The phrase ‘the Organized System’ made people uncomfortable in 1960, and judging by my students’ more recent reaction, it still makes people uncomfortable now. Yet this discomfort was part of what interested Goodman. As a social critic and lay psychologist, he saw an underlying symmetry between the ideological assumption that there was no Organized System and the evidence that many people were reacting against it. It was obvious, for instance, that beatniks and juvenile delinquents were repelled by what the Organized System and its dominant values asked of them. But it was equally obvious that their alternative values represented little more than symbolic opposition, efforts to flee rather than adjust. Beneath the appearance of disparate responses, Goodman saw a common cultural condition. The Organized System stripped everyone of the same human goods — ‘force, grace, discrimination, intellect, feeling’; people merely reflected the costs they suffered differently. (‘This is the beautiful shaping power of our human nature,’ he wrote.) It was on this basis that Goodman staked his main ethical claim: ‘We do not need to be able to say what ‘human nature’ is in order to be able to say that some training is ‘against human nature’ and you persist in it at peril…. Contrariwise, if you don’t provide [people] with certain things, they’ll fill the gaps with eccentric substitutes.’
—an excellent essay on Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd by Michael Fisher in Full Stop, who also published an interview about the book with Casey Nelson Blake, the introducter to our edition. For anyone interested in Occupy Wall Street this book is a must.