to show Boltzmann's despair was wrong because you can still have infinite and even creative life (Cantor's paradise) after the heat death of the universe. you just chill.

Regarding 'Imagine', some have argued that one of the main obstacles to semi-utopian thinking of Carl Roger's/Karl Marx's 'new social/ist man (maybe the ladies too in the 'new age' or after the era of Larry Summers)' is somehow a multimillioaire rock star living in a manhattan penthouse who uses his position to put his kids into the front of the line for the music game doesn't seem to really be realistic. In fact, its along the line of Djilas and the 'new class' theory ( using class based rhetoric to hide the fact that you are promoting your own class).

In keeping with this thought first post on my blog would give an alternative to 'Imagine' called 'live in the sky' which is similarily optimistic if not exactly in the same mode (though some would argue its a cover).

Toby said...


I believe post-scarcity, or resource-based economics is technically within our grasp. Such a global adventure would call for a purposeful, total, bottom-up redesign of all infrastructure, for which we have already the technical know-how. The real impediment is we humans and our centuries-old indoctrination. We believe in our billions that labour and sweat-of-the-brow work are Holy Goods (whether we are religious or not), that humans are born greedy, or lazy, or ambitious etc. I don't think any of the above knee-jerk platitudes are true, but they are nevertheless incredibly powerful obstacles to managed change.

Sadly, change seems to be necessarily painful. I'm fighting with a bunch of others to smooth out the possible transition, but guaranteed it is most certainly not.