The Temptation of the New Breed: From May 22, 1965

A year ago in America I tried to tie together some impressions about modern youth under the label of the "New Breed." I must confess I was overwhelmed by the reaction. All sorts of people announced--some of them validly--that they were members of this New Breed and happily proclaimed that at long last there was someone who understood them. (Alas, it is not true; I do not understand them.) On the other hand, many of those who had identified in the New Breed a dangerous enemy blamed me for the New Breed phenomenon-on the same principle, I suppose, that ancient kings invoked in executing messengers who brought bad news: he who announces bad news is the one responsible for its coming to be.

Not having learned my lesson from this experience, I am now venturing back into the land where the New Breed dwell, with some new impressions. I have not changed my mind about the New Breed. I still like them; I am still sympathetic, puzzled and hopeful. But I think now I understand more clearly what their problems are and what is the crucial temptation they face. My friends in the New Breed must excuse me for sounding more critical in this article than in the previous one; but a year ago I was talking about the New Breed, and at this point I am talking to them. If I may borrow a tactic from their own approach to life, I would say that honesty compels me to write the things that I am writing here.

First of all, I feel that the New Breed are increasingly handicapped by a lack of ideology. What I mean by ideology is something rather different from what the New Breed mean by it. I mean a coherent and specific set of goals, a consistent series of norms according to which society is to be remade.

We ask the New Breed what they want of us, or what they want of society, and they say: "'We want you to love us, we want you to permit us to make something of the world where you have failed." But then if. we ask: "How have we failed, and how do you want us to love you?" their words become vague. They tell us simply that we have failed because there is not enough love or freedom in the world.

"Freedom," "self-fulfillment" and love" are for them the only ideology necessary. These are ends sufficient in themselves, and they need not be specified any further. When you ask them: "Freedom for what?" "Self-fulfillment toward what goals?" "Love in what systematic fashion?" they look at you as though you were a relic of another era.

Secondly, the lack of ideology interferes in many instances with the critical social analysis and the systematic commitment to work that is necessary to accomplish a change. The "radicalism" of the New Breed is too often a kind of free-floating social concern. There are all sorts of things wrong with society, a the New Breed are going to do something about these things; but they are not very specific about what is wrong with society-or what must be done about it¬aside from saying that they do not feel free in it to be themselves. As one very honest member of the New Breed put it: "It's not just that we don't know t answers to what is wrong with the world; we do even know the proper words to phrase the question."

It is relatively easy to throw up a picket line, or to tutor a culturally deprived child in the inner city, or even to join the Peace Corps or go to Mississippi. But these actions, while they demonstrate concern and, in some instances even heroism, deal generally with the symptoms of· social problems and not with the roots. All the picket lines in the world will not resolve difficulties of segregated education in the large urban centers unless the tax structures and the revenue codes under which these giant cities must operate are drastically reformed.

Young people ask me what organization they should join if they wish to accomplish social change in the Chicago metropolitan area. They wonder if it ought to, be CORE, or SNCC, or the Catholic Interracial Council. When I reply that they ought to consider becoming precinct captains or assistant precinct captains in thte Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, they look at me as though I were insane. The New Breed seem to have little taste for acquiring the knowledge and the skills necessary to deal with the causes social problems. They have no taste at all for the complicated details of revenue codes or the grubby day-to-day work of a political organization.

Thirdly, the New Breed, for all the skill they can display when they finally commit themselves to organizational work, are basically suspicious and distrustful of organization of any kind. They just want to love, and they think that love and interpersonal relationship more or less by themselves are enough to solve the problems of society. Organizations cramp the style of the human spirit: they restrict the spontaneity and creative love of the individual person. The New Breed want no part of this. They find it hard to believe there was a time in the not too distant past when young people could enthusiastically dedicate themselves to an organization-whether the Young Peoples' Socialist League in the 1930's or the Young Christian Students immediately after World War II.

It seems to me, however, that in the absence of carefully planned organizations, human love will, in the final analysis, become weak and ineffective. Even the most elemental kind of human love only becomes really effective when it is put into the organized structure we call the family. To be able to love at all effectively, the New Breed will have to overcome their distrust of organizations. They must learn to distinguish between those organizations that stifle the human spirit and those that create a situation where the human personality can flower much more fully than it could if left to itself. Unless they do so, they will pass from the scene without having accomplished much besides stirring up quite a bit of noise and excitement.

Here, then, is the crucial temptation facing the New Breed; either they acquire at least a provisional and concrete ideology and the ability to commit themselves to organizational work, or they expose themselves to becoming disenchanted and disillusioned idealists.

One hears that some of the young people coming back from the Peace Corps, or from PAVLA, or from Mississippi, are disappointed in their experience. They have left the comfort of their homes to help others, to love them, and they have found that many people don't seem to want their love, won't co-operate with them, won't accept the values that these young Americans bring. Those who were to be helped will not "relate" in a satisfactory fashion and will not behave like upper-middle-class white Americans. Love is just not enough; to re-evaluate everything that has been done in the past does not furnish automatic answers as to what must be done in the future. Our social problems are more complicated than they thought.

Feeling rejected, discouraged, disillusioned, the member of the New Breed is strongly tempted to give up, to retreat, to find some comfortable ivory tower where he can "relate" to a small group of like-minded people. Thus, the disillusioned New Breeder often thinks he will find in the academic life the love and freedom he is seeking. (Yet, in a year or two, he will undergo the even worse disillusionment of discovering that the academic life is the last sanctuary of the inner-directed man-the last of the "jungles" to be found in the Western world.)

The alternative for the New Breeder is to drastically change his style-to become concerned with the technical, the political, the organizational; to acquire the competencies and the skills necessary for the complicated grubby work that must be done if the social structure of the world is to be even slightly modified. For whether the problems are in South America, or Mississippi, or the inner city of Chicago, solutions cannot be discovered without profound understanding of law, government methods and the economics and social organization of modem life. The New Breeder, too, must fashion for himself a highly specific set of goals and norms; without these, any human effort is likely to Bounder in the sea of well-meaning but ineffective good intentions. If he is to manage to keep alive the bright enthusiasm of his early days in the New Breed, he must abandon the cheap cliches and slogans of the books of existentialist philosophy and become hard-nosed and practical. As yet few have attempted this.

The problem of disillusionment is aggravated by the fact that the New Breed seem to have their own built-in variety of mental.disturbance in the "identity crisis" syndrome. There isn't much doubt to any of us who have tried to work with the New Breed that they go through tremendous mental anguish in the process of growing up. The basic 'problem is that the very best young people we have simply are not sure who they are, where they are going, or what they want out of life. Erik Erikson's phrase "identity crisis" serves only to give a name to an experience that especially torments the members of the New Breed.

As Erikson has pointed out, it is essential to the weathering of this phase in the stmggle for maturity that the young person be able to fashion an ideology that will guide the rest of his life. Part of the New Breed's problem arises because they do not know what they want, because they have no ideology. But part of the problem, too, comes from the "honesty" and self¬consciousness of the New Breed. Young people today have discovered, to a greater extent, than any of their predecessors, that they have an unconscious. They feel compelled to question and examine constantly their motives. and their emotional states. As one fairly cynical New Breeder put it: "The trouble with us is, that we must make a great big hairy deal out of all our problems." The difficulties that previous generations might have dismissed as minor take on major importance with the New Breed. This is especially true of "problems of faith." Religious doubts are not new, but the seriousness with which they are pondered seems to be much more intense with the New Breed.

The result of this intense emotionalism is that psychological ups and downs are greatly magnified. New Breeders seem to be manic-depressives. This is why it is so difficult to work with them. For all their organizational skills, one can never be quite. sure that, when the chips are down, the young person may not find himself in a paralyzing emotional crisis. One finds oneself in the position of saying: "Follow me. We are going to storm the barricades" and then looking around and finding one's followers sitting down and pondering the latest phase of their identity crisis. Again, their moods force them into taking extreme positions. Many of them leave college or seminary because, as they say, "I will be destroyed if I stay here any longer." Perhaps, indeed, they will be destroyed, though one wonders if the problem may be, more simply, that they lack the emotional fortitude to stick out a difficult situation.

I cannot help feeling that, for all their rejection of "phoniness," the New Breed's emotionalism has just a bit of the phony about it, too. The problems they have can be solved with intelligent effort; it is possible for the New Breed to take counsel, to put their life in order. What I find almost inexcusable is the tendency of so many of them to drift. It seems to me that in their lives there are, indeed, just too many "great big hairy deals."

Surely I am too harsh in judging the moods and identity crises of the New Breed. For New Breeders have grown up in a very different world, a world that I do not know and cannot really understand. No doubt I have permitted myself to become embittered because I have seen so many of their efforts collapse under strain. I know such a great number of young people going through these intense emotional crises. I wish there was something I could do to assist them, but having failed so many times, I fear there is nothing I can do. Sometimes I am tempted to believe that all that any of us from the older generation can do is leave them alone and let them work things out by themselves.

Thus, the final element in the temptation of the New Breed is the almost total misunderstanding between them and their predecessors, a misunderstanding perhaps more acute than has ever before separated an older and a younger generation. The older generation interprets the constant questioning of established traditions, the incessant demand for explanation, the persistent and often apparently unreasonable criticism as being signs of revolt. But this revolt is one that can neither describe what it opposes nor make clear what it wants to substitute for the present order of the Church and of society. Superiors, parents, teachers, advisors-all of us find it exceedingly difficult to communicate with these young people. The New Breed will have to excuse us ·of the older generation if, in the absence of a more articulate description of their goals, we say that we simply do not understand them. We would like to enter into dialogue, but there seems to exist an almost insuperable barrier to communication. Even those of us who admire them, who are sympathetic to them, who want to help them, find the languages we speak, the cultures from which we come, discouragingly different.

And so the New Breed feel, in the words of one member of the Free Speech Movement, that "you really can't trust anyone who is over thirty." The New Breed want to start all over again; they want to remake the world into a place of love and freedom. This desire of theirs to remake the world is a laudable one, indeed, but it seems to me that they will never accomplish their goal unless they can re-establish communication with those who have gone before them. In the absence of communication, we cannot help them and they cannot help us-and I think that they're going to need our help if the temptation to disillusionment and discouragement is not to overwhelm them. Nor do I think they can resolve their problems of identity unless they find at least some of the older generation who can, in some vague fashion, understand what they are trying to say.

These are dark days for the New Breed. They are going through a particularly unpleasant form of hell--a hell that they have made for themselves but that results also from the misunderstanding of those who are older. For the New Breed, the future still looks bright. They shall overcome-someday. The older generation, we Old Breeds and Half-Breeds, are no problem in the long run. But the crucial question is: can the New Breed overcome themselves, their own inarticulateness, their own confusion, their own uncertainty? At times, I confess, I have my doubts. But I am certainly not prepared to bet against the New Breed. Everything is still on their side.

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