The Spirit of Jack Kerouac

Some of us growing up in the ’60’s/’70’s had strong philosophies of life.  It was a time of intentional living for those in the counter-culture.  We didn’t conform to the dominant social norms, and in order to protest, you needed a philosophy to measure the status-quo against.

One of the predominant philosophies was the quest for experiences.  We sought memorable experiences, not simply a job, family, and white picket fence.  (Let alone a Lincoln, BMW, or Mercedes.)  So I hitch-hiked across the US and Canada after I graduated from high school, which included a ferry ride to Nantucket Island with its cobble-stone streets.  After a couple years in college, I drove out from Detroit to Hartford, Connecticut and partied with some music intellectuals for a few months.  Then I moved to Boston, did an internship for a few months in New York, and decided to pursue an intellectual quest.  This led me to a few of America’s best universities and a Ph.D.

What I didn’t know then, was that I was living out a script written by Jack Kerouac, in On The Road.  Though On the Road is about the beat generation, its main character, Neal Cassady ended up a “hippie” and travelled across America in Ken Kesey’s magic, psychedelic bus.  Like the characters in Kerouac, I went after new adventures and experiences and welcomed travel, new homes and different cities in which to live and cultures to learn.  Not by any means done with my life, I have rich memories and experiences that have made me into who I am now.  The philosophy I am describing is one of personal formation and character development.  Becoming a self, not a job and paycheque.

This is still a counter-cultural philosophy.  I guest taught a philosophy class not long ago.  I asked the students what matters in life.  The preponderant response was wealth and power.  I listened to some newly graduated college students talking.  One remark was an awestruck narration of a recent graduate making $90,000 a year.  At that age, I wouldn’t have made such a comment, nor admired someone on those grounds.


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