“Distorted Visions – The Greening of America”, by Charles Reich, 433 pages: Bantam Books
The Greening of America is Charles Reich’s vision of an attainable utopia. America, Reich proposes, is not getting worse; instead as after night follows day, a new light is dawning in the form of the “Woodstock generation.” Reich optimistically envisions America reaching the end of a bitter winter, ahead he sees the budding of new life, the virtual “Greening of America.”
Reich, under the assumption that we will be assured of the bright future only when we examine the darkness of the past, divides American history into three Consciousnesses of three different awarenesses (or lack of awareness). The first he classifies as Consciousness I. Consciousness I began almost before the ink on the constitution was dry. Americans faced with nearly limitless opportunities of economic and social advancement, for some strange reason, misused this privilege allowing greed and self-interest to over-rule their concern for fellow man. The struggle to reach the top over-ruled any other interests and those at the top had an insatiable appetite for more power. The scale of power and wealth leaned heavily to an ever diminishing group while the frustrated majority in their unrewarded scramble for success began to lose interest of the means only pressing for the ends. In short they lost interest in work itself.
As technology and industrialization increased, it unobtrusively began to replace personal power: so that economic success was no longer possible in terms of personal achievement. The victim of Consciousness I however was not aware of this, and even today there are still believers in the logs to presidency success. Characteristics of these deceived Americans are: (1) they assumed that “human nature is fundamentally bad,” and (2) “they vote for a candidate who seems to possess personal moral virtues and who promises to return earlier conditions of life and order, rectitude and lower taxes.”
The birth of Consciousness II began with the social and economic reforms of the 30’s; in main the Roosevelt reforms. Although these reforms were slightly effective in that they did such things as prohibit child labor, enforce minimum wages and introduce industrial safety laws, they were for the large part ineffectual. First of all, Reich says, these reforms came too late. They were designed to stem increased private power but private power was no longer a problem. The real problem was that the inanimate system held the reins of power and the reforms did nothing to curb the system. Secondly, the controls were not strong enough, the New Deal abandoned many of its radical reforms e.g. redistribution of income, and programs to improve the quality of life.
With the reforms came the beginning of Consciousness II which has extended into the present. Those under the influence of Consciousness II stressed reason or the rationality of man as the means to resolving all problems. Liberals, Communist Party members and many intellectuals are all products of Consciousness II. The epitome of Consciousness II are people like the Kennedys, who believe in reforms within the system. This reform can be achieved by complete dedication and excellence within the system. Highly respected people become those who excelled in their field, such as excellent lawyers and excellent surgeons, people to whom personal interest was secondary to public interest.
The handicap of Consciousness II is, says Reich, that first of all it is impossible to improve conditions by working within a system that is in itself corrupt. The second handicap is that the emphasis on excellence forces role playing. One does those things such as tennis, skiing, listening to Mozart when they are in vogue. This, along with increased pressure to become a cog in the system interested only in the general good, caused people to stifle any individuality or self-awareness they might have had. Consciousness II people are then those whose senses have been robotized and who are forced to conform to vogue standards and who are rendered incapable of independent freedom.
In the latter 60’s, the bleak winter was over and the spring of freedom in the form of the hip generation came bursting through like an unexpected reprieve. The now generation is responsible for developing Consciousness III. How it came about is a mystery to even Reich.
Consciousness III is a break-through in role playing, in competition, in the impersonal corporate state: it wipes away all petty anxieties with a simple statement. “I’m glad I’m me” breaks all the chains and makes personal freedom possible.
No longer are the Consciousness III members subject to petty self-interest and economic status; in fact, they seem admirably free from vices. They live mainly by three commandments (ten being of course too many): “One, be true to oneself . . . two, no one judges anyone else . . . third, everyone is entitled to pride in himself, and no one should act in a way that is servile or produces a feeling of inferiority . . .”
Reich cannot control his admiration of this idealistic, free, self-aware generation; he blatantly condones everything they do. He goes into great length about the self- expressiveness of blue jeans, acclaiming them as the social levelers. Of Marijuana and other psychedelic drugs he has this to say: “One of the most important means for restoring dulled consciousness is psychedelic drugs . . . extending to deep self-knowledge, to the religious, and to vision.”
The real “Greening of America” can only come about when this freedom and self- awareness is integrated into the whole of American society so that the system breaks down and ugliness, injustice, and the plastic of technology are abolished. In Reich’s vision everyone is happy together and the world is a beautiful place to live in.
In defense of Reich, I would like to say that many of his observations about Consciousness I and II were somewhat plausible; for instance, the loss of interest in work and the competitive race for material gain are indeed typified by the factory worker who lives for retirement and the young executive who desperately tries to scramble to the top of the economic ladder.
Yet from the very start Reich’s vision is distorted. He bases all his arguments on the assumption that man is perfectable, which as we of course know he is not. Although man is definitely in need of perfection, his total depravity makes it impossible for him to perfect himself or his environment. Reich’s vision of an even possible Utopia does violence to God’s work.
However Reich’s complete distortion is evident in his blind faith in Consciousness III. He equates the total loss of conscience to the awakening of a bright future. He sees the answer to the problem in the end result of the problem. He mistakes lawlessness for change and most tragic of all he mistakes destruction for salvation.