THE SURVIVAL OF A COUNTERCULTURE by Bennett M. Berger

THE SURVIVAL OF A COUNTERCULTURE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Survival? Just barely. In 1978, when Professor Berger (Sociology, Univ. of California, San Diego) visited The Ranch, an anarchist commune in rural California, there were just nine adults and their five children living out their Sixties ideals. Yet amid this small group Berger discovers significant ""ideological work"" going on, and believes in this setting he can unravel the processes whereby a group's ""ideas may be modified or maintained, strengthened or discarded"" in order to remain in ""some viable relationship to its interests and circumstances. . . ."" It's the old commune-as-fishbowl syndrome, but staring at these fish for so long has made Berger wall-eyed: that important ""ideological work""--involving the decline in age-grading, pastoralism, and intimacy--most often resembles commonplace rationalization. Since children are considered at The Ranch to be persons First, they are granted rights to drugs and sex (along with responsibility for settling their own quarrels). To defend this principle, adult communards ""selectively utilize some of the ideas from the counterculture critique of modern life to provide a reasoned defense"" (e.g., the ideas that ""smoking dope is intrinsically harmless"" and that ""the dangers of sexual activity are similarly socially constructed""). The Ranch hands also have trouble justifying the values implicit in their pastoralism (survival, self-sufficiency, living close to nature), since they rely in part on the larger society's technology as well as on its welfare system. (The introduction of a chain-saw was legitimated by remedial ideological work: ""A chain-saw was not technology; it was a 'tool.'"") The most work of all, however, is demanded in the third area, intimacy, where outlawed jealousy still makes its appearance and individuals must carry out their own ""feeling work"" so that the group won't have to engage in ideological work. Berger applauds this hardy band as ""ready to do both the remedial ideological work to keep the ideas vital and the organizational work to keep the interests viable"" and applauds himself--turgidly--for being able to appreciate their ideas at a proper intellectual distance. Rarely has so much been made of so little.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0765808056
Publisher: Univ. of California Press