On the cusp of the hippie movement, the pathway for soulless careerists was already under construction. Hooks were, also, in the water, fishing for strays. From discoveries about who and what we are to “How much can I make?” a generation was being lured into a diminished world.
By David Stone
Assorted Ideas, Large & Small
Soulless Careerists Take the Bait
I don’t remember much about my high school years, and I think that’s because school bored me to distraction. A couple of ripened stories stick with me, though. The first was more of an impression.
While I found my way through my mid-teens, my high school shared a chart illustrating the godawful future for dropouts. This was well before Timothy Leary’s Turn on, tune in and drop out. Still, it stuck with me but was pretty much useless advice.
Although years passed before I turned on, I’ve spent a lifetime fine-tuning in. I eventually dropped out four times, each exercise in freedom more exciting than the one before. Were it not for the grisly Vietnam War, ravenous for young blood, I’d probably never have got my cap, gown and diploma.
But what was salient about that chart was that it pitched just a single reason for staying in school: money. For a kid who could already repeat sections of The Wasteland and loved the contemplativeness of Robert Frost, all they had was the promise of higher income for life, if I traded off everything I cared about.
Cold calculations raced through my head… Is that all there is? A few more years bored out of my skull, trying to stay awake while daydreaming out those big classroom windows….
What really struck me was the absolute absence of any other hot button. Would my chances for happiness or fulfillment increase? Would I learn more about where we all came from? What would I learn about filling the love and connectedness gaps in my life?
Really, it wasn’t about learning. It was about control…
The other ripening story…
After knock-your-socks-off Iowa Test scores told the world I was an underachieving genius, I took the bait. How could I get out of it really? My school focus switched from “Get Me Outa Here Fast” to College Bound. That failed in fairly short order because of a singular obsession. Teachers and counselors demanded, not that I learn the material, but that I do homework. Controlling my life after I hopped a yellow bus home in the afternoon felt like an alien obsession.
In fact, conformance steered that ship. It was big then, and it is now, but disguised behind rampant consumerism.
Even with a distractingly well-developed girl named Rochelle sitting beside me, I learned algebra well enough to get Bs and As on all the tests. But shockingly, that wasn’t good enough. Calculating my grades, all those scores were nullified by 0s on every day when I didn’t turn in homework, which was all of them. I earned an “F3” on a subject I knew well; so, it wasn’t about the learning. (The 3 indicated a total lack of effort.)
Enough for me. This facilitated my first dropout event. And I learned a lesson, but it wasn’t one intended for me. I learned that schools geared you up for pumping out soulless careerists, and I was too interested in girls, philosophy and poetry to make the grade.
Into Changing Times
By the end of the next semester, I was close to gone, off to California alone under thumb power, the first serious learning experience of my life after the basics of reading and writing. And by then, I knew that any learning that mattered must come from wanting to know, not just finding the best paying job and all that leads to.
The first time I dropped out, I caught a job flipping burgers at a chain but got fired after three days. The fries were too damn good to let them pass by. Then, I tried Fuller Brush salesman, warehouse stock boy, enlistment in the Navy, a shoe salesman at Endicott Johnson, sporting goods salesman for Montgomery Ward, door-to-door salesman for Grolier Encyclopedia and, finally, Ozalid machine operator at Singer Link. But none of those kept me from dropping out of, not just school, but polite society as well.
Because my draft board kept close tabs on me, I finished high school to keep the exemption, and once that was exhausted, my next career was draft counselor and peace activist.
What Became of the Soulless Careerist Track?
The campaign for gutting the souls out of careerists gained momentum as the counterculture gave way to violence and oppression in the Seventies. Unarmed peace protesters were shot to death, and no one was punished. Others were tried and jailed as the Southeast Asian bloodbath roared on. But something more subtle snuck through.
A hard emphasis on training for high-paying jobs saturated higher education. The thrill of knowledge diminished when not tagged with dollar signs. Conservatives and probably a good bunch of alleged liberals, too, worked hard at expunging social awareness and philosophical activism from classrooms. And where that wasn’t possible, liberal arts got knocked down the stairs. Thinking for yourself was not where it was at anymore. It wasn’t conducive for an addictive culture.
America, it seemed, learned a lesson too: An enlightened younger generation threatened the secure status quo. Accepting that going to war for the profit of American corporations meant actually killing innocent people was not advised. Knowledge, in these times, is not power. And without control, an educated generation might actually rattle the status quo.
A lot of water, blood and poverty has gone under the bridge, and looking at the results of fertilizing generations of soulless careerists teaches us something. As Americans, now, we can and will invest billions in wars costing thousands of civilian lives, young and old, while going nowhere with the skimpiest rationales.
We are willing to let tens of thousands live on the streets while wallets are swollen with wealth. We’ll accept staring at TVs and computer screens as substitutes for active lives, and we will sit idle while young lives are wasted or underdeveloped because of skin color.
Worst of all, today, soulless careerism makes disassembling centuries of democracy tolerable. After all, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Isn’t it?
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