B U R E A U   O F   P U B L I C   S E C R E T S


San Francisco in the Sixties

Kenneth Rexroth’s complete columns and articles from the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967),
the San Francisco Bay Guardian (1967-1972), and San Francisco Magazine (1967-1975)



San Francisco Magazine


Nixon’s Election
No Sign of a Way Out
In the Grip of the Militantly Mindless
Utopia Belongs to Us
The Ecological Point of No Return
Can San Francisco Be Saved?
Radical Movements on the Defensive
Poetry and Song in Santa Barbara
The Battle for Food
San Francisco’s Artistic Provincialism
San Francisco’s Square “Cultural Elite”
The Ecological Revolution




Nixon’s Election

In his morning after speech, Dick Nixon’s first pledge was to unify the country. This sounds nice, but if he could bring it off peaceably it would be the greatest trick of his career. We are actually faced with the same kind of irreconcilable division that existed at the elections of Lincoln and Wilson. They unified the country all right, or most of it, with the only measure that does unify a nation breaking down in hopeless antagonism — war. It is war that is going to be a major threat for the next four years. Nixon as president certainly cannot be blamed for this. The Eisenhower administration left the country in about as peaceable condition as could have been hoped, in spite of the atom rattling of Brinkman Dulles.

By and large the last Republican administration was the best proof of the practicality of anarchism in modern history. Ike gave the country something close to no government at all. Nothing went seriously wrong. True, we had a depression, mild enough by 1929 standards, but really just the deflationary program of the Eastern financial establishment. Ike exercised his executive prerogative only where it mattered. He always squashed Secretary Dulles as that gentleman drew near the brink of his many brinks. Certainly never in his administration was the country as close to war as it was twice over Jack Kennedy’s Cuber.

Ike inherited a different situation than the present one. The second Truman administration was essentially a Labor Party administration characterized by the rabid Russophobia and Red hunting of organized labor. Truman’s policies were indistinguishable from those of Ernie Bevin, the fat-headed old trade-union warhorse who was Britain’s Labor Foreign Minister and who was only restrained from advocating a preventive war while Our Side had the atoms because Nye Bevan threatened to throw the decision into the streets. However, when Ike took office the United States had an unchallengeable superiority all over the world; the country could afford peace. Where the Americans could not dictate they could at least “contain.” Then, too, compared with today, the domestic peace was profound, practically slumberous. Recession or no, America was reaping the first fruits of the new technology, and becoming an affluent society. And don’t forget — the infamous McCarthy Era blossomed in the Truman Administration.

Everything today has changed. The American System of client states and interlocking alliances has broken down. SEATO has ceased to exist. In fact, certain former members might be called more active enemies of the United States within the limits of their weakness than are Russia and China in the security of their strength. Israel, America’s bastion in the Middle East, is beleaguered, and if Nasser is crazy enough, could vanish in atomic smoke in a matter of minutes.

From Portugal to Taiwan the Americans hold power only by frightfully expensive subsidy of dictatorships, most of which would be overthrown on the first morning of a general war. In addition, most of these juntas are made up of foolish criminal types who haven’t got sense enough not to flaunt their thievery, even selling America’s “guns and butter” to their enemies. NATO has been outflanked by de Gaulle and actually consists, in fact, of West Germany and a large number of loquacious white-haired gentlemen in uniforms and morning coats at a large number of mahogany tables scattered here and there.

Yet in the past year, as any West Point senior could tell you, Lyndon Johnson and Brezhnev-Kosygin have moved their respective countries into attack positions. Heavy concentrations of Soviet troops within a short ramble of Munich and the immense American forces nearby are not postures of defense. Neither is the CIA stickup of Greece. The whole weight of the American strategy is shifting from Spain to Greece. Somebody woke up, after almost thirty years, to Churchill’s advice about “the soft underbelly of Europe.” As in so many years before, the Balkan peoples are caught in this nutcracker. Don’t think for a moment they don’t know it. Even diehard Stalinists in the Balkans are running scared.

We had dinner recently with a Bulgarian Apparatchik, a typical representative of the Iron Curtain government most servile to Moscow. It took only a little wining and dining to reveal that he was scared and wished his country could be moved to some nice safe place like Saskatchewan. The only people whose lands are going to be fought over after the cities are gone, and who are thoroughly in favor of the belligerency of their masters, are the East Germans. The West Germans at least talk “good neighbor policy.” Still, for the past two years, the White House and the Kremlin have advanced their pawns into ever more threatening positions. So far the gambits have been declined by both sides.

This is the chessboard that Dick Nixon takes over. Both sides have played a variety of risky, threatening openings and now the pieces are all deadlocked. This is a situation in chess where even the most conservative players are tempted to do something rash. The President of the United States for the next four years is going to have to be a man of intelligence, patience, skill and cool nerve. Brezhnev-Kosygin is, I mean are, bad actors, maybe, but they are not Helen Gahagan Douglas and they can’t be tricked. There’d better be a “new Nixon.” He can’t end his career as he began it or we’ll all end with him.

Alas, it begins to look as though we are in for a government of hooded men, of masks with unknown faces behind them. Nixon’s appointments so far have been of advertising and PR executives. The representatives of the Eastern Establishment, when approached, have refused. Apparently they foresee debacle and don’t want to be caught in it. So we have government by packagers, and the President becomes just another box of Snappies, or Trend, or perhaps Total. I seriously propose that we amend the Constitution, if this is going to be the case, and let the electorate vote directly for the advertising agency of its choice. Let’s have campaigns of J. Walter Thompson against Young and Rubicam, and be honest about it. Locally, we could vote for PR men and account executives — Grover Sales for Mayor. Gee, we could sure do worse.

[January 1969]



No Sign of a Way Out

Perhaps the apologists for violence in the Roman arena, television, the funny papers, the movies and limited wars have something. Perhaps if the human race cannot discharge its hostilities periodically, hostility festers within the body politic and eventually poisons all its organs and tissues. I don’t think there is much doubt but what we would have had a major war long since if it had not been “impossible.” Eventually of course we will have it with its “unthinkable” consequences, but so far it has been averted by sheer fear, with all the resulting frustrations that come from the lack of quick, easy, lethal solutions.

Frustration and hostility have spread throughout the human race and have become the accepted way of life. Organizations and movements that started out internationalist, socialist, nonviolent, pacifist are today violent, competitive and nationalist externally, and internally they are ridden by unprincipled power struggles and interpersonal hostility. The guardians of law and order have lost all objectivity and are ruled by personal hatred. International politics more and more becomes not an ordinary old-fashioned power struggle but a deadly chess game of vindictive reprisals. CORE was an offshoot of the F.O.R., the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a religious pacifist organization, and its principal founder, Bayard Rustin, is ceaselessly attacked as an Uncle Tom — but what would happen if the founders of the Communist International or the Zionist movement came back to life in a meeting of their descendants?

Beside the chronic hostility of international, intergroup and interpersonal relations there has developed out of the destructive waste of natural resources in the Second World War (when, typically, virgin forests in California were cut down to make logs for corduroy roads in the New Guinea jungle which were then passed over by air transport, and finally the airplanes were burned up rather than flown home) a new kind of exploitation of the environment. Just as “all arts were supposed to approach the condition of music,” so now all business enterprise tends to approach extractive industry. Pinchot’s slogan, “The forests are a crop, not a mine,” has been reversed. Businesses are treated as mines, not crops. “Get it and get out” and “It will last my time,” once the business ideology of Latin America and the colonial world, has now instinctively been adopted by the business community of the metropoles. Where once only Guatemalan buccaneers and Persian generals had Swiss accounts, now in America they are changing from a status symbol like a Mercedes 700 to a commonplace like a Diners Club card. Traveling about the world today, the most conspicuous single thing is the universal destruction of the environment. Lake Erie is an open sewer. Deep in the Alps the Italian lakes are polluted. Over a mile in the air, Lake Arrowhead lies under a thousand feet of smog. The earth is being exploited with no regard to future generations. Is this because nobody believes there are going to be future generations?

Within any of the contexts now operating none of the major problems of the world are solvable. It’s not just that the overpopulation of Latin America is at the mercy of the Pope, and the director of birth control in India does not believe in birth control — we forget that the Kennedy administration, one of the few relatively honest ones in American history, had broken down in complete frustration and pessimism months before the President was assassinated, and similarly Khrushchev, who seems to really have tried to straighten things out in Russia, failed. The Johnson administration thrashed around like a longhorn steer caught in a mud hole and only made matters worse.

There is no sign anywhere that anyone in power wants to do something about this state of affairs. The commentators of the kept press tell us that the Nixon Cabinet is made up of enlightened, middle-of-the-road businessmen and they should be given a chance. They are nothing of the sort. Each one of them is on record as a representative of the politics of defiance, from the Secretary of the Interior, who is fully as anti-conservationist as Eisenhower’s man who seriously suggested leasing the national parks to private enterprise, to the Secretaries of State and War (Defense), who are advocates of “all necessary measures.” Like Ronald Reagan and his minion Hayakawa, the Nixon Administration has already lined itself up into positions for a politics of showdown, of final confrontation. But it’s the same everywhere. Straus is moving into position to take over the German Chancellorship. Representatives of the force de frappe of the House of Rothschild already dominate the French cabinet. What is going to happen in a world where every nation, every pressure group and millions and millions of individuals move consciously and inexorably toward deadlock?

All hell is going to break loose.

It’s apparently what people want. Certainly the Left, the students, the Negroes, all welcome confrontation. More and more people subscribe to the doctrine of “the worse, the better.” “Once Dirty Dick starts his Fascist repression then the Movement will really mean business.” On the other side, Hayakawa Tam O’ Shanters. The only trouble with all this is its mindlessness. None of the battalions on either side has any kind of program. Honky is always saying to the black militants, “What is it you want?” and getting nothing but obscene abuse in return. Mark Rudd, the leader of the students at Columbia, has said in so many words, again and again, that their program is completely summed up in “Up Against the Wall, Mother——!” This is not sarcasm, it’s true. Herbert Read, Paul Goodman, A.S. Neill are dismissed as ideologues of the Old Left and there is not the slightest vestige of demands for a truly enlightened and progressive education. The amazing thing is that the student Left actually accepts monstrosities like the University of California, Columbia, or San Francisco State. They just want chittlins and maws in the cafeteria or classes in Swahili, the artificial lingua franca of the slave trade. The whites don’t even want anything.

But the same thing is true on an international scale. Go to some big library and get out the old publications of the Communist International and compare them with the stuff emanating from or inspired by Moscow or Peking today. The total lack of principle and Marxist theory in the contemporary literature is astonishing. As for American principles, they will be provided by a large staff of whiz kids on loan from a business that has made billions telling the public that black is white, cigarettes don’t cause cancer and whiskey is good for young girls. Of course, if you want principles you can always go to Czechoslovakia, but you better get one of those rings with a couple of grains of cyanide of potassium in it. You’re going to need it. Casey Jones has become every man’s ideal.

[February 1969]



In the Grip of the Militantly Mindless

Recently I was told by a mutual friend that Octavio Paz, Mexico’s greatest poet and probably the greatest poet in North America, had resigned as Ambassador to India and returned to Mexico to protest the wholesale butchery of Mexican students by the government late last year, and that he had then been arrested. Yet not a word in the press.

It is as though a generation ago T.S. Eliot or Robert Frost had been put in a concentration camp along with the Japanese Americans, and not a whisper had penetrated the public prints. Mexico is not Greece or Indonesia but right next door, with hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens coming and going all the time; yet a takeover like that in Greece, Santo Domingo or Indonesia is going on, and nobody seems to know anything about it. Since September, the Indonesian government has been exterminating the so-called Communists in the concentration camps, and the genocidal program in Indonesia from the coup d’état to the present has assumed proportions comparable to Nazi Germany’s. Santo Domingo has been reduced to a bloody shambles. Yet news of these events can be found only in the Swedish or French press.

If the French Communist writer Louis Aragon, or the Mexican painter Sequieros, were locked up protest meetings would pop up all over the world within a week. Yet it proved impossible to organize any protest for the younger Papandreou, and a spontaneous movement by his colleagues at the University of California was speedily squelched. In Japan, the Communist Zengakuren called in the police at Tokyo University and fought shoulder to shoulder with them against the students in the Left Zengakuren. All over the world concerned people have tried to involve their black brothers in Biafran relief and a settlement of the Nigerian war, without success. What is happening?

It’s very simple. The entire world has been divided into spheres of influence by the Kremlin and the White House, or rather by the CIA and the GPU. It’s not for nothing that bushy-browed, brutal-jawed Brezhnev and Nixon look alike or that the cabinets of Russia and America consist of vulgar, uncivilized parvenus, unequaled for sheer lack of culture by any members of the administrations of any other major country in the world. It’s not for nothing that the J. Walter Thompson boys glorify Nixon, the homey lad who eats ketchup on his cottage cheese when lunching with California’s peanut butter cowboy. It’s not for nothing that the Agitprop Commission envelops the mindless bureaucracy of Russia in clouds of Marxist-Leninist verbiage in which the incisive language of Marx and Lenin has been reduced to a synthetic perfume, much like that J. Walter Thompson persuades Zellerbach and Kimberly-Kennecott to sprinkle on their toilet paper.

All over the world the independent Left has invited confrontation for 1969. The philosophy has been, “If we can’t changed the society we can at least bring it down. The present situation is totally morally intolerable.” Can they bring it down? “Power,” said Mao, “comes out of the barrel of a gun.” But that phrase has been used to justify a kind of worldwide interracial Pantherism. Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver may be infinitely more sensitive and civilized than the police chiefs of Oakland and San Francisco, but they found out their armament was meaningless. The other side has more, infinitely more, and bigger, mouths of guns out of which power flows inexhaustibly. This is even true of Mao himself. His collection of atomic firecrackers means nothing compared to the overkill and second and third and fourth strike capacities of Russia and America.

It’s the second part of that slogan which remains valid. What can be done about the ever-increasing moral and spiritual desolation spreading over the world like a lava flood of ketchup, peanut butter and cottage cheese in which we are all drowning? How can Ronnie Davis prevail against J. Walter Thompson? What will he do after the J. Walter Thompson government has had the Mime Troupe in a concentration camp in the American desert for a couple of years? What can the youth of Czechoslovakia do to stop the Russian decerebrator from chopping out all their frontal lobes? They can’t all set themselves afire.

Read the reports of the last two or three trials of writers and intellectuals in Russia. Read the publications of the Chinese office for cultural relations with foreigners. Read the carefully stage-managed picture stories in the American news weeklies of the new Cabinet. The world is in the grip of the militantly mindless. Not Ronnie Davis, not Allen Ginsberg or not even Father Scheelbincx and all of their horses and all of their men are going to prevail against “Nixon’s Cabinet at Home and at Play,” against an avalanche of tennis balls, golf clubs, bumper pool tables, garbage-can-lid toboggans, Liberace records, Parcheesi, fake African sculpture, and rare antelopes called bongos. These PR releases have been put together with great skill by the most experienced soap peddlers in the business. Their point is, and they drive it home incessantly: “Nobody thinks, can think, wants to think, or can spell the word. And you’d better not try to think either, you dope fiend, Communist, homosexual deviant, because power comes out of a gun, and we’ve got the guns.”

Ladies and gentlemen, my friends of sense and sensibility and pride and prejudice, you wanted confrontation and now you’ve got it. How are you going to survive? The other-directeds have taken over and the inner-directeds are going to the lions. Let’s hope you’ve got Androcleses amongst your ancestors and have always been kind to animals.

[March 1969]



Utopia Belongs to Us

People may have thought my last two columns were mutually contradictory. First, I said that all over the world nations with assorted antagonisms, most especially Russia and the United States, were moving into attack position. In the second I said Russia and the United States were already heavily invested in a condominium of the planet and that this was shown by Moscow-line Communist parties all over the world collapsing as even mildly radical much less “anti-imperialist” organizations. In America, people who believe J. Edgar Hoover and ilk are still talking about the Menace of Moscow. This is due to the invincible ignorance of provincialism.

These two political tendencies, the dominant ones in the world today, are reciprocal. It’s not a condominium unless both partners are equally invested and have equal power. There is shutting down over the world a dictatorship of the 19th century. It is a commonplace of economic theory that Russia is far from being “a soviet union.” It is a system of state capitalism designed to force a reluctant population through the period of economic development Karl Marx described as capitalism. Today in England, France and the United States the state is assuming increasing control over the economy, not for the purpose of moving society into the age of transistors, cybernetics and a relevant financial system, but to drive it back into the mechanical-industrial-banking system that broke down in August 1914.

Those countries which have resisted this forced archaization are the healthiest socially, economically and, with one exception, culturally, in the world: Sweden, Switzerland, Benelux and, suddenly awakening, Canada — but most of all East and West Germany. In 1946, Germany was in ruins: about half the technical and professional cadres who should be running the country in 20 years were dead. America pumped millions into West Germany, while Russia did everything possible to keep the East crippled and humiliated. Today, the second most economically powerful nation in the West is West Germany. The second most powerful economically in the East is East Germany. The reason is very simple. Of the old-time Great Powers the two Germanys are the only nations to even approximately realize the technological potential and the administrative and financial concomitants of the second half of the 20th century — at least for social wholesome goals. The cybernetic revolution in Russia and the United States is used mostly for tricks like photographing the moon’s backside, for death, or for computerizing the dossiers of the dissidents.

What about Ulbricht? you ask. The disgusting vulgarity of the Ulbricht dictatorship is easy to explain. The economic revolution in East Germany has proceeded so far that there is nothing left for the Russians’ quislings to do but kick around artists and writers. Here lies the secret of what’s happening everywhere.

As even Hugh Hefner knows and tirelessly says, the technological universe opening for late-20th-century man has made apparent the promises of new and greater meanings to life. The anal retentive, work and slave, pray and save, you’ll get pie in the sky by and by, society of the mechanical industrial age has become morally intolerable — besides becoming self-evident to those who think and feel. Who thinks? Who feels? Damn few who have survived and made it into the industrial, mechanical world with its business ethics. But the unthinking and the unfeeling are terrified of those who think and feel and who know that the present world is deadly and morally rotten. So they, not the young, have passed over to the attack. There are no pictures in the papers of fat cops lying on the ground on campuses and being kicked in the face by coeds.

Early in the winter a wire-editor friend of mine estimated that on any given day there were approximately 700 student riots around the world. They riot at Brandeis. They riot at Kabul. Have the Afghan students been corrupted by John Dewey and Herbert Marcuse? The initiative is not coming from youth. The initiative is the moral attack on youth of an outworn century. Mr. Kissinger’s heroes are Metternich, who held Europe under a reign of White Terror for a generation after the defeat of the French Revolution, and Bismarck, who embarked Germany on the course of national suicide that led to the Nibelungen death of the Third Reich in flame and horror. They have a plan, the plan of the Holy Alliance that put back together again with paper pins the Europe of the ancien régime. The trouble with youth, even the neo-Marxists of the SDS or the Negritude nationalists of the BSU, is that they have no plan, they have only the future — but the future may never be.

The old technology could operate in a society whose golden rule was “the sum total of individual evils will produce the greatest social good.” This is the philosophy of Adam Smith and Ricardo, the business economist, but it is also the philosophy of Marx and Lenin. A laissez-faire, dog eat dog and the devil take the hindmost technology could operate by the mass accumulation of accidents with no idea of where it was going. Marx’s or Lenin’s greatest term of contempt was “Utopian Socialism.” A cybernetic economy must plan. Every time you punch the computer you must have a clear idea of what you want out of the future. The transistor demands Utopia. For the next four years all the progressive forces in America are going to be subject to relentless attacks which they will not be able to meet by throwing rocks at cops. Most of the leaders will probably be in jail serving long sentences within a year. What has happened to the Black Panthers will happen next to the BSU and next to SDS and next Mark Rudd and the Yippie leaders and next to Allen Ginsberg and then Herbert Marcuse and Paul Goodman. I would be quite insulted if it weren’t me after that.

What can we do as the 20th century is forced to go underground or is confined behind barbed wire? We can spend our time as the 19th-century Russians who were sent to Siberia for struggling against the Dark Ages spent theirs — in deciding what kind of society we want. Cybernetics won’t work unless you begin by extrapolating. “Revolution for the hell of it” ends in the gas chamber or the gas oven. Everybody’s running around yelling, but it’s all purely defensive. The offensive consists in having objectives so clear they are overpowering. Utopia belongs to us. We can’t leave it to Timothy Leary or even estimable and diligent Hugh Hefner.

[April 1969]



The Ecological Point of No Return

In the past, men have planned utopias where life would be better, and they have advocated revolution to get rid of the predators of society and bring about a world where man was no longer wolf to man. Meanwhile, the human race struggled on, crippled and thwarted by exploitation and its side effects, from alcoholism to silicosis, but it survived.

For the last 200 years we have seen the growth of an economic and social system based fundamentally on the extractive industries and with a built-in dynamism that forces it into ever-increasing production at all costs. This competitive system has universalized a morality based on covetousness. For the last 50 years, the benefits, such as they are, of this system have been extended to most of the productive workers of the major industrial countries, the “metropoles.” This is least true of the United States, where about a tenth of the population is redundant — youth, the aged, Negroes, Southern poor whites and others. This is not due to the backwardness of the American economy; quite the contrary.

We have just gone through a long boom period with ever-accumulating surpluses; yet the overall production has never passed 80 percent of capacity. The source of profit is no longer, as it was in Marx’s day, labor power. Every year we need fewer people to produce more. The surplus we lock up in subsidized housing projects, in Aid to Dependent Children or in Garrison State College or toss in the Disposall of Vietnam. Our social-economic structure is itself in a state of civil war. The old extractive, industrial, financial structure based ultimately on the exploitation of labor power applied directly to primary raw materials is at war with the new technological society of computers and transistors and the Keynesian morality of Hugh Hefner’s la vie luxueuse. Meanwhile, outside the metropoles, starvation, disorder, breakdown sweep over the southern three-quarters of the globe.

Twenty-five years ago all the contradictions and conflicts of the present had already come into existence, but they only threatened individual men with war, hunger, and crippled lives. Today, an extractive, accumulative society more than just threatens — makes certain — the extinction of the human species within a comparatively short time.

The carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere can no longer be kept in balance even over the equatorial regions. A dense fog of carcinogens blankets whole areas — the Rhine-Saar, the Upper Po, the Bay of Naples, the Tokyo-Osaka-Nagasaki metropolitan complexes — as well as the major cities. I have crossed the Siskiyous and seen the smog filling the entire Central Valley of California, and I have seen it rise on the warm morning air from around Milan and cover Lake Como in the Alps. Lake Erie is a cesspool. Lake Michigan is unfit for swimming at Milwaukee and Chicago and stinks all summer long so that the grand rich are now abandoning their lakeside stately homes to charitable institutions, dance seminars and apocalyptic Black religious groups. If all the atomic energy installations now planned are built, they will raise the temperatures of the oceans with cataclysmic results. The things we are doing to our environment are changing it far more drastically than the changes necessary to account for the extinction of the great reptiles at the end of the Jurassic Age and incomparably more quickly.

I have quoted before the old, now-abandoned slogan of the U.S. Forest Service: “The forest is a crop, not a mine.” Unless we can stop treating the planet as a mine and start treating it as a crop, people now living will see the beginning of the end of the human species.

What can we do about it? Probably very little, because the old order is shutting down with a police state. In the Thirties the Marxists called Fascism and Nazism “forced rationalization” of the German and Italian economies. (Lenin admitted that Bolshevism was precisely forced rationalization.) Today, the state, but most especially the American state, is dedicated to forced irrationalization. Unless this can be halted, there is no hope for the human race. But what does this mean? It means de-mounting the whole structure, rebuilding it and starting in the opposite direction. Growth rates and GNPs and capital expansion have got to be replaced by changing the standard-of-living value system so that the possession of large numbers of commodities becomes a vice, not a virtue.

The extractive industries must be reduced to a minimum. The use of fossil fuels must be brought to a complete stop; coal, oil and gas should be consumed totally with nothing but completely inert residues at the sites and sent out over wires. Atomic plants should be stopped until it can be determined how to destroy the wastes. More and more articles should be made of organic plastics. Chemical fertilizers and insecticides must be replaced by organic manures, which now pollute all our bodies of water instead of being pumped into the fields, and by the ecological management of the health of agricultural crops; for instance, replacing poison sprays with ladybird beetles. There are innumerable ecological maneuvers of this kind now known. Along with this would have to go a complete moral conversion from the acquisitive, competitive, covetous “virtues” of present society to a whole new scale of cooperative mutual-aid simplicity value system not unlike the South Sea Islanders of romance. The population growth must not just be stopped, but reversed. The optimum is probably about one billion people to the planet.

You say this sounds like turning the whole world into a national park? Precisely. We must save ourselves as we are trying to save the sandhill crane. All power to David Brower!

[May 1969]



Can San Francisco Be Saved?

It’s far too late to save anything of that old San Francisco, the last stand of la vie méditerranée which made it the most beloved city in the world. The City’s principal newspaper is a wide-page magazine for lenitive reading over the grapefruit, built around a City columnist [Herb Caen] whose job is to pump hot air into a myth, not punctured with a thousand holes but cut to ribbons. There’s nothing left at the nozzle of his pump but the smell of carcinogenic smog and gunsmoke. The liberal newspaper’s idea of civic responsibility is about on the level of a stoned PR man reading Marshall McLuhan while on a bad trip. When the Mafia bought its way into North Beach, people who said it would soon be in City Hall were mocked and scorned as puritans who objected to bare breasts. Today, marijuana moves into the City in truckloads and a whole generation of young people who had sincerely repudiated the values of an evil society are being forced at pistol point to graduate from grass to smack.

There is no source of heroin other than the three major international crime syndicates. It is not manufactured pharmaceutically. Where there is heroin, there is the Organization. It is easier to buy on Haight Street than a newspaper. Does anyone in his right mind believe that the San Francisco police — who can have a small army, equipped with the very latest and most expensive matériel, at the Black Panther headquarters in a matter of seconds, for no apparent reason — could not dry up the heroin traffic in the City in a month? Name one major figure now running organized crime in San Francisco who has ever been given so much as a parking ticket. It’s the kids who are busted — for grass, a far less harmful substance than nicotine or alcohol. Why? The government can’t tax it. The Organization can’t control it.

Respectable male homosexuals are still being entrapped. The old setup of expensive bondsmen and conniving police still operates to blackmail them. Meanwhile, the Tenderloin swarms with male prostitutes dressed as women and ridden with disease, some of them only 12 years old. The young girls with white and orange and purple and green wigs and microskirts that hustle the Fillmore not only roll their tricks, they have driven off the older, respectable black prostitutes at switchblade point, and roll them when they can. I have seen the skunk cars roll past these hustlers, male and female, on downtown Ellis Street and on Fulton while the boys in blue waved and laughed and called the hustlers by their first names. Once in a great while they’ll stop for an exchange of pleasantries. The gang of young toughs who operate at night out of a parking lot off Hayes Street and who mug and roll anybody they can lay hands on, old or young, male or female, black or white, are well known. Why haven’t they been rounded up? It’s the blacks they terrorize, including the hardest black militants. How many “men down” have been found in this immediate vicinity? How many dead homosexuals have been found in the bushes of San Francisco’s parks in the last year? Yet a retired movie actor once famous for playing Oriental hatchet men opposite Lilian Gish can blow his pig whistle and produce a heavily-armed battalion on the campus of Garrison State College.

San Francisco has become a city of incredible violence, but what kind of violence? There are no pictures in the papers or on TV of Kathleen Cleaver clubbing police sergeants, or of middle-aged ladies, leaders in the A.M.E.Z. Church, spraying Mace in the faces of handcuffed patrolmen; nor are there any pictures of pretty coeds kicking prone and bleeding coppers. The idea that youth and the blacks are on the offensive is both tragic and comic in the extreme. This situation can be laid directly at the door of Police Chief Cahill and the mayor. The latter has done nothing to restrain the systematic and organized violence of the forces of lawn ordure, except whimper gently in a Humphreyite manner on television.

The turning points were the arrangement between the Visitors and Convention Bureau and the lords of the “entertainment business” as the Shelley campaign began to falter and fail, and the firing of Lieutenant Andreotti. As soon as Shelley took office the bare boobies hit Broadway and the good old joints where you were sure of getting an honest money’s worth of entertainment were bought out, though often the original owners were forced to remain as front men. San Francisco once was famous for having the one entertainment district where you never got clipped.

The Rockefellers and the frightfully civilized San Francisco elite, led by Harold Zellerbach, are systematically destroying downtown San Francisco and the waterfront and want to take over some of the public parks, though they vaunt themselves as the guardians and patrons of culture. The Haight is in the shape it is for only one reason. “They” wish the neighborhood totally deteriorated so they can buy it at bargain rates and put up expensive high-rise slums. Are you aware that you cannot borrow a penny from the banks run by San Francisco’s culture elite to buy the finest Victorian homes in perfect condition in Western Addition Number Three and the Haight-Ashbury, unless you plan to demolish and rebuild? Maybe only a paranoiac would say that the banks, the police, the Mafia and the big-time real estate and urban renewal operators sit around and plan it all in smoke-filled rooms, but that’s the way it works out. Meanwhile, orders go down from the top desk of the great liberal newspaper to mention independent critics only if they get in jail. Did you read in the papers that Grover Sales last year got the most prestigious kudos in the profession? I don’t have to mention you either, Baby Miller & Lux. Andreotti for Mayor!

[June 1969]



Radical Movements on the Defensive

Ever since the Time of Troubles — the interval between the collapse of Western Civilization and whatever is to follow — began, I have pointed out that the forces struggling for a humane, human society are on the defensive.

From January 1919 to 1924, the Russian Bolsheviks systematically exterminated the libertarian councils (soviets) and individuals who had made the Revolution; then, in sadistic irony, called the country “the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics,” a despotism ruled by bureaucracy and ex-police agents where every socialist or republican was dead or in jail. American dollars and Russian duplicity collaborated to betray, exterminate or coopt all those struggling for a new social order. The same was true of Hungary.

A generation later, under the identical slogan of Woodrow Wilson — “For the Defense of Democracy” — the Spanish libertarian revolution, which had risen in defense against what was essentially a foreign invasion, was cut down without mercy by other foreign invaders who had seized control of the beleaguered republic.

Today, De Gaulle and his successor from the House of Rothschild are supported first by the pledge of American armed intervention at the Baden Baden emergency conference, after the May Days of 1968, and by American money and perfectly open and shameless Communist support in June 1969.

Just where is this revolution everybody’s talking about? It is in the hearts and minds of men and women, especially young, black, or colored, who find the horrors of a civilization in its long, drawn-out death throes morally intolerable and who hope for a better world. Are they struggling for it? Is there a worldwide revolutionary movement? Of youth, blacks, and the Third World? There is not. There is a defensive struggle against extermination which isn’t even a holding action. All over the world, what is going on most resembles the hopeless defense of the telephone building in Barcelona [in May 1937] by the entrapped Socialists, Libertarians, and Catalan Republicans against the Stalinist defenders of democracy, while the bombs and shells of Franco and the Italians and Germans, manufactured with American loans, fell indiscriminately on the city. Another “May Days.”

Anyone who believes the youth and the blacks of America are on the offensive is hallucinating. The cynicism of the attacks of the dying social order was utterly exposed, stripped naked by the events in Berkeley [People’s Park, May 1969]. Another “May Days.” On the eve of the Los Angeles mayoralty election I said on the air that it had suddenly dawned on me that every step in the evolution of the Berkeley battle had been initiated by Rotten Reagan, and that the minute it started Sam Yorty had shifted his attacks on Thomas Bradley from blatant racism to accusations that Bradley was somehow the evil genius of the dope-crazed hippies who were poison gassing themselves, killing themselves with buckshot, and blinding themselves when not otherwise occupied in shouting obscenities at the forces of Lawn Ordure.

As a case-hardened journalist, it further occurred to me that the entire business had been carefully planned, move for move, by Reagan’s PR apparatus to ensure the election of Yorty, his fellow sweetheart of the Swimming Pool Soviets in the days when Tenney, Shelley, Yorty, Ronnie, and other up and coming young operators were the darlings of the cocktail parties of Shocking Pink Hollywood. I think “Shocking Pink” is the term one used to see in Vogue and Bazaar as the latest chic in lipsticks and lace panties.

This is the great, and possibly lethal, fallacy of the elder statesmen of the New Left. Herbert Marcuse insists on talking as though his ideas and his followers were winning, when actually their backs are against the wall. UATWMF! is a fine slogan, but not when the MF’s are you. The Tamerlane ruthlessness of the American power structure was revealed in Berkeley — in response to the most trivial of challenges. If Hitler had poison gassed the University of Heidelberg as late as 1938 for any reason, much less for planting flowers in a vacant lot, his government would have fallen within a week. In America, the Board of Regents unanimously approved wholesale mayhem and manslaughter. If this is the way great liberals like William Roth behave when challenged with some shrubbery and kiddie slides, what would American power do if seriously threatened?

Yet the self-appointed bureaucrats of the New Left still preach massive confrontation and deploy massed ranks of defenseless students as though they were the armies of Frederick the Great.

It is my opinion that the situation is hopeless, that the human race has produced an ecological tipover point and is rushing toward extinction, a species death that will be complete within a century. This is quite without any consideration of the hydrogen bomb — a very large box of matches given to a bunch of subnormal children with a 6000-year record of suicidal delinquency to play with in a house made of tissue paper and magnesium foil. But assuming there is a possibility of changing the society’s “course in the darkness deathward set,” it can only be done by infection, infiltration, diffusion and imperceptibly, microscopically, throughout the social organism, like the invisible pellets of a disease called Health.

The New Left worship Che Guevara, as wrongheaded a man as ever lived. He completely exposed himself to a hostile population. He was dumbfounded when the Bolivian Communist Party did not support him, but betrayed him. He was even more dumbfounded when his communications with Havana mysteriously went silent. His physical tactics and strategy were appropriate to the days of Simon Bolivar and even then they would have been foolhardy.

What is effective? The corruption of the social mind from malignancy to benignity. A poem by Gary Snyder or a song by Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell is infinitely more effective than the pitiful arsenal the forces of California Lawn Ordure, working night and day, have been able to round up from all the black militant organizations put together — a total of less than 200 “pieces.”

[July 1969]



Poetry and Song in Santa Barbara

During the past school year I taught two courses at the University of California at Santa Barbara — a poetry workshop and a workshop called Poetry and Song. Both were to be seminars of 12 to 15 people each; instead, they zoomed to over 100. It’s been great fun and I’ve learned a lot.

The Poetry and Song class was run pretty much like the Blue U come true, the coffee house moved into the curriculum. It should be self-evident that you can’t teach creativity. You can create a community of mutual interest, respect and affection — agape — in which creativity, if the seed is there, can grow. It’s what George Leonard talks about in Education and Ecstasy. Most important, of course, is the strict avoidance of a mustard-plaster application of togetherness, or hipness — the great fault of the group encounter techniques. It’s true that the meat grinder has changed most humans over 25 into cases of incommunicability who can only be released by such techniques backed up with mind-expanding pharmacy, if they can be released at all. With undergraduates, at least the ones I attract, it is not that difficult to foster a creative community. These people produced some remarkable songs. They have performed for Pacifica Radio, KQED Radio and National Educational Television and have begun to appear at the invitation of the other universities in California.

It’s a strange feeling being immersed in an integral community of the alternative society such as this became, full of joy and affection, and listen to the songs go by. The songs practically without exception were calls from the eve of apocalypse. “I’m born in the wrong time in the wrong place.” “You are a plastic orchid under ultra-violet light . . . I’ll feed you powdered water and wait for childhood’s end.” “Poor boy, jes a settin at the winder workin the I Ching when the pigs come and hauled him away.” “Four o’clock in the morning, kickin on a drain pipe, there’s no way out of L.A.” “There’s a white cloud in the dawn ere the light is gone. There’ll never be young lovers again.”

Is there anybody out there? We were visited by a young woman who considers herself one of the most radical matrons in the Berkeley Hills. Her term for the songs of Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and the Rolling Stones was “sound pollution,” a term she used as a club against the under-30s. I wonder how many parents ever listen carefully to those noisy records their young play. The remarkable thing about it is that the total overturn which has taken place in the very nature of poetry has returned it to the direct, person-to-person communication it possessed in preliterate societies, and this has released a creative potential for poetic utterance as universal in the counter-culture as ever it was in any preliterate society. On the other hand, if you say to the student, “This is great. Did you ever show any of these to So-and-So, who teaches modern poetry or creative writing?” the answer is always, “Oh, I wouldn’t dare show anything like this to Dr. So-and-So.” They have learned “how to live Jim Crow.” They can write reasonable facsimiles of the rubbish in The Hudson Review or The New Yorker on one hand to get A’s in required courses, and pluck the guitar with the other and sing the songs of a world that, from the point of view of the neat solar system of the Establishment, is made entirely of anti-matter. As Casey Jones says, “There’s two locomotives that’s agoin to bump.”

It is this, worked out in countless ways in the arts and in life, that will infiltrate and ultimately subvert an evil social order, or at least will carry into ultimate catastrophe the ancient virtues.

* * *

It was good to come back to San Francisco after so long a season in the low-pressure Utopia of Upper Middle Class Montecito. All of Santa Barbara Country bears some resemblance to the Mormon communities in what they call Dixie — Southern Utah — where the American Way of Life as it was defined in the radical years before the Civil War has been allowed to come to flower and fruit. In Southern Utah that way of life is communitarian and little corrupted by the insane covetousness that has destroyed all vestiges of the American dream — whether dreamed by William Penn, Emerson, Brigham Young or Walt Whitman. From Montecito the evil is abstract and far away, at the other end of the telephone line to Merrill Lynch, and consists only of a few figures studied each day, “+⅛, –¾, +½, –⅜.” No riots, demonstrations, burning buildings, nobody mugged, no unwed mothers on aid to dependent children. Here the revolution is over and nobody hears the records the kids are playing in the rumpus room.

Coming back to San Francisco was like stepping into a powerhouse full of whirling dynamos. Ellsworth Huntington long ago said that the tremendous diurnal change of ground-to-sky electrical potential in San Francisco overstimulated the human brain and resulted in the explosive dissipation of creative energy. It certainly felt as though he was right. Haight-Ashbury and Broadway may be run by the Mafia, the streets may be littered with destroyed people, but the City is still where the action is, especially now that repression has shut down Warsaw, Prague, Barcelona and is trying to stifle Paris. No place else has a tenth the poetic activity; no place else has originated anything like the Mime Troupe, though there are plenty of imitators. Nowhere else would the Living Theater be laughed off the stage as a bunch of old fogies.

Life is still gracious in San Francisco, if you look hard. We went to Nam Yuen and had one of the world’s best Chinese dinners, as good as any public place in Hong Kong and better than any in Taipei. The next night we went to Orsi’s and had an equally good Italian dinner, as good as any you could get in Florence and surpassed only by a couple of places each in Rome, Naples and Venice and one nameless restaurant in Verona where the power structure of that city eat untroubled by the hoi polloi and the turistici. In both restaurants here I never, under any circumstances, order. I just say, “Leave it to Al or Don,” or “Leave it to Orsi.” I learned this from my father, who always did it in the Brevoort, Luchow’s, George Rector’s and The Red Star Inn. It’s the true sign of a gourmet and a man of the world, but that world is a lot smaller than it was in Edwardian times and it’s not very safe to do anymore, even in Lapérouse.

That reminds me that I started this column with pieces about travel in Japan, so I might as well mention the good, but certainly not cheap, places to stay when driving Route 1 up the Pacific Coast from L.A.: the Biltmore in Santa Barbara, not as expensive as it sounds, and one of the finest seaside hotels in the state; and the San Luis Bay Inn at Avila Beach, run by my old friend Fritz Hartung. Warning: when traveling through Big Sur, carry a basket lunch. The aging love children and aged bohemians who operate the places are as hostile as the ancient Native Sons and Daughters.

[August 1969]



The Battle for Food

The Greek scholars and scientists who accompanied Alexander the Great on his expedition to India or who visited there a short time later during the reign of Chandragupta were dumbfounded by the high standard of living of the common people. They found that peasants and city workers lived better than Athenian merchants and that slavery in the Greek sense was unknown. The plenitude of food of the highest quality never ceased to amaze them. Today, the annual increase of the Indian population is greater than the total population of Australia and New Zealand; the same is approximately true of China.

At this moment, the great majority of the world’s population are not just malnourished; they are actively hungry, and far more are dying of starvation than are dying in the wars now raging in Vietnam, the Near East and Africa. Only the faintest rumors of the explosive expansion of the Chinese into Tibet and Inner Asia at the expense of the native populations reaches the outside world. In the days of China’s glory under the early T’ang dynasty, land was periodically redistributed to ensure that each head of a peasant household had a minimum of 19 acres to farm. By preindustrial techniques, a family of six could be able to raise sufficient food for itself on two acres of the unexhausted loess or flood plain soils of those days. Today, the Chinese ruling class dutifully repeats Marx’s crazy diatribes against Malthus, and black militants with little red books raid the Planned Parenthood centers in the ghettos and beat up the workers.

Due to backwardness and listlessness, caused usually by malnutrition, primitive technology, exhaustion of the soil, or exploitation by a monoculture whose profits are drained off by foreign capital, many comparatively thinly populated countries are densely overpopulated relative to the food supply. For instance, all levels except the highest of Peruvian society suffer from chronic protein famine. From Peru’s coastal waters American and Western European fishing fleets take over 11 million tons annually of anchovies. These are ground into fish meal and used for fertilizer, chicken and stock feed. Not more than nine million tons can be removed without tipping the balance and driving the fish to extinction. Only five percent of all the fish caught in Peru for any purpose remain in the country. This is genocide.

There is no longer any doubt about the outcome of the battle for food. It has been lost. Demographers, ecologists and other scientists in this field no longer talk about the possibility of famine, but about Famine I, Famine II, and Famine III, all to occur between now and 1985, in which . . . [line missing] . . . half a billion people will die. Specialists in the African part of this problem say it is unlikely that very many species of large, edible wild animals will survive in Africa. Yet, throughout the tropics and the Far East, heads of state, the ruling classes and political parties violently resist birth control and have been sold on the program of outbreeding the white man.

When Russian experts and politicians visited Peking for the last, big, full-dress conference during the Korean War they said in denial of their own Marxist anti-Malthusianism that one of the first steps to a solution of China’s problems would be a program designed to eventually reduce the population by 100 million. The Chinese have since broadcast this story with the interpretation that the Russians demanded that the Chinese “expend” 100 million soldiers in a war with America. The man in charge of the birth control program in India proposes to solve the problem with a year of national total abstention from sexual intercourse.

Yet Japan and the Scandinavian countries do not expect their well-organized programs of population control to make a significant difference for 30 years. By that time, if things go on as they are now, there will be more than seven billion people in the world. Few people understand this and if they do, they have difficulty believing it — like their own deaths. We are seeing today the already horrifying beginnings of irreversible processes. The Great Lakes are all going to become cesspools, like Lake Erie, and even if all population growth was stopped immediately it would take a generation to restore not the original condition, which is gone forever, but a healthy life association, a biota that would provide fish and pure water. Lake Michigan from Milwaukee south and around to Benton Harbor is not fit to swim in. This could only be changed by getting rid of every sewer, cesspool, septic tank and artificially fertilized field along the shores as well as all industrial pollution. Meanwhile, the excess nitrogens and the DDT are mostly still in the soil. Only a minor part has already drained into our rivers, lakes, bays and seas.

Overpopulation and the destruction of the environment are forces now moving at an exponential rate of acceleration and there are no equal and opposite forces in being. We talk about urban disorder, breakdown of the family, chaotic sexuality, organized crime as a major industry, suicidal drug addiction, pandemic mental illness, violent and virulent war between the generations. Let us forget that we are human beings and imagine that we are octopod scientists observing the planet from a flying saucer. If we were to observe social animals — ants, bees, termites, prairie dogs, baboons, starlings — acting like this we would have no doubt about what was happening. These are the acknowledged symptoms of species death. Man is becoming extinct. To reverse the process requires both an intelligence and a morality which the species as a whole has never shown. It requires an abolition of the profit system and of all exploitative relationships, a change in the social system incomparably more drastic than the Russian or Chinese Revolution, more drastic really than that envisaged even in utopian visions like Plato’s or St. Thomas More’s. It’s perfectly obvious this isn’t going to happen. Even if it did tomorrow morning the chances of winning are slim.

Nothing more significant has happened recently (and that includes the trip to the moon) than the discovery of the ecological revolution by the youth revolt, the counter-culture. When George Kennan two years ago in a rather foxy grandpa book told the youth revolt that they had their priorities wrong, that the destruction of the planet was more important than the laws against marijuana, everybody called him a square. Now ever larger numbers are beginning to agree. It’s not just that the oldies want to take them out and murder them in a marsh in Southeast Asia; they’re busy poisoning them at breakfast here at home, yet the majority of people in the world have little breakfast or none. The Bodhisattva’s vow is “I will not enter Nirvana until all sentient creatures have been saved.” If the alternative society becomes a society of ecological Bodhisattvas we will have reached the final confrontation — mutual aid and respect for life, full awareness of one’s place in the community of creatures — these are the foundations for an alternative society. Here are to be found the objectives, the self-discipline, the understanding that can create a purposeful challenge to the murderous dominant society.

Will the alternative society win? Almost certainly not. The forces of the dying world order are far too strong. The human race has no desire to be saved from its own folly. At least as we enter apocalypse we can enter it with clean consciences and sanely ordered lives and a community of mutual aid and respect. The actions which would follow from the morality of such a community lie outside the context of massive confrontation, of counter-aggression against aggression.

Against the aggression of the dying society it is impossible to win with its own kind of force. The world is in the grip of an Oedipus complex turned upside down. The dinosaurs did not become extinct because their balls got cold in the chilly marshes of the Jurassic. They ate their eggs.

[September 1979]



San Francisco’s Artistic Provincialism

One of the most important cultural events in the Bay Area in a long time is the Moholy-Nagy show at the University Art Museum in Berkeley. To use a fashionable slang word, the sculpture, paintings and photographs have great “relevance” to present-day art and artists, and the show itself as such has very great community significance. What is significant about it is that it is not in San Francisco.

With its three museums, San Francisco has about as much wall space per capita as any city in the country; at one time, as many important exhibitions were shown here as in Chicago. Older people can remember not one but two immense Van Gogh shows separated by something over 10 years. To the first, people came from all over the West; Southern Pacific ran “Sunflower Specials” — excursion trains from Portland, Los Angeles, Salt Lake — decorated with blue and yellow bunting and with Van Gogh’s sunflowers on the railing of the rear observation car. Today, the government has to strong-arm “The Octopus” to get it to run passenger trains at all — one a day each way with nothing fit to eat on it. Yet they still blast through flat crossings in towns and cities and densely populated areas. It all hangs together — the truculence of the great corporations and banks that have always ruled California and the total collapse of the decent museum service in San Francisco.

The robbers of the Age of the Robber Barons may have been uncivilized but they tried to foster civilization. After all, it is called Leland Stanford University, and dotted about the state are cultural institutions named after donors, or their wives or children — donors or parents whose descendants still inconspicuously control the economy of the state. They are amongst the richest people on earth, yet San Francisco’s museums are financially starving to death and their exhibitions are artistically trivial. It’s not just money. One reason is that the best people available know all about the San Francisco power structure and have no desire to be subjected to their committees and boards. So, after imaginative museum people like Walter Heil, Grace Morley and Douglas McAgy, we have to put up with a third-rate specialist in bric-a-brac who, the first time I talked to him, had never heard of Thomas Eakins or Innes, much less Moholy-Nagy.

Every year there are a dozen or so very important exhibitions organized somewhere in the country, comprehensives of a period or a single painter. Once, almost all of them came to San Francisco. Now they hardly ever do. No money. But also no taste. The same forces are at work that reduced the Spring Opera — which had promised to be a showcase of new composers, young singers, new designers, new ballet — to a repertory beneath that of a provincial opera house in southern Italy. About on a par with South Bend or Elkhart, Indiana, when I was a little boy.

I’ll never forget the yak show I was on when Allen Temko blew up and said to Walter Haas, “You want to be a Medici! Why don’t you ever do anything right? Florence is still full of things the Medici did right! Everything you and your set do is wrong.”

To those who know, Moholy-Nagy points the case. When I was very young, my first wife and I were part of the worldwide movement of geometrical art of which Moholy-Nagy was already a leader, and we corresponded with him and his first wife. The Bauhaus was moving from Weimar to Dessau and we were invited over. Instead, we came to San Francisco. We all believed in those days that the revolution we were waging in art was part of a total revolution in society and, much more important, a fundamental revolution in the human mind and sensibility. The paintings of Moholy, Lissitsky, Rodchenko, were “tats,” acts of the propaganda of the deed. We thought of them as foci of a benign infection that would cure our predatory civilization or, like a capsule of radium inserted in the flesh, would destroy the cancers that were destroying man. So it is very sad to go through a large exhibition like this of Moholy. Our revolution failed. Worse still, it was coopted. Mondrian’s principal social influence has been on advertising and typography; Moholy’s on industrial design, where it has usually been factitious.

I will never forget standing one time in the New York subway with Lewis Mumford, a man with whom I usually agree. Against the wall of the platform was a brand-new streamlined penny scale. Mumford started to praise the thing as an example of the influence of functionalist art. I blew up. “What in the hell is functional about streamlining scales? Is somebody going to shoot it out of a cannon?” After a moment of shock, Mumford agreed. Such has been the end of the social revolution inaugurated by the Bauhaus, a kind of Moscow Trials engineered by J. Walter Thompson and Walter Landor. There’s nothing they won’t coopt. Meetings of the top brass of the Department of Defense are organized according to the principles of Group Dynamics, which is an academic “discipline.” You can take courses in it. Group Dynamics is, in fact, the technique of the Quaker Meeting. Who has converted who?

Not too deeply concealed in all this is the reason the power elite patronize only frauds like Andy Warhol or Yves Klein in New York, and in San Francisco still live in the world of Keith and George Sterling. The slang word is alienation. True creativity in the arts today is profoundly destructive of the entire value system of the dominant society. When in another yak show Ronnie Davis said to Harold Zellerbach, “I believe that for the safety of the human race every apostle of the business ethic should be hung,” he scared the wits out of Harold, and deservedly so. Every creative act, even something so seemingly remote as a wounded gull by Morris Graves or a love poem for her husband by Denise Levertov, is a strand in a rope about the throat of the wolf that rules the world where man is wolf to man.

We didn’t go to the Bauhaus. We came to San Francisco. A week after we’d settled in the Montgomery Block, one of the Cultural Elite came to call, looked at our rather Moholy-like pictures, and said, “Well! I see you’ve been experimentin’ with abstract form, like Matissy and Picassio.”

[October 1969]



San Francisco’s Square “Cultural Elite

Recently, I sat in on a brainstorming panel for one of the leading scientific and technical educational institutions to discuss the thorough reorganization, and refounding on new principles, of its humanities program. It is significant that they came to San Francisco for advice — for there are people here who are more advanced, more out on the tip of the growing point of modern culture, than anywhere else. At least there are more of them. It is also significant that not one of us would ever be invited to discuss the reformation of humanities education by U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State College or Stanford.

Our hosts were a group of highly imaginative and successful problem solvers consulted by every variety of corporation and institution around the country. Needless to say, neither our hosts, ourselves, nor the sponsoring educational institution will ever be asked to solve the problems of our museums, symphony, opera, or theater. The great trouble with fatty degeneration of the heart is that the patient is sure he is in good health. The disease is only discovered in autopsy.

There is no lack of resources. There are more important artists, writers and musicians per capita in the Bay Area that anywhere in the world. There was a brief moment — when Hancock was at the Actor’s Workshop, Marc Estrin at the Encore, and the Playhouse, Interplayers, and International Repertory were going great guns, and the Open Theater was in Berkeley and Ronnie Davis was being chased out of the parks by Walter Haas — that the San Francisco theater, too, was as vital as anywhere. Now only Ronnie Davis is left and San Francisco has the safe and slick theater it deserves. Even the opera, amongst the Establishment institutions, could be really great if its board and its patrons would keep their noses out.

We went to see Ariadne in Naxos conducted by Gunther Schuller. The whole production demonstrated so well Kurt Adler’s great talent for getting them to do the right things. He’s done many an opera like this, but the audience on Mrs. Rich Bitch night repair to the bar after the dress parade in the first act and get drunk while swapping bon mots with Herb Caen and ilk. I have never seen a more shocking contrast than the reception of Adler’s great production of Lulu by the audiences on Rich Night and on Poor Night. Poor Night they clapped and cheered and stomped and damn near broke up the furniture. Rich Night it was almost impossible to get to the cellar bar during the second act. I sat in the front row at Ariadne and watched Schuller conduct. He sure grooved. I’ve seldom seen a conductor have such a good time projecting himself into singers and orchestra. “With it” had a literal meaning. There are not many conductors, least of all of opera or ballet, with this talent. Isler Solomon is one, and Gerry Samuels is another. How many people in the Bay Area are aware of what they’ve got in Gerhard Samuels? The City has suffered under people who should have been arrested for impersonating a conductor, and under a reincarnation of a grenadier of Frederick the Great — with about as up-to-date musical taste. What on earth is going to happen to Ozawa after a year of coping with the San Francisco Establishment?

Is there any way that the people who have made San Francisco famous as the point of a new and growing revolutionary communitarian culture can take control of their own community’s cultural life away from the little band of willful men and their wives who, as controllers of the financing of the community “development,” are busy quadrupling their wealth while destroying their community?

The answer is no. Instead, organized crime has now taken over three to four square miles of the City — which is only seven miles on a side. San Francisco is where Chicago was in the Twenties. It is the mother of a regional Renaissance with worldwide effects and it is busy expelling that renaissance from its nest. As James Joyce said, “Ireland! The sow eats her farrow!” Me, I ain’t a-gonna be et. I wasn’t et by Big Bill Thompson and Al Capone and I ain’t gonna be et by the Bosses of San Francisco.

I keep thinking about the little brainstorming group. Over half were men with their hands on the levers of policy and power in the cultural life of the eastern seaboard cities. What they said was far more radical than the most radical student leaders, for the simple reason that they knew. They were in positions where they could, if they wished, appreciate the full depth of the crisis in education and in America’s general cultural life. And so their ideas were radical — they struck at the roots. No matter how wise or militant, the student radical just doesn’t have all that knowledge. Not only that, but these people were not just going to sit around and gas for a week; they were going to do something.

A friend of mine from the effete East once said, “It’s perfectly obvious. What is the difference between the eastern elite and the western? The easterners went to Yale and Harvard; the San Franciscans went to Berkeley and Stanford. The difference is simply provincialism.” There may be something in it at that. The most civilized and concerned member of the younger generation of San Francisco’s 20 families at his own insistence went to Swarthmore.

What makes square provincials provincial squares is a kind of spiritual vulgarity. They believe that they can solve apocalypse by starving feeble-minded children and persecuting college professors and gassing students, all the while wholesomely thinking positive thoughts. The Director of the Budget, architect of our Norman Vincent Peale disaster, now goes to Washington to our great President’s right hand.

[November 1969]



The Ecological Revolution

Harold Gilliam, in the San Francisco Daily Playboy [the SF Chronicle] Sunday edition which is combined with the 19th Century Bulletin [the SF Examiner], writes: “It would have been unthinkable at the beginning of 1969 to write that the college generation was being turned on by ecology.” The piece is headed: ECOLOGY IS NOW A WITH-IT WORD—AND CONCEPT. Gilliam is a tireless propagandist for the ecological revolution, is far and away the best writer on the staff and not responsible for the smart-aleck tone of the headline writer. Still, the article itself shows the signs of a corruption of prose style by Merlaism or Caenitis.

The sudden tremendous interest in ecology amongst students, and in Berkeley and San Francisco amongst older people, and spreading across the country like wildfire, is not a fad, and it is not unheralded. For years, KPFA and the other Pacifica stations and their associates have hammered on the subject. On my own book review program, the oldest thing on the station, I have talked about it at every opportunity. Twenty-five years ago a group of us were conducting lectures and seminars at the Workman’s Circle, whose whole emphasis was on ecology as a scientific foundation for a philosophy of social reorganization. The period of David Brower’s leadership of the Sierra Club witnessed an attempt to turn that organization of Sunday hikers and summer trippers into the leading cadre of an ecological revolution — which is why he was ganged up on by corporation lawyers, power company executives and Native Sons and Daughters of the Berkeley Hills.

The reason for the sudden explosion of the ecological revolution in the Bay Area is simple. It was prepared by many years of work, and it is occurring at the critical point when the ecology of California has become intolerable. Water turns into steam very suddenly; just as suddenly we have been brought face to face with the question, in the words of Lawrence Halprin, “Is man merely a dominant species in a transitional life association or is he the characteristic member of a climax of living things that will endure for a geological epoch or more?” The cockroaches and the octopuses are waiting. Perhaps we cannot turn the steam back into water. Perhaps the critical point is gone. The Santa Barbara Channel has become a dead sea. DDT is killing off the crab fisheries. In Berkeley, mother’s milk has been found below the standards for human consumption. Environmental specialists tell us that within months people will start dying by the thousands in smog-filled cities. Others say famines will kill hundreds of millions in the next decade and it is too late to prevent it.

The sudden popularity of ecology is not a craze. It is the response to the deadly crisis caused by a craze called the profit system. Man’s end is in sight. One thing ecology has always taught is that the relationships of living things to each other and their environment are governed by critical points where catastrophe occurs with great suddenness.

For example, Monterey recently staged a festival in memory of Ed Ricketts, the ocean scientist who was the brain trust for John Steinbeck and the “Doc” of his novels. Ricketts told his employers in the sardine industry that if they continued their fertilizer factories in the sea — their wholesale destruction of the sardines — the species would vanish suddenly. They hired other scientists to say, “Oh, nonsense, there are billions of sardines and the ocean is illimitably fertile.” Ed pointed out that in the ocean, above all places, creatures, no matter how numerous, live in the most delicate balance and when that balance is destroyed they become extinct. So it happened. Most of us who knew Ed well believe he committed suicide, not, I hope over the greed and folly of the sardine industry. Mankind at this moment is in exactly the fix of the sardine when Ed Ricketts issued his warning, and man is his own sardine canning industry. We are all implicated.

The prospect of the imminent extinction of the human species is a final perspective of 400 years of the growth of value neuter science and technology. Today terribly fashionable amongst old academicians, we still have “value neuter” philosophies,” whatever in the Hell those are, and I mean in Hell. Marx’s revolutionary drive came from the tradition of the Hebrew prophets; the profoundly moving exhortations and denunciations in Capital and The Communist Manifesto are in contradiction to his “scientific” economics. But only superficially different from the bourgeois economists who were his masters (“the sum total of private evils add up to the social good”) and the process is governed by the value neuter laws of physics. We can no longer endure a value neuter science, neither chemistry and physics nor the sciences of man. Ecology is the science that automatically produces evaluation without ceasing to confine itself to purely scientific methods. This is nothing new. Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwin’s grandfather), Lamarck, Buffon tried to develop an evaluative theory of evolution. Peter Kropotkin, the great anarchist leader, at the end of the last century attacked Darwin’s “survival of the fittest,” and the social Darwinism derived from it as well as Marxism, with his classic Mutual Aid. Kropotkin and his libertarian, communitarian colleague Élisée Reclus were actually ecologists, though in those days they called them geographers. It is no accident that college students who call themselves (lower case) communist-anarchists now say, “Down with the red flag, down with the black flag, up with the green, forward to the ecological revolution!” Lenin refused to talk about postrevolutionary society and dismissed such speculations as utopian. He really believed in a value neuter revolution. So today most Marxist groups and most black revolutionary groups refuse to answer, because they cannot, the simple question, “What do you want?” History and evolution are assumed to be the only source of value. This means that one situation is better than another simply because it follows it in time. Absurd in itself, this has now been proven a lethal assumption. The old hymn, popular with Socialist summer camps, “We are climbing higher, higher,” is false. We are not on Jacob’s ladder but on a greased toboggan to the everlasting bonfire. For us, evolution has turned out to be value negative. If the processes are not reversed in the next 10 years the human species will not survive much beyond the century. Most of those 10 years promise to be the years of the administration of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in the most powerful empire the world has even seen — hardly a cheery prospect.

If you want to bone up read Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid; Frederick Clemens’s Plant Ecology; Paul Ehrlich’s, The Population Bomb, and a collection of articles on all aspects of ecology, The Subversive Science; and subscribe to Keith Lampe’s bulletin Earth Read Out, 439 Boynton Avenue, Berkeley 94707. You better learn. You haven’t got much time and your life is in the hands of Nixon, Agnew and Hinkle — ventriloquist’s dummies for J. Walter Thompson.

[December 1969]



“San Francisco in the Sixties” is an ongoing project of posting all of Kenneth Rexroth’s columns and articles from the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967), the San Francisco Bay Guardian (1967-1972), and San Francisco Magazine (1967-1975). Copyright 1960-1967 Kenneth Rexroth. Reproduced here by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

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