Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized System, (1956), pp. ix-14.
In every day’s newspaper there are stories about the two subjects that I have brought together in this book, the disgrace of the Organized System of semimonopolies, government, advertisers, etc., and the disaffection of the growing generation. Both are newsworthily scandalous, and for several years now both kinds of stories have come thicker and faster. It is strange that the obvious connections between them are not played up in the newspapers; nor, in the rush of books on the follies, venality, and stifling conformity of the Organization, has there been a book on Youth Problems in the Organized System.
Those of the disaffected youth who are articulate, however – for instance, the Beat or Angry young men – are quite clear about the connection: their main topic is the “system” with which they refuse to co-operate. They will explain that the ‘good’ jobs are frauds and sells, that it is intolerable to have one’s style of life dictated by Personnel, that a man is a fool to work to pay installments on a useless refrigerator for his wife, that the movies, TV, and Book of the Month Club are beneath contempt, but the Luce publications [Life magazine,Time magazine, Fortune magazine] make you sick to the stomach; and they will describe with accuracy the cynicism and one-upping of the “typical” junior executive. They consider it the part of reason and honor to wash their hands of all of it.
Naturally, grown-up citizens are concerned about the beatniks and delinquents. The school system has been subjected to criticism. And there is a lot of official talk about the need to conserve our human resources lest Russia get ahead of us. The question is why the grownups do not, more soberly, draw the same connections as the youth. Or, since no doubt many people are quite clear about the connection that the structure of society that has become increasingly dominant in our country is disastrous to the growth of excellence and manliness, why don’t more people speak up and say so, and initiate a change? . . . .
This brings me to another proposition about growing up, and perhaps the main theme of this book. Growth, like any ongoing function, requires adequate objects in the environment to meet the needs and capacities of the growing child, boy, youth, and young man, until he can better choose and make his own environment. It is not a “psychological” question of poor influences and bad attitudes, but an objective question of real opportunities for worth-while experience . . . .
(I say the “young men and boys” rather than the “young people” because the problems I want to discuss in this book belong primarily, in our society, to the boys: how to be useful and make something of oneself. A girl does not have to, she is not expected to, “make something” of herself. Her career does not have to self-justifying, for she will have children, which is absolutely self-justifying, like any other natural or creative act. With this background, it is less important, for instance, what job an average young woman works at till she is married.) . . . .
In our society, bright lively children, with the potentiality for knowledge, noble ideals, honest effort, and some kind of worth-while achievement, are transformed into useless and cynical bipeds, or decent young men trapped or early resigned, whether in or out of the organized system. My purpose is a simple one: to show how it is desperately hard these days for an average child to grow up to be a man, for our present organized system of society does not want men. They are not safe. They do not suit.