Re: [sixties-l] 'Letting it all hang out'

From: Marty Jezer (
Date: 12/11/00

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    That's a good question John.
    If you look to the fifties (if there were no fifties, Abbie Hoffman observed,
    there would not have been the sixties), you see the rise of humanist
    psychology. (Hoffman and Betty Friedan were both influenced by Abe Maslow).
    There was a challenge to Freudian orthodoxy mounted by all kinds of humanist
    psychologists, the Reichians, the Gestaltists, Carl Rogers, Eric Fromm, Norman
    O. Brown. etc.
    Paul Goodman was a lay gestalt analyst who wrote many of the important
    theoretic texts on gestalt therapy. He also wrote for Dwight Macdonald's
    POLITICS, a very influential publication of the pre-sixties left. Goodman
    believed, as did Maslow, that in many instances, it was society, not the
    individual, that was fucked up and that rebellion, especially for young people,
    was psychologically healthy. Esalen (spelling?) and the therapy movement in
    California that followed came out of the gestalt movement. (Fritz Perls was the
    guru; Goodman criticized him for emphasizing individual neuroses rather than
    social and political repressiveness of what PG considered a sick society).
    The Insights of humanist psychology were very empowering to young rebels in the
    late fifties and early and mid sixties. Abbie Hoffman has much to say about how
    Maslow influenced him (See my bio, American Rebel) as well as his own writings.
    Paul Goodman was also tremendously influential, weaving together political,
    pedagogical, and psychological insights, and directing his message to college
    The beats and other sectors of the dissident intelligentsia were aware of
    humanist psychology during the fifties. So were the radical pacifists who had
    influence in
    the civil rights and ban the bomb movement. So this kind of psychological
    thinking was
    becoming pervasive at least among cultural radicals and in the non-Marixst
    The use of LSD and the drug culture came out of this revolution in psychology.
    Richard Alpert and Tim Leary were both psychologists. Leary had done research
    on the efficacy of traditional (Freudian psychoanalysis) and found that it
    rarely worked.  Ken Kesey learned about LSD in a mental hospital. The mentors
    of the counter-culture were all familiar with what was going on in the field of
    psychology. As was Friedan and other movers and shakers  of the woman's
    movement.  If Jo Freeman is still on this list, she can probably talk to this,
    as can others. There are many books on the subject.  The gay liberation has the
    same  history. Again Goodman is important in changing the way people thought
    about homosexuality. A bisexual, he was of the first people to write about his
    homosexuality for a general (or at least radical) audience.
    Additionallly, Freudianism had entered the mainstream culture as a topic of
    A number of comics became popular mining the subject (Shelly Berman, Nichols
    and May,
    Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce). They were dubbed the "sick comics" but their point
    (taken from Maslow,  Goodman, et. al.) was that it was society that was sick.
    They were on national TV (toned down in the case of Bruce) and had an important
    influence on young people of the day.
    Let's not forget the impact of James Dean and the movie Rebel Without A Cause.
    This was based on a psychological case study. The book (as was the intent of
    the movie) was meant to show how neurotic teens were during the fifties. (Young
    people in crisis!)  But the teenage audience thought Dean and Natalie Wood and
    Sal Mineo were cool and that it was the parents and society that was screwy. 
    In the same vein was the Office Krupke song in West Side Story. 
    The question was who was crazy: rebellious youth or the architects of the Cold
    War. Humanist psychology helped us sell that it was the Cold War mentality that
    was crazy and resisting it was the healthy thing to do.
    To summarize, young people with a yen to rebel appropriated the insights of
    humanist psychology to justify their rebellion. And the civil rights and
    anti-war movement, and later feminism, gave it a social and political
    I hope others will add to this, which I'm writing off the top of my head when I
    ought to be working!
    My own history of the postwar era, THE DARK AGES: Life in the USA 1945-1960
    (South End Press) , covers a lot of this territory -- from Maslow and Goodman
    to the beats and the sick comedians. 
    Marty Jezer
    At 12:13 PM 12/11/2000 +0000, you wrote:
    >At some time in the sixties it became the done thing to let it all hang out.
    >Being repressed or inhibited was a crime for those who thought of themselves
    >as progressive or hip, in marked contrast and reaction to the mores of the
    >1950s.  The notion had a huge influence on personal behaviour, and I'm
    >wondering where it came from.  I presume from the work of psychiatrists, but
    >why did the notion of letting it all hang out become so big in the  sixties
    >in particular and not earlier.  Was there an influential populariser, and
    >does anyone know where the popular talk of 'hang-ups' 'complexes'
    >'repressed' etc originated?  Californian therapists?  Who for example?
    >Thanks for any thoughts on the subject
    >John Dougill
    >> PS.   I get real sick of lots of the boys on this list who think they have
    >> explain everything  and are experts about so many things.
    >Whining for no reason may be just as sick.  It's no big deal to read what
    >you want and skip the rest....
    Marty Jezer . 22 Prospect Street . Brattleboro, VT 05301
    Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words (Basic Books)
    Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel (Rutgers University Press)
    The Dark Ages: Life in the USA, 1945-1960 (South End Press)
    Rachel Carson [American Women of Achievement Series] (Chelsea House)
    Check out my web page:

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