It is said the Times make the man.
Even the book of Genesis in The Bible says, "And there were giants in that time," and then chronicles the upheaval of the human race in the middle east millennia ago. And one presumes these giants were not all Richard the Lionheart, but also Attila the Hun and Goliath. Change and turbulence bring about big people.
The 60's stand out in American history as a decade that distinguished itself through upheaval. Nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, communism, Vietnam, sexual freedom, rock-and-roll, religion, space travel, civil rights, political assassination, drugs, loss of self--redefinition. The 60's marked the knee of the curve of progress. Technology exploded. We put humans on another planet. We transplanted body parts.
We changed our environment faster than we could change ourselves, and nearly fomented civil war between generations who lived in different worlds--together. Younger people who didn't know or take ownership for how things were done in the old days learned to exist as organisms in a world that jittered as rapidly as they did. Ironically, their parents, the ones who enacted the very environment in which they swam, could not keep pace. Rapid change bred misunderstanding. Misunderstanding turned to fear. Fear brought paranoia.
Paranoia killed four students on a college campus in Ohio.
We who now live with the continuous acceleration of change adapt to abrupt pertubations in our environment like amoebae encircling food. We're well past the rate of change of the atomic age and now into the blistering speed of the 21st century. We change so rapidly we sometimes don't recognize ourselves from one day to the next. Working one moment, laid off another. Single, married, divorced in fewer years than fingers on one hand. We take these things for granted.
Our world has seen the growth of computers as appliances. New homes are wired with CAT-5 just as they are for telephone. We have more telecommunications and computational capacity in our pockets than the federal government had during the Korean War. We're wireless. We're global. We're connected to each other by high-bandwidth bit streams. We're used to 12-hour time differences, video conferencing, shopping on-line, exchanging currency and 24-hour stock trading.
I wonder if our society could spawn an Abbie Hoffman. He was the product of a generation that needed to change its ways as fast as its thoughts--against the inertia of the 19th and early 20th centuries we no longer have. In a society that has more aptly habituated itself to angst, corruption, terror, school shootings and high-speed communication, there may be too many outlets for the tension Hoffman developed for someone like him to emerge.
But is that good?
Steal This Book has been republished by Abbie Hoffman's ex-wife, Johanna Lawrenson. Next to my now yellow, dog-eared, fifth edition printing it seems more an amusement or a souvenir from an amusement park I visited than something subversive. Many of the tricks described within are outmoded. Security holes in government procedures were patched. You can't hack phones by playing back recordings of jingling coin sounds anymore.
I was 13-years old when I bought my first copy. I hid it from my parents and read it when they weren't around, amazed by the tactical data within, less interested in making mischief for my local government than learning how to have sex or lighting fires. By the mid 70's male high-school students were free of the draft and the looming spectre of war. We saw the first Star Warz episode and listened to Yes and King Crimson. We had awkward sex, smoked dope, and tried to get into college. There was no need to kick Gerald Ford out of office, and Jimmy Carter seemed like a nice guy even though his administration turned every bank into a mafia loan sharking operation.
But Abbie told us we could tape business reply cards to just about anything and the post office would have to carry it to the addressee at his expense. Yes, there is a mailbox in Homewood, Illinois, that was one day filled with 100 pounds of red bricks addressed to Boy's Life, and Omni magazines, at first class rates.
There is a high school building in New Monmouth, New Jersey, that once almost burned to the ground (save for the quick thinking of the chemistry teacher and her fire extinguisher) because someone knew that potassium nitrate melted together with sugar made a cool smoke bomb.
There is a storm drain, in Hazel Crest, Illinois, so filled with broken glass from exploded molotov cocktails water ceased to flow through it for the entire summer of '74.
Yes, styrofoam soaked in gasoline makes napalm. It will stick to you and burn your fingers off.
Yes. A diaphram is better contraception than a '76-era rubber.
Planned parenthood will still give out contraceptives for free on demand. But now, so will your school.
You can still get high (very briefly) breathing whipping cream propellant. Try it some day. It's stupid.
Steal This Book made me subversive in ways I could get away with. My friends and I made free phone calls with taped sounds of coins falling into pay phone slots. The sounds had to be accurate, so we needed to learn recording technique to get it to work. Spent more money in sound gear and coinage dropped into payphones to make the recordings than the value of any calls we made. We didn't know anyone far away.
I built a remodulator to inject vertical timing pulses into supressed-sync pay-TV signals so we could see women's naked breasts on our home televisions. Had to learn how to solder, follow a schematic, and debug electrical circuitry so we could watch X-rated movies on "Wometco Home Theatre" who broadcast over channel 13.
Steal This Book lead me to other subversive literature. I learned my church had banned The Last Temptation of Christ, so I devoured that. Then Catcher in the Rye, No Exit,Compulsion, and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Nobody I knew as a teen-ager, male or female, agreed with anything Abbie Hoffman had to say about our parents or government, but we learned there was freedom in rejecting the chutes we were expected to walk into like cattle. So we started rock bands. Went away to college. Had sex, got wasted, graduated, and went off to have adventures.
This is not Abbie Hoffman's world. Expressing his politics in the new millennium is perhaps more an amusing anacronism than a defensible position. Every decade has it's appropos rebels. But as time goes on it becomes harder to identify them. Abbie Hoffman didn't look like the people he disagreed with. He didn't sound like them. He didn't live like them. He got beaten up and sent to jail, made a mockery of himself, and with the help of a judge, a mockery of the U.S. justice system.
One is inclined to suggest that things like that don't happen anymore, but it's not true. Seattle was recently inundated by people protesting free trade. They disrupted the convention of world economic leaders enough to shorten it and foul the schedule.
But who the hell were they?
What the hell were they fighting for? What were their names?
Everybody from my grandmother to my priest knew who Abbie Hoffman was. Everybody knew what he was about. Maybe he was psychotic or misguided. But for all the bravado in Steal This Book about bombs and weapons, there aren't any high-schools littered with bodies in his name. There are no blown up buildings.
The root message in Steal This Book that is as valid today as it was in the 60's is this: Use your life for something. Walk the earth. Have adventures. The world is still a cool place. You don't have to stick daisies in M16s. Grab a piece of life, and don't let it shake you off.
Above all, be neither bored, nor boring.
That maniac changed people's lives. Even mine.
A subversive reading list to support Steal This Book and turn you into a raving, non-boring, lunatic:
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail: '72 by Hunter S. Thompson
Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Future Shock by Allan Toffler (this is how old people thought the future would affect us)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Willard and his Bowling Trophies by Richard Brautigan
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
The Scientist: A Metaphysical Autobiography by John Cunningham Lilly
A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Anything you can stand by Alan Ginsberg (personally, he's not for me)
The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Ulysses by James Joyce This is still on my personal list to read, but I've seen people who have read it get weird, fast.
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong