If you’ve ever talked about the counterculture, Ted Roszak touched your life. And as you age, he may touch it again.
A scholar fascinated by the sheer power and audacity of baby boomers, the author penned “The Making of a Counter Culture” in 1969 when he was 35. He succumbed to cancer in Berkeley, Calif., on July 5 at the age of 77, but not before predicting an “elder insurgency” will help change the way aging is viewed in America.
In all, Roszak wrote 21 works, including a play and several well-received novels. Among his books was “The Making of an Elder Culture,” a 2009 study that served as a bookend on his observations about the rebelliousness of the boomer generation. In those pages, he wrote about the ongoing national debates that pit budgets against human needs.
“When we debate social institutions and programs, almost inevitably we get caught up in administrative technicalities and budgetary minutiae,” he wrote. “How will the program be run? How much will it cost? Who will pay? Distracted by these details, it is easy to overlook the fact that every system has a moral core – a soul that animates its daily life.”
An optimist, Roszak never stopped believing that counter culture generation will ultimately fulfill its famous vow to change the world.
His friend, Paul Kleyman, the Elders Editor of New America Media, said Roszak predicted aging boomers will rise up in a “elder insurgency” when confronted with the injustices of age.
“Ted was enormously hopeful that the collective wisdom of the boomer generation would emerge and, while losing battles along the way, would eventually win the war for social justice and humanism,” Kleyman wrote recently in a commentary on Roszak’s life. “Ted told me in an interview that he fully expected the United States to see a national rebellion of the old that would begin with ‘women in their 50s who are getting stuck with eldercare for no money,’ as well as with little help and few ways to cover the often-crushing costs of such care.”
Kleyman said Roszak also believed older Americans will demand more opportunities to work while rejecting the traditional notions of being “consigned to a rocking chair.”
Roszak wrote his landmark tome on the counter culture after completing a series of essays on campus unrest during the ’60s. In the book, he described the youth movement as “a culture so radically disaffiliated from the mainstream assumptions of our society that it scarcely looks to many as a culture at all but takes on the alarming appearance of a barbaric intrusion.”
Roszak was born in Chicago, a carpenter’s son, but grew up in Los Angeles, graduating from UCLA in 1955 and earning a doctorate from Princeton three years later. He taught history at California State University at Hayward and edited a pacifist newspaper in London during the mid-1960s.
A few years later, he grew fascinated with the Flower Power revolution in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, looking beyond the stereotypes of the drug-addled hippies to find a deeper meaning in the way they rejected mainstream values.
“Not that sex, drugs and rock-and-roll didn’t matter,” he recounted in 2007 during an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education. “But could that statement be given a more accessible philosophical translation? That was the task I set myself.”
His curiosity led to “The Making of a Counter Culture.”
Tom Murphy’s story was first published on RedwoodAge.com