Introduction

# p. xv #

Introduction

A great many Americans have been searching for some new meaning in their personal lives during the past few years. You may be among them. I am.

I am also a federal official who’s concerned about the national consequences of our failure to provide the quality of life that would permit us to attain more of our full potential.

No one — save fanatics and corporate profiteers — represents that he has “the” answer. The answer is that the answer changes. It is to be found, in part, in the act of searching for the answer. Your answer must be found for you and by you. You cannot buy it in a store or read it in a book.

At the same time, it seems to me we ought to share with each other such incomplete and imperfect insights as we’ve evolved. We ought not be shy about the personal facts of our lives just because we’re unsure of ourselves. We ought to help each other. We damn sure aren’t getting any help from Big Business, Big Broadcasting, or Big Government.

If I were to wait until I was qualified to write this book, I’d never be able to start it. There are lot of books I haven’t read, experiences I’ve yet to have, and theories I haven’t tested fully. Between the time this manuscript is finished and the book reaches you there will probably be a lot of things I’ll want to change in it. All I can represent is that this book, when written, was intended to be honest and helpful.

Many of the ideas here are borrowed. The Greeks philosophized about-and practiced-the “balanced life.” All the world’s great religions have warned of

 

 

# p. xvi #

materialism for centuries. Our parents and grandparents know the value of good nutrition, walking in the woods, and 80 forth. It’s preposterous for a person today to announce that these are truths he has personally discovered and presented to mankind.

Moreover, any honest author will admit he has drawn heavily from the writings of others. I have emphasized this fact by the use of quotations from diverse sources even though many of them came from reading I did after I wrote the text. All I can do is update these ideas a bit, give them a personal twist, and perhaps arrange them together in a way that strikes a chord in you.

Another reason I have emphasized the quotes is that my search involves the discovery of common themes in men’s wisdom. When different people start saying the same thing — when a blue-collar worker expresses frustrations similar to those of college students, when the teachings of Buddha are consistent with the insights of psychiatrists, or when ecologists echo the sentiments of poets — I feel excitement. If you want, you can just read the quotes, and skip my text entirely — or read it later. (If you care about sources and citations, they’re listed at the back of the book. )

My own perspective on the world comes from two directions.

My professional life has been spent as a law clerk (to Chief Judge John R. Brown, U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, and to the late Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black); as a law professor (University of California, Berkeley, and Georgetown University); as a lawyer (Covington and Burling, Washington, D.C.);

 

# p. xvii #

as a public official (U.S. Maritime Administrator, and Federal Communications Commissioner); and as an author (How to Talk Back to Your Television Set). So it is my professional responsibility to think about, and help fashion, societies that will contribute to the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” of their members (the reason “governments are instituted among men,” according to our Declaration of Independence). It is not the business of government to fashion and feed the souls of its citizens, but it most certainly is the business of government to create the kind of society in which men can properly tend to the flourishing of their own souls.

The other direction to my life is personal. The usefulness to you of what I have written depends upon where you are right now — geographically, emotionally, economically, professionally, and personally. No one leads a “typical” life; each of us is different from others in a thousand ways. We’ve all had our own personal crises. In some ways I may have been in a better position to innovate than you; in other ways I have probably been more restricted.

During the time this book was being thought through and written, I was living alone. Because I don’t have a boss, my job permits some idiosyncrasies and flexibility. Living in apartments gives me an easy choice (and change) of locations not permitted by a suburban mortgage. And my income is at least enough that my simplistic life style can be in part a matter of choice. On the other hand, I come out of a very “straight” (disciplined, achievement-oriented) background. I still have significant family ties and obligations (including

 

 

# p. xviii #

that mortgage) and I have some administrative and personal responsibilities to a staff and seven-year Presidential appointment that (I felt) precluded my “dropping out.” You may be less restrained.

When I write of the pressures in our society generated by Big Business, Big Broadcasting, and Big Government, it is for two reasons. I think some analysis of such pressures is necessary to an understanding of what’s wrong with our lives as individuals. Otherwise it’s like a fish trying to understand why he doesn’t feel good in terms of physiology and philosophy, when the real problem is the polluted water in which he’s swimming.

But the wisest readers will recognize that this book is as much a professional as a personal statement. As a political scientist, lawyer, and government official, I am also trying to say that these concerns — about the true quality of our lives — ought to be the business of our elected and appointed public officials. Most of the time they are not. Public officials lead bad lives just like the rest of us — maybe worse. And bad lives produce bad laws. No public official who really reads and feels what I am saying in this book could ever vote the funds to support vicious killing in Southeast Asia, or the numerous other legislative appropriations and tax schemes that rob from the poor and give to the rich. He could not fail to support increased appropriations for programs to feed the hungry, or to support the Public Broadcasting System and the arts.

John Lennon once announced he and Yoko Ono were going to send two acorns for peace to every world leader along with the suggestion that the acorns be

 

 

# p. xix

planted. Perhaps then, he said, “They may get the idea into their heads.”

I don’t know if they ever did it or not. But I’m afraid all too many world leaders wouldn’t get the idea into their heads — unless you “staffed it out” for them in a memo. For them this is:

  • “Memorandum
  • To:  All Officials
  • From:  FCC Commissioner Johnson
  • Re: Life”

For you, it’s just a love poem, from Nick.

 

 

 

# p. xx #

At last 
New from us 
This amazing dramatic proof 
There. 
See? 
You can. 
It’s easy! 
You mean America’s favorite modern families? 
Yes! . . . 
Because they used that other stuff in tests 
But without the special ingredient of a magic formula 
Now available in two sizes 
Fresh and moist 
And especially made so effectively light and lovely 
That the leading new word for all you ladies 
Combined with their report 
Is a timely message of less than a minute 
And quick to fix from now on . . . .

So why not try big, tough, super 
Flakes of special interest for all you guys 
With twice the power and vitamins necessary 
For a high rate of saturated “duh” 
That is free for an unlimited time only 
with every Hey!

— Mason Williams

 

 

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