20210823

Kenneth Rexroth


Five Pieces from the San Francisco Bay Guardian

A Civil War in America


Some years ago during the drought on the Eastern Seaboard, European but especially Russian newspapers pointed out that the U.S. was spending so much money on war that the water supply of New York City had broken down and it was necessary to ration drinking water.

Editorial writers for the American kept press burst out with guffawing editorials, yet the foreign papers were perfectly right. New York is not in the middle of a desert and there has never been a drought so long that adequate reservoirs should be exhausted.

Since that day, the expenditure for war has zoomed past belief and in Vietnam alone now amounts to an admitted six billion dollars a month.

In addition there are immense expenditures for what is now considered to be ordinary military activity in a country that once did not have a standing army as a founding principle.

At the present moment, there are at least 32 little Vietnams, colonial and semi-colonial nations, where the U.S. is providing arms and the CIA is providing leadership and subsidizing assassins for counterrevolutions or the perpetuation of dictatorships run by criminal adventurers.

America has become the most hated and feared nation in history. Hitler and Stalin had friends. Johnson has only purchased whores. The CIA coup d’état in Indonesia unleashed a murderfest unsurpassed even by Hitler. 250,000 people were killed in less than two months.

The CIA-financed coup d’état in Greece was a subject of open discussion in the highest circles for a year before it occurred. I was told by a person as close as could be to the royal family that the CIA was offering a million dollars in a numbered Swiss bank account to anyone who would lead a coup d’état. No one would pick up the money.

My informant told me: “It is certain to come and you will know it is a CIA action because the people in the junta will be total political, military, social nonentities.” By the time I had passed on to Iran, his words had come true.

The feature editor of one of the leading Japanese newspapers told me that his conservative estimate was that there were 2500 employees of the CIA in the Tokyo area alone.

I returned this summer to an America in a state of developing civil war, a civil war of the police against society. While it was taking place, we heard all sorts of stories about lethal snipers in the Detroit riot. When the facts were in, 46 Negroes had been killed by the police and three white people, two of them almost certainly caught in crossfire. Where were the snipers? What were they shooting? What were they aiming at? Who was rioting? Black people? Or white men in uniform?

To wage war in Vietnam, education is being starved and the aged and mentally ill are being thrown out of hospitals and children are being clubbed into insensibility while Rin Tin Tin in Sacramento [i.e. California Governor Ronald Reagan] cheers on the uniformed thugs, just as Sunny Jim Rolph cheered on the lynch mob in San Jose a generation ago.

Rin Tin Tin is certainly right. It was in the finest California tradition and overtook and surpassed the shambles in Los Angeles this summer which every intelligent journalist knows was ordered by the vulgar and brutal denizen of the White House and guided by the Secret Service who are conspicuous among the Los Angeles Police on the television tapes.

A schism, an immense gulf has opened up in American life — Toynbee’s “schism in the soul” that heralds the immediately impending total collapse of civilization. I have been asked to give my opinions about the election. I have just given them.

We have suffered in San Francisco the administration of an incompetent White House toady [Mayor Joseph Alioto] who was prepared on telephone communication from Johnson to destroy Golden Gate Park and precipitate a race riot so that the Armed Forces could roll tanks back and forth from bridge to bridge, fighting, presumably, the second Battle of the Marne when the Chinese invade California after the Battle of Waikiki.

He and his Convention Bureau, financed by a hotel tax which was supposed to be for culture, gave North Beach to The Syndicate, which the Italian community itself had always kept out of San Francisco. He and his chief of police, after boasting of their wonderful Community Relations detail, with which they had nothing to do, fired one of the few enlightened police officers in the U.S.

And that’s what they did. If Lt. Andreotti was flunked on his examination for captain, he was fired — if you don’t believe it, all you have to do is talk for five minutes to some of the brutal and illiterate captains who flourish in San Francisco’s police force.

Insofar as San Francisco has been governed at all, it has been governed by the White House.

The breakdown and demoralization of the City’s civic life is due above all else to the war. Six billion dollars spent each month on each of the major social problems now confronting America, seriatim, one after another, for a year, would go a long way toward solving them and restoring the country to the ranks of civilization. As it is, voluntary ameliorative projects, privately financed by desperately concerned citizens, are harassed and forced to shut down, whether in Hunter’s Point or the Haight-Ashbury.

The kept press covered the opening of a pathetic tiny privately financed swimming pool, the first in the Hunter’s Point-Bayview area. The papers did not point out that this pool had to be choked down the throats of the San Francisco authorities, who of course should have provided long since a half dozen standard swimming pools in the area.

So it goes. The rioters, the disturbers of the peace, the cruel, the violent, the murderers, are in the state houses, the capitals, the White House, the governors’ mansions. The military-industrial complex and the political power structure they have created in the last 20 years have declared war on America, as well as on the rest of the world.

How ridiculous has been the response to Rusk’s and Johnson’s recent speeches, the phony liberals raising the ghost of The Yellow Peril. If you analyze Rusk’s speech carefully, you realize it can mean only one thing, a genocidal war of extermination against the Chinese people, no matter who rules in Peking. Their numbers must be cut down sufficiently so that White America, thousands of miles across the ocean, can rule in Asia, instead of three-quarters of a billion of yellow people. What Rusk’s speech advocated was Hitler’s Final Solution.

Therefore, there is only one issue in this election and one thing to vote for: Peace. Vote only for candidates whose position is clear and who can be trusted, and of course vote Yes for Proposition P [San Francisco measure calling for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam].

(There is only one self-evidently committed candidate — Arthur Sheridan — who was arrested the first day in the Oakland demonstration and given ten days in jail.)

Vote for no others, least of all for the candidates who now say they led the fight against the freeways and who in fact did the bidding of Johnson straight down the line. If this kind of duplicity is unchallenged over such an issue, what sort of double-cross can we expect on the question of stopping the war?

America is deep in the gravest emergency in its history. From now on, those who would save our civilization can no longer temporize or compromise. We must pass over to political and nonviolent assault tactics. Unless the worldwide war-making political, military and industrial power structure of America is stopped, it will destroy us all.

One suggestion: Instead of throwing thousands of defenseless people against mad dogs in uniform to demonstrate in front of an inert building, I think every spokesman for the war and every industrialist who profits from it should be assigned personal pickets.

Every time Walt Rostow goes out his door, he should meet a picket line and at least two people with placards saying “This is a Homicidal Maniac” and “This is a Genocidist” should march before and behind him every place he goes, day and night. So with Rusk, MacNamara and all the leading politicians and billionaires who, as a liberal senator said years ago, are prepared to destroy the planet rather than lower the price of a Buick.

These people must be subject to relentless personal pressure until at least psychologically they can do nothing but cower in a bunker in the White House basement. They are the most dangerous human beings humanity has ever faced. Hitler after all had only gas ovens. They have the Doomsday Machine.


[October 31, 1967]




Manipulators of Dissent


The U.S. is today a garrison society. In past societies, the military may have formed the top levels of the caste system, as in feudalism; they may have dominated important sections of politics, as in Bismarck’s Germany; or the citizenry may have been themselves an armed militia, as in the early days of some revolutions.

A garrison society is different. Military men, military considerations, military economics, have interpenetrated all levels of society so that it becomes meaningless to speak of influence or dominance. The state comes to resemble a besieged city from which all non-essential citizens have been expelled or rendered impotent.

The actual social structures, down to the most ordinary interpersonal relations, begin to resemble those of the prison, the insane asylum, the army, a ship in a storm. Dissent, protest, parliamentary debate — all cease to have anything to do with public policy but are manipulated from above as safety valves.

The more progressive cadres of the authoritarian dictatorship realize that they can rule more efficiently if they allow the intolerable tensions that their rule necessarily builds up to find discharge in futile activity, no matter how violent.

At the same time, they are manufacturing scapegoats for future use as the state of emergency, which is the very life of a garrison society, gets worse. “Worse” in this sense means “better” in theirs, they depend on an ever-deepening crisis of general psychosis.

At decisive moments, they can always release the tensions of the docile majority onto the protesting minority. “Get the Communists! Get the Niggers! Get the dirty peaceniks! Get the hippies!” Meanwhile, the President sips bourbon with his generals and lackeys and watches on television as Peking, Shanghai, Canton send up their mushroom clouds.

Five or more years ago, the Defense Department alone (now only the obvious or juridical aspect of the military establishment) owned more than 35 million acres of real estate — more than Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire combined.

Its assets were greater than those of the five largest corporations combined, with a paid personnel three times as large. Four-fifths of all federal employees worked directly for the Defense Department. The civilian payroll was twice that of the automobile industry. The annual military budget was greater than that of all the corporations in the country combined.

These statistics precede the hot war in Vietnam and they do not include innumerable secret operations, much less the CIA. Last spring the feature editor of the leading conservative Japanese newspaper told me that in research for a series on the subject, he had come to the conclusion that there was an absolute minimum of 2500 CIA employees in the Tokyo area alone.

Not only are 40 of our leading universities conducting research on biological and chemical warfare, but the military and the CIA make every effort to corrupt into an agent every scholar and researcher who goes abroad unless he has been security-checked and found “uncooperative,” and often even then.

At home, they are paid handsomely to become intelligence analysts, technicians, apologists or are simply neutralized. How many of the most rabid radicals, on the other hand, who are agents provocateurs is incalculable.

Trade unions have been completely corrupted, as was obvious from the recent AFL-CIO convention. Today they form the most solid sector of supporters of the military-industrial dictatorship, the war economy, war and racism. Out of the office of Jay Livingstone, once General Secretary of the Communist Party, goes a network of subversion of foreign trade unionists and a steady flow of gold which has tied the entire trade union movement of many countries to the American juggernaut and driven the independent labor leaders into exile or underground or into the jungle.

The battery of CIA cultural magazines, Encounter, Preuves, Monat and the others (there is one in almost every country where there are Western-style intellectuals) peddle the American line under the mask of the defense of culture and freedom. The CIA has found this mask is most convincing if it has a Left Social Democratic or even Independent Communist coloration.

What all this has led to is shown very clearly by the results of what might be called moral plebiscites in the last election — votes on open housing and similar measures, peace petitions like San Francisco’s Proposition P and the response to the vicious attacks by Rin Tin Tin on the aged, the sick, the feeble-minded and the students in California.

About one-third of the population in the exceptionally enlightened and liberal city of San Francisco voted against the Vietnam war, which no morally sane man in control of himself could possibly support.

Take a tiny but important example — All Saints Church, famous for performing its obviously Christian duty to the hippies who have flooded into its parish, lost almost half of its members just because the rector and the others were simply being good, as in Good Samaritan.

I think we must face the fact that the morally responsible sector of society has lost control over the indifferent and foolish middle third to the other third who are actively, consciously malevolent. One-third is a lot of people — more than the Jacobins or Bolsheviks, more even than the radical intellectuals who founded the USA.

How do the “responsibles” regain control?


[January 27, 1968]



Terrorize the Enemy — Stroll in Pacific Heights


What is happening? Teilhard de Chardin said many years ago that the 18th and 19th and the first part of the 20th centuries had been a time of political and economic revolution and had laid the groundwork for revolutions demanding a new meaning and quality of life.

When the Italian Communist Party attempted to reform itself recently, it set up a theoretical academy, called the Gramsci Institute. At its opening one of the leaders said, “We have enjoyed what we’ve defined as socialism over one-sixth of the earth for almost 50 years, and over almost again as much for 20 years. Yet human self-alienation has not decreased, but increased, on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Perhaps, Comrades, we have been doing something wrong.”

Everyone was shocked, but Togliatti, a dying man, applauded, and the rest timidly joined in.

One of the leading Marxist theoreticians in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, said nearly 10 years ago: “Where is there any guarantee that the socialization of the means of production and distribution will make any difference whatever in the exploitation of man by man? If not properly conceived and carefully controlled, the State as employer will only increase human self-alienation — which is the only reason for revolution.”

Today life is becoming intolerable for an ever-increasing number of men, all over the world. An economic system (and all its spawn of political systems) which is devoted to utterly inhuman ends is making more and more human beings redundant. And not just as individuals, but as whole classes.

There is no way out of the present structure for the unskilled poor of the U.S. except mummification in housing projects on welfare. They are redundant. The dropped-out adolescents of Harlem or Hunters Point are never going to work slide rules for Lockheed. There are more slide-rulers now than anybody knows what to do with. Too many even to fill up Cam Ranh Bay.

The machines that run production for production’s sake, to maximize Profit (as it is called), simply find now that about six percent of the human race is just waste to sweep out of the way. Someday it will be 60 percent.

The worker on the belt of the assembly line, deprived of truly creative work and a creative relationship with his fellow workers, is alienated. But the unemployable hordes who have been dumped off the belt and can never get back on (for even the assembly line is now obsolete) suffer the torture of a multiplied alienation. Life as a human being who has been condemned as redundant is intolerable.

Faced with the horror of middle-class life, with the business ethic, with nothing linking man and man, man and woman, parents and children — nothing but the cash nexus — millions of people are dropping out as they reach adulthood.

Actually, exactly like the Blacks, they too are redundant. The distribution, service and professional industries need them no more than Ford needs monkey wrench twisters.

Partly this is technological. The process of capital circulation has accelerated to such a pitch that it whirls off human beings at all levels.

Partly it is moral. Who can possibly want to become a medical doctor when the American Medical Association is the most vicious and anti-human of all the organizations of the “class enemy” that have any effectiveness? The CIA overthrew the Greek government and recently tried to overthrow the Italian — but do you know that by a real invasion in force the AMA tried to overthrow the Province of Saskatchewan because the citizens had the temerity to vote for a health insurance program?

Who wants to become a professor when institutions like Columbia are simply training camps for the bureaucrats of the military-industrial complex, and universities are administered by presidents and chancellors taken directly from the espionage and international terror apparatus?

To the authorities who rule that branch of Van Vogt’s Weapon Shops of Isher on Morningside Heights, students who demand that a university be a humane and humanistic place for human beings are so much redundant garbage, just Gooks and Niggers, and to be treated as such, with the techniques and instruments the university itself developed for use in Vietnam or the Congo.

Life has become intolerable for people who persist in believing that between the ages of 18 and 21 they should move into full adulthood — full realization of their responsibilities and potentialities as human beings. For the witless juveniles of the upper classes who flood Haight Street seeking the most lethal drugs obtainable, the prospect of becoming like their parents has driven them to slow suicide.

How many more weapons systems analysts are now heads of universities? How many mayors parade the ghettos mouthing publicity for movie moguls, with two urban problems experts, loaned them by the institutes of genocide, at their elbows? How many CIA-steered Greek juntas now rule the states and cities of the U.S.? How many Green Berets are teaching the control of democratic expression to the police departments of America?

The secret guerrilla attack on the electronic, computerized guillotine that has us all trapped is — don’t overexpose yourself.

Black militants do not now and never have either started or led the riots. Rioters may be hard to control, but conscious militants may be able to change the focus and objectives of totally alienated rage.

There is little point in burning down the home your mother washed clothes to pay for, no matter how much you’re in revolt against the matriarchy.

Was Beverly Hills frightened of burning Watts? Yes. But not much.

It is quite peaceful actions that can terrorize the enemy. I suggest an Every Sunday Walkabout.

The Grey Line has tours of the faubourgs of the rich — why not a Black Line walking tour? Every Sunday, everybody dress up nice, take the kids, climb in the car and drive to Pacific Palisades, Pacific Heights, Grosse Point, Sea Cliff, Presidio Terrace, Piedmont.

Park the car and take the folks for a quiet stroll. Go see how the other nine-tenths live. Maybe they will reciprocate and spend their Sundays strolling through Watts, Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Hunters Point. And not looking to “change their luck” in the old sense, but in a new and fundamental sense. Maybe!

Fact of the matter, they’d be scared into two months of dysentery. What law is there against 200 well-dressed, well-behaved Black families walking the streets of Presidio Terrace next Sunday? What could the cops do about it?

This is just an example of a mild and not too important technique that would have devastating results. Never forget. We don’t live in the machine age of Karl Marx. We live in an age of transistorized delicate apparatuses.

Stick your hand in the gear box of a steam shovel and you will get it torn off. Stick your little finger in one of the great electronic brains that feed strategy to the General Staff and it will shudder all over and start coughing up punched cards which if put on the player piano will play “The Internationale.”

There is no reason why the cops should be allowed to drag naked coeds out of buildings. Columbia University can be shut down as quietly as the fall of snow, without a person exposing his face. And shut down the whole shebang MUST be, by invisible mice, by harmless obstructionists and saboteurs, because it is a meat grinder that means only our death, individually and collectively.


[May 10, 1968]



Santa Barbara

For the last two quarters I’ve 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 it’s 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. Don’t 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 — it’s 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 Sheriff’s deputies. Having seen lots of Western pictures, you know what that means. There are several hamburger and chili joints, but no restaurant. Maybe it’s as well since there’s 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 don’t 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. He’s 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, they’d 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 don’t 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. I’ve been writing about it for years. I’ve 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 can’t 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 don’t 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 I’d 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 California’s 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 state’s 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 doctor’s 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 what’s 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 can’t 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]



A comprehensive biography of Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) can be found at The Poetry Foundation.

(Editor's Note: The piecess that Kenneth Rexroth wrote for the San Francisco Examiner & the San Francisco Bay Guardian can be found as a separate section on Ken Knabb's great website, The Bureau of Public Secrets. My thanks to Ken for permission to reprint this selection.)
 
 
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