Occasionally it is instructive to take a question from the audience, so to speak, to help clarify certain points. I present excerpts from thoughtful comments of one reader of this series, followed by excerpts from my reply that I emailed to him last weekend:
“You seem to see most things gay as through a black or white prism. Either conspiracy-laden, or sanctimoniously correct. There are villains and there are saints.
Walt Whitman is good; Allen Ginsberg, bad. Ken Kesey, the devil’s own; Christopher Isherwood, a saint…
“You rightfully point out that unbridled hedonism, a primary component to the sexual liberation movement of the 60′s and 70′s, helped produce STD epidemics and the AIDS pandemic which hit our community especially hard…But then you lose me when you go off on paranoid tangents of inferring that the U.S. government/CIA were directly instrumental in subverting the gay liberation movement through their proxies: the hippies, Kesey, Leary and company.
“I maintain that the so-called free love movements and anything-goes mentality of that period were entirely self-generated; a reaction to the prudery of the ’50′s, and merely provided fodder for those who identified themselves as critics or adversaries of our movement.”
Here are excerpts from my response:
“When you say ‘self-generated,’ what ‘self’ are you referring to? Did it just blossom simultaneously and spontaneously out of everyone’s head? That’s not how I experienced it at all. It was shoved down our throats (figuratively and literally both, I suppose). Yours is the conventional view, but I saw it differently living it.
“Please do not reduce my observations to simplistic ‘black versus white’ caricatures. I do not claim the entire U.S. government and its intelligence arms were involved, but specific reactionary elements of them, only. Others were unaware, opposed or condoned them on the grounds of fighting the Cold War domestically.
“I invite you to go back and read the development of my case, the references to the seminal roles of elite institutions like Esalen, the Stanford Research Institute, and the CIA’s covert drug-pushing MK-Ultra project run off 44 college campuses from the early 1950s, including the explicit involvement of Kesey with those.
“In the context of the Cold War, it was a massive cultural ‘paradigm shift’ these interests were working for, well documented in the mid-1970s findings of the Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee in Congress (notwithstanding almost all the relevant covert ops-related documents were ordered destroyed by the CIA chief beforehand), and background is also provided in Jeff Sharlet’s The Family,’ published two years ago. (Ed. Note – I neglected to add other sources, such as Marilyn Ferguson’s ‘Aquarian Conspiracy,’ a 1980 rendition glowingly hailing the cultural shift and its motivating institutions; note the word ‘conspiracy’ is hers not mine).
“Nobody has applied any of this to what happened to gay culture in the 1970s. I am trying.
“The loaded word, ‘paranoid’ is only empty name-calling unless it can be demonstrated their are no grounds for the concerns expressed. In that regard, I have more to make my case, I believe, than you have to dismiss it.”
When I moved from a small coastal town to the San Francisco Bay Area for graduate school in 1966, little did I imagine what I would encounter: the push for the ‘counterculture’ social paradigm shift was well underway.
I came as a trained journalist, editor of high school and college newspapers who’d worked part-time through school and after full-time as a reporter for my hometown daily. Journalists don’t just arrive somewhere and get steeped in living. They can’t help but examine the terrain constantly, looking to find connections between and behind events and phenomena, much like intelligence specialists.
My observations were enhanced by two more facets. First, as a graduate seminarian, I studied intensely the varied philosophies and theologies that underpinned and overarched social movements through history.
That enabled me to identify the underlying world view of the pro-Nietzsche anarcho-hedonists who were driving the “sexual freedom” (as distinct from the gay liberation) bandwagon without regard for moral precepts.
The Nietzschian anarcho-hedonists were straight out of the historical strain of the fascist radical right. It was not a big leap from that discovery to, during the 1970s, learning about the CIA’s MK-Ultra project behind it.
Second, I am gay. My coming out and becoming a pioneering gay activist provided, with my other advantages, a vantage point from which to see things unfolding more clearly.
The overall right wing-directed quasi-covert operation succeeded in transforming the ethos of American culture from its post-World War II compassionate humanitarianism, the rise of the U.N., Marshall Plan, reconstruction of Japan, civil rights movement and War on Poverty.
Within one decade, from 1965 to 1975, the nation shifted toward selfish self-interest, poised for the Reagan Revolution of 1980. The gay movement was caught up in that shift, driven into urban orgies of mindless hedonism as part of a bigger social plan.