Thwarting The Young

Thwarting The Young

GROWING Ur ABSURD, by Paul Goodman. Random House.

In the notices it has received thus far, Paul Goodman’s remarkable book, Growing Up Absurd, has not been done the decency of a summary. My main intention in this review is to provide, in virtually outline form, a statement of its contents; often, because of the profusion of thought and observation in the book, my outline will be at best a sampling.

At the outset Goodman, with a few abstract strokes, sketches an ideal picture of what the lives of young people should be like, how, in general, they should be growing up. In his words, their behavior ought to be expressive of “force, grace, discrimination, intellect and feeling.” Throughout the book, in an unfailing tone of urgency, with lively analyses and abundant examples, Goodman shows why our young often fall disastrously short of this ideal, how our society thwarts their capacities, and causes their increasing disaffection.

He begins with a “simple objective factor which is not much mentioned” —the lack of worthy jobs in our economy, worthy by the criteria of unquestionable utility, exercise of human potentialities, and honor. In this connection, the crucial question Goodman puts is: “What does it mean to grow up in the fact that during one’s productive years one will spend eight hours a day doing what is no good?” This question, though it is articulated only by a fraction of the young, must at least be dimly felt by many of them. The significance of it is the extent to which it explains how cynicism, indifference, resignation and disaffection have become the main attitudes of many young persons. While Goodman offers it as only a simple and partial explanation, it helps correct the imbalance of most studies of delinquency and conformity, their absorption in primary and small group psychology.

The first chapter of Growing Up Absurd is titled, “Jobs.” The second, appropriately, bears the heading, “Being Taken Seriously”; here Goodman examines how public authorities and spokesmen address themselves to the spectacular problem of juvenile delinquency. Of course the public spokes. men blink at gross needs like that of a future which contains the likelihood of a meaningful job. At their best, the authorities are all too similar to academics who in their unwillingness to contemplate a disturbance of the status quo, either endlessly ring variations on the psychology of homes and gangs or exhaust themselves in a genuine but narrow passion over slums and discrimination. At their frequent worst, the public authorities invoke more strenuous policing and jails that are called by various other names.