Review of Andrew Root's "Faith Formation in a Secular Age Vol.1 (Part 3)

3: The Perceived Scam of the Mass Society

Root summarizes our learnings to this point like this: “The mass society sought to keep duty central, yet this duty was cut loose from transcendence to be bound almost completely with the immanent reality of consumption. But because duty remained the central social imaginary, conformity was king.” (970)

This situation prevailed until we looked behind the curtain and realized a game was being played on us. In the 1960’s “planned obsolescence” was revealed to be the auto industry’s way of keeping the economic engine humming. Designing cars to wear out every few years was the way to keep people buying new cars regularly. Duty was not sufficient for this as marketers were quick to figure out. 

Making things to wear out quickly to be replaced by newer versions was the answer. The problem came when “planned obsolescence” became known. People realized the game was rigged. Was the ballyhooed conformity that commitment to duty promoted just another form of manipulation?

Nazi Nightmares

Here the specter of Nazism arose. Germany was the parade example of a society devoted to duty and conformity. And they (and the world) had been taken for a ride by an abusive and manipulative ideology and politics. Was that happening to us, people wondered.

Events of Defiance

With the Civil Rights struggle and the student uprisings in Berkeley (Free Speech Movement) in the mid-60’s the effects of conformity were seen to have resulted in a corrupt and unjust society. Conformity led to a world in which one could not one’s true self. These kinds of events brought the search for authenticity to the fore for young people.

“This young generation shaped by the consumer drive of the mass society became fertile ground for these ideas to grow quickly into a tree whose branches reached throughout the whole of American society. Soon enough, authenticity became the objective of life, and the youthful those who would bring it forth. The young became the very leaders of the authenticity revolution.” (1061)

Sigmund Freud became the patron saint of authenticity. His psychoanalysis sought to uncover our hidden desires and how their repression damages us. Even though, critical Marxist theory began to grow in western universities and promote the idea of life being more than an economic competition in a society of conformity, Root is right to claim:

“it’s hard to imagine it leading to the cultural revolution of authenticity won by the young in the late 1960s if not for the theories of Freud. It was actually Freud more than Marx who shaped the youth movement that won the day for authenticity over duty and cultural immanence over transcendence, linking youthfulness with authenticity.” (1078)
Youthfulness and the Id

Freud believed our minds were tripartite: id, ego, superego. The id is out inner child, a boiling cauldron of desires. Pleasure and powers are its drivers. Without guilt.

“Youth then, against the backdrop of Freud, are uniquely positioned to be profound geniuses, for they are still close enough to childhood to connect to the core desires of the id. Youth are idealized, and youthfulness becomes our obsession because we contend that youth are free to serve the desires of their id. The 1950s and 1960s were among the first periods, in broad scale, when childhood reached beyond puberty, creating a super-convergence where the id of the inner child could mix with the cognitive and embodied realities of maturity.” (1097)
The ego’s role, according to Freud, is to bring realism to bear on the id’s desires. As the babysitter of the id, the ego tries to check the desires of the id so children do not become too spoiled. The young are the most authentic in Freud’s view because, instead of pointing to something transcendent, which Freud did not believe in, they kept looking to the navels, their desires.

Sex and Defecation

While the ego babysits the id, it needs the superego to bring down the hammer on the id. “The 
superego is the social order that seeks to impose a punitive response to desire.” (1136)  It shames one for following their authentic desires. This is why we poop privately in a toilet rather than anywhere we want (which is what the id wants to do). If the superego is too heavy-handed, a person may become neurotic.

Neuroses and Society

“The person is called neurotic because she continues to repress her instincts, but the desires of her id are so strong that they boil under the lid of the superego’s cultural ideals, leading to anxiety, depression, and frustration.” (1145)

Freud went on to suggest that if neuroses could strike an individual, why not a society as well? The young were taught, having been “raised in the womb of a new consumer culture of want, that the system’s rewarding of conformity was nothing more than the heavy hand of the superego against the authentic desires. Conformity was the very weapon of our cultural superego, demanding that we repress our desires.” (1167).

The call for duty and consumer conformity, therefore, were actually repressive devices to stifle our collective id. Any sort of societal push for order or holding back one’s desires created a neurotic society. Thus, the mass society of America in the 60’s was easily seen as neurotic and even fascist.

Authenticity and Youthfulness

“The youth of the 1960s demanded a jailbreak, not by overthrowing the consumptive drive for want but by fully embracing the authenticity of their desires, acting to disrupt the proprietors of conformity—including the church.” (1194)

This new and burgeoning youth movement “deeply fused youthfulness with authenticity in our social imaginary, changing the very way we think about church and faith, leading us to believe that youthfulness is our objective, and transforming so much in the wake of this—even our conceptions of faith formation.” (1194)

“People have become trapped in a gilded cage, and have been taught to love their own enslavement. ‘Society’ controls them by limiting the imagination and suppressing their deepest needs. What they need to escape from is conformity. And to do so, they must reject the culture in its entirety. They must form a counterculture—one based on freedom and individuality.” (1204)
This was the description of and prescription for the repressed culture by the new youth movement. This movement fused both authenticity and youthfulness, as we have seen. And this became a default understanding for us.

4: The Rise of the Hippie and the Obsession with Youthfulness

Hippies, the Bohemian culture, was the new youth movement, spawned by Freud, of “youthfulness of an unencumbered search for total authenticity.” (1300).

They believed the world was flat and people were buffered from transcendent realities. Human genius was to follow one’s own desires and allow nothing to disrupt that process. “Because transcendence was an unreality, established structures were seen as only the superego of society seeking to culturally repress individual desires (individual freedom).” (1316) It needed to be overthrown.

Freud and other countercultural theorists assumed that “culture” was a whole. It could only be accepted or rejected in toto. But culture is always a loose patchwork of various perception, ritual, symbols, and practices. It failed to overthrow and place the culture but did manage to change the “social imaginary, “leading us all to believe that authenticity must be central and (unfortunately) obscuring the humanity of young people by holding up youthfulness as the measure or endorser of all that is authentic.” (1336)

The irony is that the counterculture, so gung ho on overthrowing the culture of mass society and conformity, was itself fortified by that very society that had been encouraging people to listen to their wants and buy what they desired!
The First Wave

The first Wave of this movement in the mid-60’s gathered around the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Freedom Riders. It was based in transcendent action as MLK’s preaching demonstrated.   Not the id but the Creator’s will was the baseline for action.

A larger second wave built on the first and changed its focus considerably.

“When the fervor for a movement became mixed with a middle-class consumerism and Freudian analysis, transcendence was quickly lost and King’s personalist ethics replaced by bohemian romanticism and its pursuit of desire. In the second wave, the establishment was the enemy, for the whole system needed to be torn down because it repressed the authentic desires of individuals with its strict drive for conformity.” (1375)
The Beats

New York bohemians, the Beats, formed the heart of this enlarged movement.

“The Beats helped to plant seeds that would sprout, luxuriantly, during the 1960s and after. One was a desire for sexual adventure, untethered to the values of monogamy and heterosexuality that had reigned supreme in the Western world since the dawn of Christianity. Another was glorification of the outlaw spirit, as embodied in men and women who viewed conventional jobs and sanitized entertainment as akin to a living death. Millions of young people would act out such beliefs with the help of illegal drugs like marijuana, peyote, and especially LSD. The . . . Beats also generated a romantic yearning for “authentic” experiences, which they associated with poor and working-class people, black and white and Latino.” (1396)
Spirituality as Youthfulness

Ginsberg wanted a spirituality, one without God and without growing up but remaining perpetually young.

“Ginsberg and the other Beats were seeking the power and depth of their subjective experience, exploring whether drugs and nonconformist sexual expression could bring forth such a splash of emotive experience that it would shake them loose from the conforming pull of conventional culture. The Beats glorified emotive drives of youthfulness, believing youthfulness had the mission of opposing the establishment. Refusing to grow up became the act of revolt.” (1406)
Jake Whalen and Richard Flacks note:

“The sixties youth revolt was in part about the possibility of redefining ‘adulthood’ in our society. If a single theme united the otherwise disparate forms of political and cultural protest that characterized the period, it was the romantic belief that the young could make themselves into new persons, that they need not follow in their parents’ footsteps, that they could build lives in which they could exercise a degree of self-mastery not given by the established structures of role, relationship, and routine.”[1]
Two consequences followed. Both deleterious for genuine faith formation. First, this movement was profoundly expressive individualist. And second, it tended to turn faith into a cultural reality that loses the transcendent reality of divine action.

The Release of Bohemianism

Parents and older folk driven by duty side-by-side with the younger generation was like oil and water. “Hedonists!” cried the older generation. The other side extolled the genius of youth and the necessity to follow them in this cultural revolution (think Theodore Roszak). The numbers and influence of the latter enabled them to subvert duty and usher in authenticity as the revolution’s new chief value.

Returning to the Challenge

“But while the drive to overthrow one culture with a counterculture never occurred, the success of the 1960s youth movement was much more pervasive. The release of bohemian romanticism was so radical within society that individual authenticity (individual desire and want) became the measure of the good life, the id was allowed to roam free from the conforming whip of the superego, and a spirituality without divine action grew. And this all coalesced around the pursuit of the hip or the cool—hip or cool is the natural or material spirituality that gives you a moral code, which in turn provides ways to therapeutically construct a self.” (1483)
But even though the Bohemians won the cultural battle though they lost their war to deconstruct and reject the Mass Society, capitalism was ironically even more entrenched after it won than before. This was because the “marketers of the consumer society . . .  took the bohemian youth culture and used it as the way to create a new mechanism, outside conformity, for buying.” (1495)

[1] Jake Whalen and Richard Flacks, Beyond the Barricades: The Sixties Generation Grows Up (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), 2.


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