Suzanne Fields

Every generation is sure that its social and cultural trends are here to stay. When history moved slowly before the dawn of the electronic media, it might have seemed so. But with instant communication through cell phones, fax machines, e-mail and Internet meeting places, such as Facebook and YouTube, cultural trends accelerate dramatically. The future as imagined by Generations X, Y or Z is easily blown away by the high velocity winds of change.

Nearly forty years ago this week, more than a half-million young men and women, giddy with their liberated hedonism, descended on an alfalfa field in Woodstock, N.Y., and proclaimed the new consciousness, delivered through drugs, music, sex and unreal optimism. The next year, Charles Reich, a professor at Yale Law School (who should have known better), published "The Greening of America," a best-selling book that foretold of the newest revolution in human affairs, a transcendent form of reasoning heralded by these youthful prophets. He called it Consciousness III.

Consciousness I in his scenario was based on self-interest, competitiveness, suspicion and the perception of the world as "a rat race with no rewards to losers." Consciousness II elevated the "Organization Man," powerless unless he conformed to something larger than himself, and required to pay homage to the prime values of science, technology and organizational planning as ways to triumph over nature, collectively and without individual responsibility.

Consciousness III was born in the alfalfa field, weaned on the naivete of the '60s. It was what could be called "peace(nik) in our time." If the older generation saw problems of work, injustice and war as the inevitable frustrations of the human condition, the Woodstock generation tasted love and liberation in the new Eden and admired their flowering power through the eyes of the sensitive adolescent. These permanent children identified with Holden Caulfield, the fictional character of J.D. Salinger in "The Catcher in the Rye." Professor Reich called him the prototypical hip hero. The despised grown-up world was populated only by old fogie phonies.

To escape his own adulthood, the professor strolled the Yale campus barefooted in bell bottoms emblematic of his liberation: "They give the ankles a special freedom, as if to invite dancing right on the street."

Anyone not hallucinating would have questioned this silly thesis within three months of Woodstock. Another free rock concert, this one in Altamont, Calif., "Woodstock West," descended into blood with a soundtrack. Dozens were injured and one man was fatally stabbed just below the Rolling Stones performing on stage. So much for drugs, sex and loud music as the route to peace and love.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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