May 12, 2018

On The San Francisco Diggers - 3


1. Summary
2. On The San Francisco Diggers - 3
    A. Peter Berg
    B. Peter Coyote
    C. Emmett Grogan

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, May 12, 2018. (There also is another file today.)

1. Summary

This is not a crisis log. In fact, this file goes back almost a year, namely to May and June of 2017, when I wrote some about The San Francisco Diggers, after having learned in April that there was quite a lot of material about the Diggers at various places, and most prominently here:
It was in 2017 also 50 years ago that the Diggers were most active (in their more or less original form), and while I had heard of them in 1967 (when I was 17, and lived in Amsterdam, Holland, as I still do and did for all but 5 years of my life), I did not know much about them, and indeed had mostly forgotten about them, until I found the above site, which is recommended.

2. On The San Francisco Diggers - 3


This continues two previous files: The Diggers - 1 and Diggers-2.  In case you are interested in the San Francisco Diggers, it makes sense to have read these, since I will presuppose my readers have done so.

I explained in the first of the above linked two files what the Diggers were, and in the second of them why I like them.

This is the third file on the San Francisco Diggers, and will probably be the last. There are two basic reasons for this:

(1) I realized that quite a few of the leading Diggers were hooked on morphine and on amphetamine, and while I like the Diggers, I do dislike people who got themselves hooked on hard drugs, and indeed do so since 1967 (or earlier).

I think this was a serious mistake, and should have been avoided.

(2) I have been saying for a long time that the internet gets worse and worse quite rapidly and is no exception: I never could get any of the videos linked there, except for one, because of ¨privacy-settings¨, which I think - living in Holland - is rather crazy, while now also the film I linked in The Diggers - 1, which dates back to 1978 and which was remarkably little seen, and quite good, also has been declared ¨private¨.

I am sorry, but I can't work on the San Francisco Diggers (and explain them to others: after all, it is 50 years ago) if I can't see important files.

So the following is my view of the three leaders of the Diggers (which set itself up as leaderless, but this was in part ideology and anyway also a mistake), namely Peter Berg, Peter Coyote and Emmett Grogan.

I think each of the three was rather different in orientations and in aims from the others, although this was less clear while the Diggers were active, which was from 1966 till 1968.

A. Peter Berg

I think Peter Berg (<- Wikipedia, which now has considerably less than there was a mere few months ago on Berg [1]) is the least convincing of the leaders of the Diggers, and the main reason for my estimate of him is about what the San Francisco Diggers were doing: They were, at least in Berg's opinion, life-actors.

This is from Berg's "Trip Without a Ticket":

Our authorized sanities are so many Nembutals. "Normal" citizens with store-dummy smiles stand apart from each other like cotton-packed capsules in a bottle. Perpetual mental out-patients. Maddeningly sterile jobs for strait-jackets, love scrubbed into an insipid "functional personal relationship" and Art as a fantasy pacifier. Everyone is kept inside while the outside is shown through windows: advertising and manicured news. And we all know this.
No one can control the single circuit-breaking moment that charges games with critical reality. If the glass is cut, if the cushioned distance of media is removed, the patients may never respond as normals again. They will become life-actors.

Theater is territory. A space for existing outside padded walls. Setting down a stage declares a universal pardon for imagination. But what happens next must mean more than sanctuary or preserve. How would real wardens react to life-actors on liberated ground? How can the intrinsic freedom of theater illuminate walls and show the weak-spots where a breakout could occur?

Guerrilla theater intends to bring audiences to liberated territory to create life-actors. It remains light and exploitative of forms for the same reasons that it intends to remain free. It seeks audiences that are created by issues. It creates a cast of freed beings. It will become an issue itself.

This is theater of an underground that wants out. Its aim is to liberate ground held by consumer wardens and establish territory without walls.
I liked the first paragraph of the above quotation, mostly because it corresponded fairly well to my own attitudes around 1967: I thought - as the child of two persons who had both been in the communist resistance against the Nazis, from 1940-1945, and who still were communists in the Sixties - that "normal citizens" were partially deadened, indeed mostly by themselves, and from a deep need to conform.

And whlle I do not think in 2018 as I did in 1967, I have never liked "normal" citizens, and they have never liked me.

But I also think that the idea of life-acting was both confusing and not quite honest:

The territory for "the audience" of the "life-actors" is quite different from the territory of the life-actors, for "the adience" is reacting to what they think are real people, whereas the apparently "real people" who are life-actors are not real people as they project to the audience, but are acting, indeed often from a - rough - script (and, at least in Peter Berg's reconstruction, also not all the time, but only for a limited time).

Here is Emmett Grogan, in Ringolevio (p. 302) - and ¨the Hun¨ was Grogan´s term for Peter Berg:
Emmett appreciated the Hun's brainy semantics and his sapient
analysis of the Diggers as life-actors, and their activities as theater,
because it provided a very good cover and satisfied the curiosity of
the authorities and general public, as well as exciting the hipper
members of the New Left. Of course, it was just a superficial de-
scription of what was really going on.

It was simply an account of the casual, outward, conscious style of the
Diggers and some of the things they did, and not an examination of
the heightened awareness of the intrinsic essence of the Digger op-
eration or its motives. The elements of guerrilla theater and street
events were merely accessories contingent upon the fundamental
reality of Free Food, the free stores, the free goods, and the free
services made available to the people. The San Francisco Diggers
attempted to organize a solid, collective, comparative apparatus to
provide resources sufficient for the people to set up an alternative
power base, which wouldn't have to depend on either the state or
the system for its sustenance.

I think Grogan saw this well, and indeed the San Francisco Diggers were considerably more than enlightened life-actors who hoped to bring their audience to other ideas and values: The San Francisco Diggers were trying to create the conditions for a social revolution, and indeed were in majority well aware of this.

This may not have been quite obvious in 1967, but it was quite clear by the 1990ies, when Berg had transformed himself to an ecologist and a "bioregionalist", who saw his past as a Digger in ecological terms.

B. Peter Coyote

One fairly important problem about Peter Coyote (<- Wikipedia) is that he is a - somewhat well-known - actor, who must have made quite a few millions with acting, it seems, and who seems to speak and write in public mostly as one of three persons: As an actor, as an anarchist, and as a (Zen-)Buddhist.

And two basic points about Coyote as a person - whom I have never met, but what I am saying about him can be derived from reading him, which I did - are that he is quite intelligent and that he also can write, as indeed you can find out on his own site, which is rather extensive and quite interesting.

As to the important problem I started with:

I think that is a problem mostly because the three roles or persons Coyote acts out in public are quite hard to combine, and indeed do not seem to be compatible to me. And I can illustrate this by picking three bits from Coyote's writings: (i) here is speaking as an actor (which I don't like); (ii) here is speaking as an anarchist (which I do like); and (iii) here as a Zen-Buddhist (which I don't like much).

And I am not saying or implying you should agree with me, but I do say that (i) there are considerable differences between actors, anarchists and Zen-Buddhists, and I do not think you can - honestly, fully - be all three of them, because the fundamental characteristics of each of these three roles are inconsistent with some of the fundamental characteristics of the other roles, and that - indeed - (ii) Coyote does not combine them consistently (though I grant he does his best).

Let me explain.

First Zen-Buddhism. I know about Zen-Buddhism since around 1966, and I have read a fair amount about it, mostly because I am interested in mysticism. Then again, I had strongly atheistic parents, and I have always remained an atheist, and also a non-religionist.

It may be doubted whether my atheism is inconsistent with Zen-Buddhism, but Zen certainly is some kind of religion, and I don´t like religion.

And my dislike is not a mere matter of feelings or emotions: I am in fact, academically speaking, a philosopher, who has read - literally - thousands of books about philosophy (and religion, and mysticism, and science) in the last 50+ years, and I am also a psychologist.

In fact, I reject all claims to supernatural knowledge; I do not believe in any god; and I disbelieve the vast majority of all religious teachings and ideas I have been in contact with. (And I never had any religious faith, and also was happy enough not to be raised in one.)

This does not at all mean that there is not very much that human beings do not know, and quite possibly also that there is much that human beings cannot know, but it does mean that I believe such knowledge can not be found in Holy Books (excepting some teaching about ethics, which has nothing to do with the existence or non-existence of supernatural entities), and that I believe that scientific realism is the best approach to real knowledge.

Five simple reasons for this firm belief in science as the method to reach knowledge are:

1. All religions I know of are full of provable falsities and provable nonsense, and have done much harm, which may have been also mixed with some good.
2. No God or angel ever appeared to me (other than in the delusive
shape of attractive young women).
3. No presumed Holy Book whatsoever, in spite of its usual claims to contain the true teachings of the Maker of Universe, Infinite in Power, Knowledge and Benevolence, contains as much as a millionth part of the scientific knowledge found the last four centuries, since the firm foundation of the scientific method by Galileo and Newton. 

4. Real science produces real technology that really works whether or not you believe it or can explain it, whereas real religions produced no technology other than new ways of deceiving the stupid and the ignorant, and no religion produced any technology that really works without faith in the religion.
5. All or nearly all of the faithful of all religions fondly believe the same about all religions other than their own: They disbelieve all of them (except perhaps on a dishonest and confused verbal level).

I merely extend this from all-but-my-own to all. And I simply disbelieve in Zen, and indeed in any religion, simply because I have read about Zen, and also about the main religions, but I could not find any good set of reasons to believe in them. (And Zen is quite abstruse, when it gets articulated.)

Second acting. I know a whole lot less about acting than I know about philosophy, religion or Zen, but I did have for a number of years a girlfriend who was a somewhat well-known actress (and who had a good mind).

For me, acting is a kind of pretending, and pretending is not easy to combine with either honest religion (including Zen) or with honest anarchism.

And I simply do not think Coyote does succeed in combining being an actor (which I grant he is, in several senses, and which he also made a reasonable amount of money with) with being either an honest anarchist or a man of Zen, and indeed I also think that the articles he wrote as an actor - some of which you can find here (but again less than there were before, with fewer links) - are considerably worse than the articles he wrote as a man of Zen (indeed not many) or the articles he wrote as an anarchist (quite a few).

Third anarchism. I should start with saying I am myself a kind of anarchist, although I never acted politically as an anarchist, which I did not do because I am a (kind of) a philosophical anarchist, whose anarchism is philosophical mostly because I think that while liberal anarchism is probably the most sympathetic form of society, I do not think it is possible to realize on any considerable scale until people grow more intelligent than most are. (I am 68 and have been thinking this for nearly 50 years, so while this is a quite uncommon opinion, it is quite well-known to myself.)

And in fact, I like Coyote as an anarchist (without agreeing with him) - but I also think his anarchism is difficult or impossible to combine with either Zen or with being an actor, and indeed he does not succeed in doing so.

Then again, all in all I like Coyote because he can write and think, and wrote and said sensible things, although I dislike his having been hooked on hard drugs, and I also cannot accept his visions or presentations of his three kinds of person - an anarchist, a Zen-Buddhist, and a (rather successful) actor.

C. Emmett Grogan

Of the three persons who led the Diggers (around 1967), I like Emmett Grogan (<- Wikipedia) the best, although I should add immediately that he died 40 years ago, in 1978, and that he died from an overdose of heroin (which I dislike).

I like him because he was - more than Coyote or Berg - a real social revolutionary (who tried and failed) and because he was a fine writer, which you can check out yourself by reading his autobiography Ringolevio, which I found on the (in part, but the following downloads as 30 MB):
This is a fine story. The Wikipedia article on Grogan says this about the book (note numbers deleted):
Grogan shunned media attention, and became increasingly suspicious of those who sought publicity. In Ringolevio Grogan discussed the 1967 Human Be-In, criticizing counterculture luminaries Timothy Leary, Jerry Rubin, and especially Abbie Hoffman. "[Ringolevio] is a hard-boiled, sometimes hard-to-believe, wildly entertaining tale that takes a totally unexpected turn when Grogan washes up in sixties San Francisco and becomes a leader of the anarchist group known as the Diggers. The Diggers, devoted to street theater, direct action, and distributing free food, were in the thick of the legendary Summer of Love, and soon Grogan is struggling with the naive narcissism of the hippies, the marketing of revolution as a brand, dogmatic radicals, and false prophets like tripster Timothy Leary."
And that is correct. This is what says about the book:
After retiring from the scene in late 1969, Emmett wrote his account of the adventures (and misadventures) of the previous decade and Ringolevio was published in 1972. Many of his compatriots felt betrayed and (even to this day) refused to read the book. Many others (myself included) who had not been present at most or all of the actual events cherished Ringolevio which (to us) captured the purity of vision the Diggers represented. Granted there were flaws of ego and machismo and braggadocio. But, man, what a story Grogan could weave.
I agree. Also, Grogan has died over 40 years ago now, and what he describes happened mostly over 50 years ago. I do not know what may be false in his book, but then I am not an American. (Of course, not everything is true in his book, but then this is true of virtually any book.)

Anyway... I have given my ideas about three leaders of the Diggers, and will stop here.


[1] And now, in 2018, it again seems less than it was 10 months ago. In fact, I like the Wikipedia less and less and less (precisely like the internet, which is growing more commercial by the day, and allows that everyone with a computer (or cellphone, which in fact is also a computer) is completely known in everything he or she does, thinks, or writes, to anyone who belongs to almost any secret service, or to anyone who has enough money, and besides to no one else.

There are, accordingly, three sets of people now, by reference to the internet:

The masters, who spy for some state; the rich ones, who spy for themselves on Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple etc., because they own them or work for an owner, and the slaves, who own all information about themselves, which gets stolen by the masters or the rich ones, and who have to pay for everything, without getting any returns (usually).

Anyway... this was mostly an aside, though the point is important:

The internet is getting worse and worse, and seems to be convenient only for some states´ terrorists (who tend to call themselves ¨National Security¨) and for the very rich, and to be extremely dangerous for all non-rich users (for your
¨National Security¨ knows everything about you, and also everything about your friends).
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