News

Former Defense Department General Counsel Appointed Harvard’s Top Lawyer

News

Democracy Center Protesters Stage ‘Emergency Rally’ with Pro-Palestine Activists Amid Occupation

News

Harvard Violated Contract With HGSU in Excluding Some Grad Students, Arbitrator Rules

News

House Committee on China to Probe Harvard’s Handling of Anti-CCP Protest at HKS

News

Harvard Republican Club Endorses Donald Trump in 2024 Presidential Election

From the Shelf The Whole World Is Watching

By Tromas Geoghegan

320 pp. $1.25.

MIDDLE AMERICA is taking this book to heart. The jacket already boasts a string of blurbs from the Piusburgh Press, the Fresno Bee, and Publishers Weekty. In the opinion of Library Journal. The Whole World is Watching -by Mark Gerzon 70-is "required reading for the over-30 generation." Adults have a unique gift for humoring these shallow apologias of the youth scene. Perhaps it's just practice. Mark Gerzon's excursion into pop sociology reads like a work commissioned by Look Magazine.

First of all, "generation" is a slippery unit of analysis. The confusion grows when the author becomes careless with other categories as well: the hippies, the alienated, the committed. Mass values, traditional values, youth cuhure. Utter chaos results when the author neglects to provide empirical data or even arrange his airy assertions in a coherent order. This particular book could also stand ronsiderabic pruning. It runs at least a hundred pages too long.

But all this earnest effort serves a useful purpose. It illustrates how an erudite Dudley House senior, with the best intentions in the world, can let admiration for his peers lead him astray. Reaching for the profound insight, Gerzon ends up only with a smug revision of Youth Wants to Know. Here is a fairly representative passage: "With increased cultural communications today's well educated young people cannot accept meanings and opinions. They have access to too many thinkers and have too great a degree of mobility for the ethnocratic answers given them in childhood to remain satisfactory."

That's youth. all right, inquisitive as ever. The rest of the analysis follows rather predictably. In their pursuit of profits and technology, adults have forgotten (and youth re-discovered) the really important things: human relations. According to youth, "the price of technological advance" is "the psychological sacrifice of the individual's independence." Gerzon scarcely bothers even to rephrase the cliches. "In adult society," he writes. "we see everyone trying to keep up with the Joneses: but the sad thing is that the Joneses are trying to keep up with the Smiths, and the Smiths with the Johnsons, ct ecetera." Et cetera.

To be fair, several of these generalizations rise to a more trenchant level of perception. Gerzon thoughtfully comments on the cinema and the international solidarity of youth movements. Far too often, however, he simply paraphrases at length a handful of social critics-Erikson, Riesman, Me-Luhan, Marcuse-which results in plodding style and convoluted pedantry.

Always the social scientist, Gerzon avoids the droll stories, the epigrams and the sassy obscenity that made Kunen's Strawberry Statement so palatable. Whatever flavor there is in this book comes from a few sparse anecdotes which record the author's trivial brushes with the Establishment. In one encounter, a hawkish stewardess starts a discussion of the Vietnam war. She is confounded.

OUR GENERATION, according to Gerzon, has broken cleanly with the past and overthrown convention. "The postwar generation is the first to have reached manhood in a mass society." One can only guess at the meaning of the last term. "Mass society" has been a commonplace about America since Tocqueville, but Gerzon treats it as a new phenomenon. As one might guess, youth rejects mass society because it is uniform. For all his concern about uniformity, Gerzon himself clings persistently to his own set of stereotype images. His stereotype youth with his stereotype youth culture condemns the stereotype adult with his stereotype mass society. One reads with apathy of this conflict between two faceless generations.

Ironically, to describe the new ideology of youthful alienation, Gerzon must draw heavily from the works of an older generation. This provides sorry comment on youth's intellectual contribution to its own dissent. Except for a stray quote from Simon and Garfunkel or Janis Ian, he must resort to synopses of Camus and Erikson.

Yet Gerzon calls his generation the first generation of existentialists. It is a stripped-down existentialism, without much intellectual character, a shriveled offshoot of the mass media. Gerzon implies that anyone who listens to Dylan or the Beatles is an existentialist-although, he would caution, "not in the academic sense."

In fact, for all the talk of "new challenges," youth appears to confront the same choices faced by every generation-to drop out, cop out, or become involved.

THROUGHOUT his eulogy of young "aware ness," Gerzon glosses over the critical questions: is this a permanent phenomenon? is it widespread? Like many of his contemporaries, Gerzon has a child-like faith in the growing progressiveness of youth. His book ignores the statements and beliefs of a majority of college students. One indication is student opinion on the war. Only in the East, Gallup polls report, has even a majority of students objected to the current Nixon strategy in Vietnam.

The progressive sentiments of youth become even more suspect when one examines the non-college young. The Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan recently provided some clues on their political attitudes. The youngest voters made up the bulk of the Wallace support in the 1968 elections. Wallace's hysterical campaign against the New Left had its greatest impact on this segment of the population. To appreciate the size of this electorate, one must consider that only 45 per cent of those Americans at college age attend institutions of higher learning.

Universal education at this level might make matters worse. On the basis of voting data in 1968, the GOP is proving the party of the college graduate. While the New Left has grown to a formidable size, its proportion among youth remains small. The proportion shrinks further after graduation. For his part, Gerzon seems to believe in a permanent estrangement of the generations. Such a view lacks foundation. After returning home to a job in a Middle American community, even radical college students may well revise their political stances. Many will revert in time to the party affiliations inherited from their families. Our generation will probably prove a conservative one.

Gerzon avoids this whole dilemma by defining it out of existence. His reference to youth supposedly include only "young people who perceive the new challenges, not those who continue to accept old values as if nothing had been changed." The Whole World Is Watching requires a monumental suspension of disbelief.

In fact, Gerzon's measure of the generation gap approximates the size of his own credibility gap. To prove that youth has spurned business, he cites a questionnaire distributed to Harvard seniors. As Harvard goes, so goes the nation-therefore, Gerzon concludes from the poll, youth has rejected business. The hoary old capitalist machine will probably run down for lack of personnel. Using the same assumptions, one might conduct a poll of the Harvard faculty to check what "adults" are thinking about Spiro Agnew. Had Gerzon really wished to look up the soaring enrollment in business administration and the parallel decline of liberal arts all over' the country, he would have avoided this inane pronouncement.

MANY of these ruminations on the younger generation make sense only from the myopic perspective of an Ivy League existence. Mark Gerzon attends Harvard. Here students take only liberal arts. Most of them come from liberal cosmopolitan, highly affluent backgrounds. Though small in number, they have enough spending money to finance a major "youth culture ara." The high proportion of boarders also sets Harvard apart: one lives in virtual isolation from the adult world-and the outside world.

Here the author's faith in youth remains undisturbed. Here youth still rejects materialism, still sees through the hypocrisy of religion, still reads Freud and majors in Soc Rel, still sniffs at the draft, and still shares a common bond of brotherhood with oppressed peoles of the Third World. Here, in Gerzon's portrait of a generation, is youth-smiling through the tears, an irksome gaggle of alienated pollyannas.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags