Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"Their protest will continue because it is a biological necessity. By nature the young are in the forefront of those who live and fight for Eros against Death . . . Today the fight for life, the fight for Eros, is the political fight."

--Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization

Marching through a gantlet of students in 1969, a university instructor offers his benediction. Like the Hierophant of the Tarot he raises two fingers in a sign of peace. But this hierophant's blessing is also a signal of solidarity. College campuses in the 1960s were citadels of mobilization for the ideas that drove the Counterculture. And during this era the model of the didactic teacher, the wise disseminator of a society's inherited wisdom, the transubstantiating interpreter of thought into action, was turned upside down. Increasingly, students proposed the conversations and wrote the agendas for inquiry. The Counterculture generated a ferment of rebellious intellectual discourse, flooding the academy with an array of new ideas that shattered perceptions, motivated actions, and threatened traditions of scholarly authority.

One who sought to change the world was psychologist and philosopher Herbert Marcuse. In his book One Dimensional Man (1964) Marcuse railed against the irrationality of a seemingly rational society, warning that traditional social systems created "one-dimensional" humans lulled into a passive existence as consumers. Marcuse urged a revolution in consciousness, what he referred to as a "Great Refusal" that could "break this containment and explode society." Despite being a neo-Marxist, Marcuse saw little difference between the United States and the Soviet Union. Russian totalitarianism was nearly the equivalent of the U.S. "democratic totalitarianism" of consumerism. Addressing Berkeley students in 1965, Marcuse urged them to use universities as a base to organize resistance to the social order.

Norman O. Brown was a thinker who sought to change the self. In his 1959 book Life Against Death Brown identified denial of the body as the neurosis of human societies and argued that psychology would never "cure" individuals unless it could radically change society's neurotic structure. Brown supported human desire against what Freud described as the sublimation essential to social cohesion. Like Marcuse, he rejected a goal-oriented culture in favor of living in the present and called for a return to "polymorphous perversity" which he described as an erotization of the entire body, rather than society's specialized bias for genital sex. Brown's sex-positive championing of humanity introduced sexuality as a revolutionary battleground. By describing polymorphous perversity as a positive response to repression, he challenged prevailing (and controlling) patriarchal models of sexual behavior. Brown's thesis eventually was enlisted to legitimize gratification as a human entitlement and to support sexual freedom, women's liberation, and gay rights. If Marcuse articulated the Counterculture revolution in the streets, Brown argued the revolution in the bedroom. Both uprisings, political and sexual, had irrepressible impacts.