Historical Context

The Counter Culture
Gary Snyder was always one to make his own way. From his youth growing up on a scrub farm whose farmhouse walls were composed of tarpaper, Snyder entered maturity well outside the main stream. Solitary hiker and mountaineer, he came into his own once he entered Reed College in Portland, Oregon, an institution noted for its radical professors and creative students and its experimental approach towards scholarship. In fact, Snyder early on discovered that both the United States Forestry Service and the Coast Guard had marked him as an undesirable subversive because of his links to a Communist-led maritime union and his study under blacklisted professors. Snyder found himself blacklisted just when America was entering into the red-baiting paranoia of the so-called “Cold War.” His later encounter with the “Beats” of the East Coast who had migrated to the San Francisco area set him firmly into the so-called “Counter Culture,” a community of people much like him. Snyder also had once described himself as an “anarcho-pacifist” to his draft board during the Korean War.

Because of the mass media’s historical distortions, most young people today associate the term “Counter Culture” with hedonist experimentation with drugs and sex in the 1960s and 1970s. However, as a historical tendency, the counter culture can be traced back in western civilization to the French Revolution and perhaps even earlier. The thrust of this trend is to set oneself free from the constraints of the ruling class’s “mind-forged manacles” (to borrow a phrase from an early counter culture hero, the English poet William Blake). In other words, the counter culture has always set itself against the prevailing culture’s...

(The entire section is 717 words.)