Rexroth’s San Francisco
San Francisco Bay Guardian
For the last two quarters Ive been at the University of California at Santa Barbara teaching two bits, one called Poetry and Song, where people listen to student erotic and protest songs from the Carmina Burana to Joni Mitchell or MC5 and then go do likewise; the other, Creative Problems in Poetry.
We live near the beach in Montecito. It has all been quite an experience.
There really is nothing more to say about the Santa Barbara stories of the year, the floods and the oil leak except never forget that all this flood damage that goes on in Southern California is due solely to land abuse, planlessness and crooked sewer, storm drain and street contracting.
South of the Tropic of Sanity you enter a land where everybody is a used car salesman, and Lazy Fairy has gone stark raving mad. Also its of course the home of the WASP, where the most frightful abuses, predatory savagery, destruction of the environment, racism, covetousness and plain thievery are all glossed over with the slimy saccharine slobber of the Social Lie.
To put it succinctly Santa Barbara pretty well represents the J. Walter Thompson Administration which now has in its evil hands the greatest concentration of power over nations and the minds of men in history: Genghis Khan clipped from the top of a Crispies box.
The oil as you know, the Secretary of the Interior in the Alamo Administration has turned the beautiful Santa Barbara Channel into a Dead Sea. Of course, it is Democratic oil so the catspaw of the other consortium that is out to do the same thing to the Arctic Ocean is talking loud and carrying a big stick . . . of bubble gum. Meanwhile, the boss man of the Board of Regents is suing the public. The Pauley interests are now counter-attacking the suits against the oil companies. It is all very much as though a hydrogen bomb had gone off in New York, made by Democrats, shortly after a Republican took office.
The University at Santa Barbara is a pedagogic backwater the likes of which is hard to find. It is totally dominated by the German academic wissenschaft philosophy that came to a terrible end in 1933. I am Herr Doktor, do as I say. Dont do as I do. There is the same pretense to lofty, pure, Neo-Kantian scholarship, the same unbridgeable gulf between students and professors excepts for a few F and F experts who overdose themselves with geriatric pills. The Erector Set, Froebel, Montessori, Homer Lane, A.S. Neill, Herbert Read, Paul Goodman its been going on for hundreds of years, the educational revolution, but they never heard of it.
With many exceptions, the scholarship is fraudulent, the harvest of the GI Bill doctorates . . . which is really civilservitis. They are exactly like the orderlies in the bug ward at SF General where I worked all through the war the patient is a numbered bed, harboring the enemy but a powerless enemy. All that counts is an old-time clock and the nonsensical chains of power built through years of meaningless in-fighting. You soon learn that scholar is a seven-letter word meaning I flunk Negras.
Attached to the University is a ghetto called Isla Vista. When the school moved to its present site, a sand spit a good many miles from town, it possessed one of the most beautiful locations in the world. The student residential quarter was planned by a few idealists to be kind of a William Morris Utopia, finer by far than the Cité Universitaire in Paris, and with the same foundation monies available. The local Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Real Estate Board, American Legion, etc., all screamed Creeping Communism and the land was turned over to that old queen, Lazy Fairy.
It is one of the worst slums in California. At least Hunters Point is part of an incorporated city and subject to a few regulations, sanitary inspections and bonafide fire and police departments. Like almost all the smaller towns in Santa Barbara County, Lazy Fairy has insisted that Isla Vista stay unincorporated. Decent civic regulation is one of those Rooshian ideas, like Free Love. The place is policed by Sheriffs deputies. Having seen lots of Western pictures, you know what that means. There are several hamburger and chili joints, but no restaurant. Maybe its as well since theres no health department. There is literally nothing for students to do except masturbate and listen to records, and the walls are so thick that if you try to nail up a picture the hammer goes clear through.
These slums, many of them, are owned by members of the faculty and administration. Student housing at the university is in the hands of a former real estate operator from IV. The tax advantages of all this finagle are apparent. Rats and mice almost overwhelmed the place during the floods. Students move in and find beds infested with vermin, including crab lice and poor WASPs, they dont even know what they are.
This could go on for pages. Bear in mind, these conditions represent Herr Doktor Wissenschaft acting in loco parentis, and making money at it too.
There are a handful of Black students, mostly EOP from Watts and other California ghettos, one of them Vallejo Kennedy, perhaps the best of the Watts Poets. He was recruited at great trouble from another school for the so-called Creative College, and he flunked out because he simply could not get interested in pre-digested Yvor Winters, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens. Hes still at school, but he is for some inexplicable reason getting terribly militant. O dear. He is also under indictment, along with all the rest of the BSU leadership for conspiracy to receive stolen property, drugs, resisting officers, and a whole mess of other charges now turned into conspiracy to commit.
This is one of the most scandalous episodes in the present war on Black Students, but since the news is controlled by the local paper, it has never been spread on the wires. Very few people in Santa Barbara know about it.
As for my own classes they are great. I am working with the underprivileged upper-middle-class WASPs from Slurburbia. It is definitely remedial education. The workshops are run like coffee shops.
I tell Red Foxx and Moms Mabley jokes between sets. People sing really terrific songs they have written some blues, some citybilly, mostly Donovan-Collins-Mitchell-Cohen type things. We play lots of Café Chantant records from Brassens to Marc Moro, from Montero to Eva or Barbara, and I read translations.
Mexican songs, fados, Japanese or Swedish rock, USA or MC5 records or tapes. The quality of the stuff produced is dumbfounding. I thought most of them were pros with ambitions to make Fillmore East. On the contrary, theyd never done anything like this before. The buried creative potential under all the dreck of the mind-destroying middle-class culture from which they have come is incredible. When it is over, I dont grade them they grade me and themselves.
This year in Santa Barbara has taught me the nature and the root of the lethal crisis of the soul overwhelming Western civilization and all the meanings of the Youth Revolt and the Counter Culture. Ive been writing about it for years. Ive been, along with Paul Goodman, one of its leading theoreticians. Now I know.
We are all sliding down an avalanche of an utterly morally intolerable civilization into extinction. As of now, even in Paris, let alone Garrison State College, run by that old silent star Sessue Hayakawa who used to specialize in playing hatchet men, we have only been on the defensive, fighting back in a rearguard action just as in Prague.
As Le Monde Concentrationnaire USA, decorated like a baseball field with posters by J. Walter Thompson, shuts down around us, we have to find out how to define our objectives so clearly that we can take the offensive. It is the guerrilla culture against Empire, but Che proved: You cant begin to fight unless you know who are your friends and enemies, and what you want.
[March 27, 1969]
More on Santa Barbara
To follow up my letter from Santa Barbara in the last issue first, I dont have any connections at all with The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. The idea I did was due to a misunderstood telephone conversation.
Second, the piece was possibly too harsh, but at least one-sided. This time Id like, not to accentuate the upbeat, but to approach this unique community somewhat more positively.
Santa Barbara, city, county and university, certainly represents in practically pure form what a Marxist would call a democratic dictatorship of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant upper middle class. This of course is true of most communities in America or of a dozen other countries as well.
But not in so pure and protected a form. In the old days Santa Barbara, like Pasadena or Piedmont, Atherton or Hillsborough, walled itself off from the destructive boom exploitation that started to ruin California from the very beginning. It was the prettiest town in the state on a site as beautiful as Naples, Hong Kong or San Francisco and it intended to remain that way.
We forget, if we ever knew, for we are certainly not taught about it in school, how deeply rooted in economic morality the extractive industries are in Californias history. Mining, lumber and oil get yours and get out and to hell with the consequences but this was also true of Spanish California. Cattle were turned loose to run wild and were not rounded up but shot on the range. The hides and suet were stripped off and carried to port on pack horses. Carcasses were poisoned and left to destroy the vermin. Every summer the savannahs were burned off to improve the range. The fires also served to round up and trap the Indians, who were shot down as they fled from the enclosing flames, very much like a West Kansas jackrabbit hunt. The Americans drove sheep through the higher mountains and pigs through the lower.
These practices led to a complete change in the states biota. The highly nutritious bunch grass and other perennial grasses vanished to be replaced by grass weeds, especially Spanish wild oat. The condor, the grizzly, once extremely common, became extinct or survived in only a few individuals. The last California grizzly was killed at Horse Corral meadow in Kings Canyon Park a generation ago. A half grizzly, half black bear drowsed away his old age in one of the bear pits back of the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park about 40 years ago. The tiny condor reservation is unlikely to survive poachers and the effects of DDT on eggshells for more than five or ten more years.
Sierra meadows once looked like lakes when the camass with its blue flowers and highly nutritious bulbs was in bloom. The pigs exterminated the camass in all but a very few remote meadows. It was in these very years that Karl Marx said that Europe had survived only due to the humane traditions of an older culture. If you want to see capitalism in all its horror, said Marx, go to California.
Santa Barbara was a little enclave of comparative sanity in the midst of wholesale destruction. During World War II, exploitation was unbridled and ran wild everywhere. Some of the finest timber in California was logged off and shipped to Indonesia to make corduroy roads through the jungles where of course more suitable trees had to be cut down to clear the road itself. Then the armed forces decided to move everything by air and many of these roads were never used.
This is an example of the kind of devastation that began to lap at the carefully protected walls of Santa Barbara. The city has been overbuilt and many of the old controls are gone. Outside the city limits, whole towns have sprung up subject only to county control and built in areas certain to be flooded or burned over within comparatively short periods.
The oil disaster woke up the community. Ruthless exploitation of an unneeded natural resource, heavily subsidized by the federal government, now threatens to destroy the very meaning of Santa Barbara. Perhaps the oil leak, which is not stopped but still flows merrily on and apparently cannot be stopped, has brought home to the highly protected WASP rich the nature of the exploitations from which they draw dividends. It may well be that this catastrophe will tip the scales and that a rigorously planned and coordinated community can be recreated.
As for the university. It should have been limited in size to its population of five years ago. Its growth should certainly be stopped now. Students, junior faculty and the enlightened members of the administration must be free from the veto powers of people who came here to take their doctors degree years ago and said, What a nice place to retire, and proceeded to do so.
Communication has to be opened up with all the most advanced tendencies in education all over the world so that both the progressive faculty and administration people and the student movements, black or white, have the essential information before they can even know what they want or how to solve their problems. That information is not available now.
There is nothing unusual, for instance, about the way I conduct my classes. There are plenty like them, not just at Bard or Reed, but at Harvard or NYU. The only group in constant contact with its fellows elsewhere is the leadership of the Black Students Union, but most of the rank and file members are still unaware of whats going on in the movement elsewhere.
As for the student residents ghetto, Isla Vista, that is hopeless. It should be condemned, torn down and started over along the lines once hoped for by the idealists. This means a publicly owned and operated renewal plan which would create a cité universitaire of beautiful buildings, good dining halls and restaurants with theaters, coffee shops, bookshops and plenty of places for recreation, all set in the midst of wide lawns and plenty of trees, with a maximum of landscaping use of the beaches and the views out to the sea toward the islands.
Why not turn the whole thing over to Ian McHarg and Louis Kahn? Of the greatest importance again is the opening up of communications with the outside world. There is scarcely a literate magazine in any language from anywhere in the world that you cant buy on Telegraph Avenue or around Harvard Square. The one magazine stand on Isla Vista carries cheesecake and surfer magazines and got in trouble over ZAP comics, and the magazine stand in the university bookshop is considerably below the level of the one in the Fort Dodge airport or a Wichita Falls drugstore.
Fundamental to the whole conflict in education is the necessity for a real change of heart. The academic hack must be pushed to the background and deprived of veto power. In the worldwide crises of the human spirit, there is no room in education for anyone but enthusiastically dedicated pedagogues, a word ironically enough the hacks have made a term of abuse. With the onset of a fully developed technological society, it has now become possible to attack human self-alienation head on.
The alienation of man from his work, from his fellows, and from himself can be done away with by the end of the century. Instead, in Russia or East Germany, as much or even more than in the U.S., France or England, alienation is increasing likely a deadly pandemic. The May Days in Paris, the complete shutdown of the education system in Japan this spring, are symptoms of a worldwide social disease, a new Black Death.
What the education system should be doing is developing in the communities that it can create within itself, de-alienators, thousands and thousands of young people who can go out into the world their elders are destroying and overcome the social morality of homo homini lupus [man is a wolf to man]. Every classroom, whether in projective geometry, Assyriology or literature, should be tested by its capacity for agape creative interpersonal respect and affection. This is what we mean by the absolute necessity for revolution in education. Is it likely to take place? No.
Meanwhile they plan to destroy the lagoon between UCSB and the mainland with a freeway designed to handle so large a volume of traffic that it would be necessary to completely cover with concrete both Isla Vista and the university site to take care of the parked cars.
[May 22, 1969]
Press, Police, Mafia
The Chronicle gives a front-page headline to a story by their science editor, STRONG DEFENSE OF DDT, four columns wide, ten lines deep at the bottom of the page with a runover on the back page of over a column. On the back page is a news story one-quarter of a column long playing down the manifesto of 150 scientists who issued the gravest possible warning against the insecticide. The statements in the first story were characterized by evasions, misrepresentations, political abuse, distortion of evidence and misrepresentation of fact. The second story used the mildest paragraph in the manifesto of the 150.
Why this contrast? It is very simple. The Chronicle, the Examiner and the boss of the Chronicle are all in the business of factories in the fields. The Hearsts probably make more money off agriculture and mining than they have made in the whole history of their newspaper enterprises.
Why no stories on the demonstrated relationship between DDT and cancer of the liver? The answer is that no paper is better at twisting the arms of its reporters than the Chronicle. It is a perfect representation of the kind of journalism described a half century ago in Upton Sinclairs The Brass Check. The difference is that Paul Smith and after him Scott Newhall invented a special lubricant of fake journalism, pseudo-hippiedom and Pacific Heights Squirt Set gossip to make the brass check slide in earlier into the defenseless butt of San Franciscos middle class, so rotten with provincial sophistication.
If you base the entire editorial policy on a city column [Herb Caen] (subsidized by a chain of haberdashers that pays several times over for the page) whose greatest accomplishment is getting a few cents of wire strung through a tunnel so motorists wont miss the play-by-play from Candlestick, you have well, what do you have? Giggles over the grapefruit. Of course there is always that pseudo-hippy on Ed. 2 [probably Ralph Ginsberg] for those who think the underground press uses too many dirty words.
What the Bay Area needs so badly is a committed, crusading liberal paper at least comparable to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Louisville Courier, or the York (Pa.) Gazette.
San Francisco is in a very bad way indeed. Chicago has been a city of the dead since 1925-27 when it was taken over by the Organization. San Francisco is now at that point.
Why were Broadway and the Haight-Ashbury handed over to The Organization in the last two mayoralty campaigns? First, for a fast buck on bare boobs and smack. Second, to deliberately destroy property values so that North Beach and the Haight-Ashbury, the citys two most charming neighborhoods, can be turned, once prices have hit rock bottom, into expensive high-rise slums, whether condominiums or housing projects (which are indistinguishable in fact), both guaranteed by federal money.
Remember the guy on Long Island who parlayed a $1000 bank account into a cooperative and condominium empire, entirely with federal money? Like lots of the boys from the Mezzogiorno hed acquired a record in his rash youth, but of arrests, never convictions.
Who now runs the Visitors and Convention Bureau in San Francisco? Who did he work for before? Where does the money for this outfit come from? It comes from the Hotel Tax, which was set up for cultural activities. Its disposition is eventually at the disposal of a toilet-paper magnate and a couple of bankers who consider themselves the most cultured Power Elite in the country.
Do you know that you cannot get a loan at the mortgage rate from a reputable bank to buy a place to live in in the Haight-Ashbury, but only on the lot to demolish and rebuild. The guys who are responsible for this are the leading patrons of the symphony, the museums and our Square Repertory Theater.
Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York one by one the cities fall before the Police Counter Revolution. In San Francisco we have the most politically ambitious copper of them all, so dizzy with conceit that he is convinced he has already won his counterrevolution.
San Francisco once had the best entertainment district in the country, the only one where you were sure youd get value received and never get clipped, much less rolled. Now its worse than the French Quarter and Calumet City ever were.
Once you could walk the streets of the city at any hour of the night anywhere in perfect safety. Once the city had the least black-white racial tension possibly in the world. Once the whores of San Francisco, black or white, were the friendliest, and the card rooms were places of quiet recreation, and the gay bars were the safest places in town. There were almost no working pimps and there was no organized vice whatsoever.
You could run one whorehouse, or one card room or one call service or booking agency, but never two. When Capone tried to take over the sugar moon business in San Francisco, the two agents he sent to terrorize Gus Oliva were found dead at the foot of Point Reyes cliff. One had a button from a police uniform clutched in his fist.
While they tear down the finest old homes in San Francisco which they first turned into smack and speed crash pads, Hunters Point (which has been illegally allowed to stand since four years after the war when, like all other temporary housing, it was supposed to be torn down) festers away, out of sight and easily cordoned off like the Warsaw ghetto.
The terror directed against youth will increase in fury during the next six months. Why? Because it is out of the concerned people in the universities that resistance to extinction for profit, which is what the post-capitalist system has become, will emerge into the wider society. It certainly will not come from the industrial working class, fat on Vietnamese blood and drugged by the boob tube.
The violence of counterrevolution has crept up on us in an age of unremittent violence and we forget that if Hitler had poison-gassed the University of Heidelberg as late as 1938, his government would have fallen.
What has the citys liberal daily to offer in this lethal web of crises, emergencies and conspiracies? Merla Zellerbach. The other bylines, in case nobody told you, are just Merla in drag, except McCabe, a good man fallen amongst teeny boppers.
[July 10, 1969]
Last month I took part in a poetry reading at Nourse Auditorium a benefit for the Planning and Conservation League. A goodly number of the citys leading poets read and the auditorium was comfortably full. What was impressive was the immediate spontaneous response to the very name of the organization, which most of the audience and participants had never heard of.
Equally impressive was the character of the audience. They were like the people who came to the Six Gallerys historic readings in 1955-56 and the one in Fugazi Hall almost 10 years later. It was as though the freaked-out generation had never been, as though the Flower Children had never been sold down the river by the Mafia. I do not mean the people were all that old. Most were as young or younger than those you see making out in the gutter on Haight Street.
These people were not victims. They gave every indication of being able to manage their own lives in terms of the values of the alternative society. They had all shown up at the call of conservation because they knew what the other alternative, the dominant society, was all about.
This is the most significant development in the counterculture. The teeny boppers may still be in revolt against their fathers and mothers. Elderly half-crazy novelists may still be organizing centers all over Europe to sell society on free heroin. The Underground Press may be full of nakeds, dope gossip and comic pornographic personals, but the interest of the counterculture has shifted to the most important issue in human history.
We are becoming extinct. Extinct has become an active verb with a reflexive sextincter. The dominant society is extincting itself along with everything else it can extinct and especially us.
Perfectly calm and collected scientists now say that it is unlikely that the human race with last into the next century, and that in the next five or ten years there will begin a series of catastrophic famines in each of which hundreds of millions will die. There are thousands of other species of sentient beings who will go out with man.
The possibilities of reversing this process are exceedingly remote. If measures of salvation were put into effect now, this week, most could not begin to pay off for a generation.
Japanese birth control specialists estimate that a program as effective as theirs will take 30 years to really make a difference. The poisoning of the sea and the pollution of inland waters is only beginning.
Most of the DDT that has already extincted several species is still in the soil and will be washing into the sea for years, even if the use of DDT is given up tomorrow. Most of the high prairie and the intermountain grazing areas have already been destroyed.
Twenty years ago, demographers looked forward with horror to 3 billion people in the year 2000. There are now 3½ billion people alive.
Civilization, and not just Western civilization, shows all the symptoms of ever-accelerating breakdown. If civilization means the control of life to ensure steadily increasing experience of values in both intensity, scope and depth, civilization is not breaking down, it came to an end in August 1914.
Man has lost control. What is accelerating is not the breakdown of civilization, but the breakdown of the species as such. Unless the processes now operating are reversed, and when reversed are still able to win out, man is a failure. The species has failed.
Unfortunately, man is not one of those funny-looking rhinoceros-like creatures in the paleontology books whose passing will not make a great deal of difference to other beings. Man has not just been crowded out of his ecological niche; he has destroyed everybodys ecology. The changes which have taken place already in this generation are greater than those postulated to account for the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Can the youth revolt, now that it is finding out what is most important of all to revolt against, make a significant difference? It can try. At least in the struggle to live a balanced life of mutual aid, of symbiosis with all the other creatures on earth, it can find the objectives, the hierarchy of life values, and the sources of self-discipline which it has lacked. In so doing it will create an actual, integral counterculture, a community of health within the Great Sickness, a New Moral World, as Robert Owen called his community.
If we can achieve an ecological morality, we will have achieved a community based on Kropotkins Mutual Aid and Schweitzers respect for life and Buddhas love for all sentient creatures and at the same time a spiritual morality and a community ethic with readily verifiable scientific foundations and with applications and consequences as detailed in the specific day-to-day acts and relations as can be found in any 12-volume work of casuistry and moral theology. Applications will be most always quite obvious and will not need a Talmud or a casuistry.
Can this happen? There is everything against it. The Dutch Royal family, the Du Ponts, the Rockefellers, drench the world with poisons. The black militants raid family-planning offices in the ghettos and beat up the workers. The head of Indias birth-control plan proposes to solve the problem with a year of national abstinence. The Pope says if you take the pill, youll go to hell.
If poets like Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Richard Brautigan, David Meltzer, Ron Loewinsohn, Lew Welch and the rest and their audiences preach and practice the ecological revolution, theyre not likely to win. The time is gone, but at least they can establish a Kingdom in the face of Apocalypse, a garrisoned society of the morally responsible which will face extinction with clear consciences and lives as happily lived as possible.
[August 18, 1969]
The Mafias Increasing Domination
There are limits to what a small, impoverished, crusading newspaper can do. On the other hand, publications that can afford $12 million libel suits are intrinsically unlikely to attack the fountainhead of corruption. This term was used during the Atherton investigation into the organized crime, rather the vice, of a prominent retail merchant fingered as the Big Boss.
Of course, everybody in the know in those days (the dear dead days when reporters on the City Hall beat did not believe everything they read on the editorial pages, least of all on Ed. 2) knew that the worthy doctor was just taking the rap for the invisible men behind him, one of them the president of a bank who ruled San Francisco as a privately owned principality like Monaco or Lichtenstein.
In those days, the police department was run by a conspiratorial organization far tighter than any revolutionary cell, named, appropriately enough, the Iron Ring the same name as the Mafia-like Circolo di Ferro which ran Naples from archbishop to street sweeper and rug girl.
The Iron Ring ran things with an iron hand. Patrolmen were the bag men and they never permitted any rowdyism or monkey business. The city was wide open and clean.
Today the heads of the Greek Syndicate are billionaires, entrepreneurs in geopolitics. They can demand from the top of the power structure armed interventions, economic subsidies, all but the very highest offices and marriages like those the Mongol Khans obtained from the Emperors of China.
Time magazine, which certainly ought to know, says that the Mafia is richer and more powerful than all of Americas largest corporations put together.
Gee, I can remember when those hoods used to wear earrings, smell of garlic, take off their shoes to count to 20 and toss pineapples at one another across the corners of Oak and Orleans Streets in Chicago. Bring back, oh, bring back the gentle days of Joey Aiello!
Whatever the results of pending libel suits, anybody with eyes to see and ears to hear knows San Francisco is in the grip of The Organization. As the second leading pleasure city outside of Nevada, San Francisco is ruled and is being destroyed by the people who run the pleasure cities of the world, from Macao to the Argentine.
The Chief of Police says there is no evidence whatever of organized vice in San Francisco. I have always thought he had all the characteristics of a Philistine deity: Eyes they have and see not; ears they have and hear not; feet they have and do not run about. Their oracular statements are manufactured by wind machines.
Never believe the fall guys, the Greasy Thumb Guziks and baggy-eyed, baggy-bellied, elderly hoods rounded up in a raid in the woods, are the boys that run things. If Time is right, the Mafia is the largest business enterprise in the world. The Lascaze case and the Montessi case proved 10 years ago that it controlled the Italian and French governments and the Vatican.
One of the first and largest conglomerates, whose oil interests alone have kept parts of North Africa and the southern Arabian peninsula in a state of civil war for years, is the first square business enterprise of The Organization. Today this little empire is one of its smaller interests.
Think back. Do you remember that the bulk of the American press and the leading news weeklies were pro-Castro until he shut down the whorehouses and gambling halls? Then, within 48 hours, they turned on him; he became a menace to the American Way of Life, as indeed he was.
The faceless men behind the smack peddlers of Haight-Ashbury and the boy whores of Ellis Street are the same people who are Manhattanizing San Francisco with high-rise monstrosities and reducing the most beautiful suburban landscapes in the world to slums of built-in obsolescence at 12-percent interest.
I dont know how the Berkeley rent strike will come off. At last, the movement is beginning to find its enemy: The NAACP, under the leadership of Herb Hill, has launched an attack on the incredibly corrupt and insanely racist building trades unions. If student rebels strike at the great corporations, which have taken over from the old tea-drinking, curl-papered, poodle-petting landladies, the Big Business of student housing, they will have come face-to-face with The Enemy.
Notoriously, The Organization owns one of the largest of these real estate outfits, and this is not the only country in which it operates such enterprises.
You would assume that the totalitarian states within the Iron Curtain would be invulnerable to Our Boys. More and more of them are initiating Yugoslavias immensely profitable pleasure cities on the Dalmatian coast. There, joy seekers of the bourgeois West are as carefully isolated as the monkey islands in zoos. Do you realize that many of these enterprises are leased, not operated, by the state? Whom are they leased to? You guessed it.
[September 30, 1969]
The Ecology of Education
Overnight, it has become apparent than man has destroyed his environment to the point where the earth strikes back. Overnight, ecology has become more fashionable amongst both young and old than hobble skirts and hula hoops ever were.
Even the mindless administration of Calvin Coolidge Jr. has been prodded by its mechanical brains on loan from J. Walter Thompson into a brainless cognizance: not of the threat of a poisoned environment to the human race, but of the threat of concerned effete mobs to its own cheap political image.
Kept scientists from White House kennels go to conferences on the environmental disaster, get up and say to the objective and informed scientists there gathered: You boys cant expect us to take back to our president all this calamity howling! Youve got to accentuate the upbeat. The sane sensible silent solid majority of good Americans knows that growth equals prosperity and theyre not going to buy anything else. This administration and any other administration that could take its place is committed to growth everywhere. Thats what keeps us ahead and makes us the greatest, happiest, best-educated, most prosperous society the world has every seen. I dont think you boys have been doing your homework. Im just not going to tell the president all this communistic nonsense. It would just make him mad and pretty soon you fellows would find you werent going to get any more government money for conferences like this.
We think of ecological breakdown in global, or at least large-scale, terms. True, Thor Heyerdahl found the dead center of the Atlantic Ocean accumulating filth like Lake Erie, so that techniques for desalinating the drinking water could remove the salt but could not make the water potable. This scares people, but its far away, like famines in China and India.
Breakdown occurs in nature in microenvironments. Life associations under a California valley oak fail when misuse of water destroys the water table and the oaks die out. First mutual aid goes; a struggle of each against all ensues, with a proliferation of malignant types; finally, death.
Similarly in education: Students at Berkeley, SF State, UCSB, UCLA are rightly concerned, even terrified, about the destruction of redwoods, pollution of San Francisco Bay and the Santa Barbara Channel, the slurbization of agriculture and omnipresence of smog. But first and foremost, they should look at themselves, at their own microecology.
Education is an interpersonal relationship strictly limited in size. When it grows beyond that it destroys both environment and people. At the critical point, tipover occurs and mutual aid gives way; a struggle of each against all ensues, with a proliferation of malignant types; finally death. We have reached the point where the inmates of the educational system revolt against the destructive structure, try to break out and establish creative human relationships. Already we are approaching the point where the conflict will take another form, turn in upon itself.
As long as the struggle is directed against manifest evils of the structure symbolized by the Establishment, it remains creative. When conflict becomes internecine, when the victims divert their energies from victimization and turn on each other, breakdown is imminent.
We are on the brink.
The Establishment has met the crisis with sympathetic magic, handing out mimeographed rules from Deans offices and true and false questionnaires and tinkering with the mechanics of the structure. Now they breathe a joyful sigh of relief as SDS breaks into battling cliques of Maoists, Trotskyites, Cheists, Weathermen and anarchists.
In the beginning, San Francisco State seemed one of the most creative schools in the country; a little bitty place, a half-altered normal school down on lower Haight Street with an intimacy in its pedagogical relationship unequaled in the West. It moved to a magnificent site and proceeded to obliterate it with chicken coops into which every year new thousands of white leghorns were stuffed and expected to lay golden eggs of knowledge.
This sort of thing is happening everywhere. At Santa Cruz and Irvine, where the original planners thought they had protected the environment, the saturation point has already been reached, yet administrators talk about doubling the enrollment by 1980.
If college administrations dont knuckle under with plans for an ever-burgeoning GNP of battery-raised pullets, Uncle Sam starts twisting arms with his little grants and subsidies.
Unless we are all killed off in race wars or kill ourselves off with atoms, the major industrial nations will soon send everybody to college. We must limit population growth nationally and globally. The present rate of increase is destroying the environment which permits the species to exist.
But we must also cut down micro-populations in micro-environments, everywhere, and not least in education. In the next ten years, the universities of California and the state colleges should at least quadruple in number and the present college populations should be cut in half.
You certainly cant get a humane, humanitarian, humanistic education packed into a swarm of 50,000 people. You cant get a human one. You may not get a decent one even with a student population of four figures. For me, 999 is the limit.
[December 16, 1969]
Rexroth’s San Francisco collects 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.