Monday, June 26, 2006

Paul Goodman

Before Theodore Rozak defined the counter culture as the social movement of the Sixties and identified it with the libertarian philosophy of self regulation, self development, there was Paul Goodman.

It really was his book Growing Up Absurd that inspired many of us to look at creating a counter culture.

He was seen as one of the fathers of the New Left, giving it a libertarian flavour that the Old Left had rejected.

He was also an accomplished beat poet, thus coming in contact with the likes of Kenneth Patchen and Allen Ginzberg.

An article in Gestalt Review from 1999 has an excellent biography and appreciation of Goodman, his anarchism , and his importance as founder of Gestalt Therapy. The first anti-psychiatry movement in North America.

Here is an exerpt for those unfamilar with Goodman and his work. I have previously published his SOME REMARKS ON WAR SPIRIT

The Contributions of Paul Goodman to the Clinical, Social and Political Implications of Boundary Disturbances
Jack Aylward, Ed.D.

As we approach the millennium, we continue to grapple with
increasingly toxic threats such as environmental pollution, political
tyranny, and corporate domination of the human spirit. Currently, we
are witnessing the development of a health-care delivery system that not
only threatens our professional identities, but ultimately could create a
repressive definition of mental health that replicates the one against
which Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman originally rebelled. Gestalt therapy
theory places importance on creativity, novelty, spontaneity, and
risk in a society that is moving ever closer to repetition, obedience, and
the illusion of security. To meet the challenges, we need not say or do
anything new but simply restate (perhaps more loudly) what is already
present in our literature. To do so, it is imperative that we once again
apply our theoretical model to sociopolitical issues and realities that
contribute to the individual boundary disturbances we deal with in our
psychotherapeutic practices. In this spirit we will sequentially review: (1)
the theoretical and clinical definitions of contact boundary phenomena,
(2) the social nature of self-functioning, and (3) the political implications
in the writings of Paul Goodman.

Given a psychological model that views the individual as innately
healthy and capable, with pathology as a secondary disruption of an
otherwise natural homeostatic equilibrium, Goodman's anarchistic
philosophy is especially resonant with Gestalt therapy theory. This
connection between philosophy and therapy is not unlike Erich Frornrn's
belief in Marxist socialism. For him this philosophy "meant a society
which provides the material basis for the full development of the
individual, for the unfolding of all his human powers, for his full
independence" (Fromm, 1956, p. xiv). In both Fromm and Goodman we
see the belief that society should provide the support for an individual
who is and can be much, rather than one who has much. Optimally,
Goodman envisioned a dynamic unity of human need and social
support, implying as McLeod (1993) does that "the natural hierarchy of
needs arising to seek their fulfillment in the contact that is our very self
means Gestalt is a profoundly social therapy, envisioning and declaring
the naturalness of social and environmental harmony" (p. 28).

In subsequent essays and articles, Goodman focused on political realities
and how such phenomena affected contact boundary functioning.
Far from a utopian view Goodman's view of formal governmental
bureaucracy was that less was more with respect to social and political
structure and its impact on the quality of individual life. Susan Sontag
(1988) described Goodman's social outlook as "a form of conservative
humanistic thinking-doggedly sensitive to everything repressive and
mean while remaining loyal to the limits that protect human growth and
pleasure" (p. xvii). In this sense, Goodman saw that contact boundary
disturbances emanating from repressive and overly developed social
organizations have the potential to sap the spontaneity from human
functioning. Goodman (1994) stated that "society with a big S can do
very little for people except to be tolerable, so they can go on about the
more important business of life" (p. 53). Given that human selfhood was
primarily a social process supported by communication within a community,
political structures were realities needing to be reckoned with.

Mead's conceptualization of self-functioning parallels Goodman's
thinking in this area:

the "I" requires that we protect the rights and freedoms of individuals
as extolled by liberalism, while the "ME" imposes those moral
duties, commitments, and obligations advocated by cornrnunitarianism
[Odin, 1996, p. 371.

Much of Goodman's thinking was influenced by his association with
communitarian philosophers such as Randolph Bourne, Van Wyk
Brooks, and Lewis Murnford. Along with these dissenters within the
progressive intelligentsia of the time who were disappointed in contemporary
liberalism, Goodman was wary of the alienation resulting from
the bureaucracies of advanced industrialism. He, along with Dwight
Macdonald, Dorothy Dey, and C. Wright Mills, supported Brooks's ideal
of "the crafted or interactive self, which found its autonomy by participating
in a public world of culture and experience" (Blake, 1990, p. 141).

Consistent with the process functioning of self-formation in Gestalt therapy
theory, Brooks saw the "crafted self" as a kind of conversation with
the social and natural environments. Social and political realities
provided an ongoing ground for the alienation/identification processes
of contact functioning. In Confusion and Disorder" (197%) Goodman
outlined the potential impact that social structure can have on human

But if advanced peoples have indeed been colonized by their own
advances, they are confused and have lost their ability to pick and
choose what they can assimilate. We certainly manifest a remarkable
rigidity in our social institutions, an inability to make inventive
pragmatic adjustment. And perhaps worse, the sociology and politics
that we do think up have the same technological, centralizing,
and urban style that is causing our derangement [p. 2351.

The importance Goodman placed on organismic self-regulation and
social functioning also reflected the political thinking of such anarchists
as Mikhail Bakunin and Prince Peter Kropotkin. To Goodman, anarchy
epitomized the absence of authority, not the absence of order. In his
introduction to Kropotkin's Memoirs of a Revolutionist Goodman (1968)
points out the potential for disruptive contact functioning that can result
from an overly organized and impersonal political structure:
The real enemies have proved to be the State (whose health is war),
over-centralized organization, the authoritarian personality of
people. The call is for grass-roots social structures, spontaneity and
mutual aid, direct action and doing it yourself, education for selfreliance
and agitation for freedom [p. xxi].

Goodman was sensitive to the dehumanization of the industrial
revolution, to the accompanying division of labor and, to anything that
smacked of tyranny over someone else's body. Like other anarchist
thinkers, Goodman was fanatic in his defense of the untrammeled person
whom he felt to be best nurtured by an innovative way of life and a
nonrepressive political doctrine.

In Anarchism and Revolution (1977) he wrote:
In anarchist theory, the word revolution means the process by which
the grip of authority is loosed, so that the functions of life can
regulate themselves without top-down direction or external
hindrance. The idea is that except for emergencies and a few special
cases, free functioning will find its own right structures and coordination
[p. 2151.

As a bisexual and free love advocate in the closeted fifties his conservative individualism, as Alyward calls it, is reflective of the need to defend individual liberty in light of a society that was intolerant of homosexuality/bisexuality. Hence his critique of Society with a Large 'S" as being as repressive as the State with a big "S".

Wilhelm Reich who influenced him, he can be considered a father of the sexual revolution. And he offers a good counterbalance to Reichs cultural heterosexism.

Through a Columbia professor he was invited to teach at the University of Chicago while he earned his Ph.D in Literature, but he was fired from his job (as he was fired from every teaching job in his life) because he insisted on his right to fall in love with his students. He was never in the closet about his bisexuality and saw no reason to hide it even in the face of the trouble it caused him in that less permissive time.Paul Goodman's Biography

Along with education, Goodman expounded on themes of alienation, community, and sexuality. He opposed censorship of pornography, believed monogamy was oppressive, and advocated sexual freedom for children and adolescents. Goodman also challenged the boundaries between public and private, consistently linking his political and psychological theories with his personal experiences. In "The Politics of Being Queer," an essay written near the end of his life, he addressed both societal homophobia and his own bisexuality. PAST Out: Who was Paul Goodman?

Like the anarchist educators, starting with Francisco Ferrer, and Summerhill founder A.S. Neil, Goodman opposed formalist, institutional education. He saw it for what it was programing the individual for the needs of the State.

"In all societies, both primitive and highly civilized, until quite recently most education of most children has occurred incidentally. Adults do their work and other social tasks; children are not excluded, are paid attention to, and learn to be included. The children are not "taught." In many adult institutions, incidental education is taken for granted as part of the function …" (Essay: "The Present Moment in Education," April 10, 1969.)

For listing of his writings available on the web see Paul Goodman

Further Bios:

The Radical Individualism of Paul Goodman by Richard Wall

Nature Heals: The Psychological Essays of Paul Goodman ...

Anarchist Encyclopedia: Paul Goodman (1911-1972)

Paul Goodman (writer) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Workshop to decipher Paul Goodman

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Larry Gambone said...

Thanks for the fine piece on Goodman. He was the first anarchist I read - Growing Up Absurd, of course, back in my beatnik days. He also had a profound influence on the New Left before it went Maoist

Bruce said...

I'm goint to post this on Bruce Eisner's Vision Thing

eugene plawiuk said...

Thaks Bruce.