Dialogue Underground: II

Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon; drawing by David Levine

The following is the second of three excerpts from conversations between Daniel Berrigan and Robert Coles which were held last July, two weeks before Dan Berrigan was captured on Block Island. The third excerpt will appear in the next issue. The complete text will be published in September as The Geography of Faith.

The Editors

BERRIGAN: I’d like to ask you some questions—I mean, ask what issues you believe your profession ought to be struggling for in times like these. Do you think a professional man like yourself is free to inquire broadly, free to do and say whatever he believes right and proper?

COLES: I feel that all too many psychiatrists and lawyers and teachers and architects in New Orleans or in Boston or in Seattle manage quite successfully to come to terms with the powers that be, and never once start asking themselves what assumptions they have to make every day about the structure of the world around them, where their money comes from, who pays them, who rewards them, whom they don’t see as patients or clients, whom they never get to represent, who cannot purchase their time. I remember one day when I was taking my residency training in psychiatry I heard a supervisor of mine say, “We are in the business of selling time to people.”

Because I fancied myself somewhat idealistic, that seemed like a rather crude way of putting things, so I turned upon him in my mind and said to myself (not to him, because I wanted to get through and be awarded my certificate!), “What a vulgar man, to think of a psychiatrist as one who sells his time to people.” I thought of myself as sincere and generous and anxious to give my time to anyone who came to me, so that we could all help one another to grow as individuals. But more recently I have thought back upon that moment, and now I’m not so sure the doctor wasn’t right in coming out with that kind of almost vulgar confrontation which in turn compelled me to look at certain brute facts, and stripped away from my mind, one might say, an almost fraudulent idealism.

The facts are that I do sell my time, or if I personally do not, most people like me do. We sell our time to people who can afford to pay thirty or forty dollars an hour for it. In that sense, of course, some of the confrontations now going on in our society may have a liberating effect on the society. The obscenity, the pornography, the greed, the self-aggrandizement, the parochialism that are protected and considered to be part of everyday life are being confronted—and the result is a great deal of outrage on the part of people like me, who don’t want to think of ourselves as “up for sale,” as…

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