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ROGER ROSENBLATT: Here’s a tendency with interesting consequences. Slowly, but definitely, people are learning to do without intermediaries. In the realm of psychology this has been the case for a while. Self-help books and radio shrinks have removed the necessity of therapists. In the realm of shopping there are the cable shop-at-home channels that make salespersons and stores an incumbrance. Real estate is sold without agents in the way, so is the stuff in mail order catalogues which seem to enter our homes at a million a day.
Over the Internet everybody’s becoming a journalist, so the mediation of authoritative journalism is being eroded. In many religions, the clergy is not necessarily in the picture. Individual members of congregations are convinced that they can connect up with God directly, without anyone standing in-between. So what does it mean, this desire to do without intermediaries? In its most flattering light it may be seen as recapturing the old Emersonian self-reliance, a throwback to the romantic American notion that one must find oneself within. No one or no thing should intervene between you and your soul. Trust thyself. But then there is the less attractive explanation that people believe they don’t need anyone for anything. Direct dial a phone call, direct dial a house, direct dial sex, dial a mattress, and talk with God, but don’t reverse the charges. In such a revised system of living a whole class of people will disappear.
Plays like “Death of a Salesman” will have no meaning in the future because young people have no idea what a salesman is. If everyone is a journalist, there goes the newspaper. If everyone is a minister, there goes the church. Can doctors and lawyers be far behind? Lawyers have told us in their self-interest, to be sure, that anyone who serves as his own attorney has a fool for a client. But after a surfeit of O.J. trials and Court TV, even though lawyers have proved useful, people may be getting fed up with the sight of them and decide to go it alone. In medicine it may work the opposite way. Sick to death of the HMO business, doctors may drop out of their own accord. Feeling ill? Heal thyself. If there is a philosophy lying under all of this, it is that authority, all authority, is suspect, indeed, expendable. This has been an American supposition since the Boston Tea Party, but it arrived at its heyday in the raging 1960′s, and the generation that came into its own in the raging 1960′s is running the country today. No wonder the Internet is selling like hotcakes. The mantra of the 60′s was “power to the people,” not power to those between the people and what they want. Here’s your new computer, ma’am.
Turn on, tune in, and run your own show. The heavenly life these days is the home business, with no one standing between you and profit. Of course, the danger in doing everything yourself is that you may not know what you’re doing. But kings once said the same thing to colonials. Democracy is always struggling against the idea of intermediaries, which is why representative government is also being challenged these days. Stay at home, vote by modem, be your own party, be your own country, be alone with nothing to intervene between you and your desires. So much of what we do says we are dismantling the grand hotel and living, instead in Greta Garbo’s room.
GRETA GARBO: I just want to be alone.
ACTOR: You’re going to be very much alone my dear, madam. This is the end.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: An odd way to end a raucous century: I want to be alone.
I’m Roger Rosenblatt.