Monday, September 22, 2014

Hippies were right all along

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, which brought thousands of young people to San Francisco, we should acknowledge that many of the opinions that the hippies were vilified for are today mainstream. The first event in the hippie movement was the Human Be-In, which took place in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967.

The timing was critical. The war in Vietnam was claiming up to 1800 deaths a week. Students and young men of draft age staged frequent protests, mostly peaceful, against the war. African Americans asserted their citizenship rights in similar protests. Young African Americans, frustrated by the slow pace of the civil rights movement, rioted in Newark and Detroit, two of the most hopeless and poverty-stricken communities in America.

Hippies were less violent than the rest. They only wanted to be left alone to enjoy life. But the mainstream society found ways to harass the hippies at every turn. Older white men threatened to kill them, calling them Communists--in those days an insult taken seriously. Communities enforced laws against marijuana and LSD as well as rousting the homeless. These police activities united the hippies with homeless people and radical African Americans.

College students, the children of the newly affluent middle class, felt alienated as well, as the government drafted them into the army to serve in the unpopular war in Vietnam.

At this juncture, a new current of history created the Counter-culture. Music groups sprang up everywhere, using the electronic instruments that transformed them from folksingers into bands that competed with symphony orchestras for sheer volume. These newly minted bands became the cheerleaders of the counter-culture, urging their fans to turn on, tune in, and drop out.

Underground newspapers, like the Oracle, the Rolling Stone, and the Berkeley Barb, found a ready audience, fed up with the way the establishment press was whitewashing the Vietnam War. There had been a steady stream of good reports from the front. The government kept claiming the war was almost over at the same time they raised the number of inductees. Soon there were 500,000 US soldiers in Vietnam, most of whom did not want to be there.

Hippies viewed all these developments calmly. They adopted peace and love as their watchwords and eastern religions as their philosophy. In many ways, they emulated hindu and buddhist monks, who took vows of poverty and lived together communally. But they also took advantage of scientific advances, such as the birth control pill, that made free love a possibility. They used drugs developed by science, such as LSD, that provided much stronger ecstasies than traditional alcohol and nicotine.

The most important achievement of the Hippies was that they broke away completely from the pr-driven culture. They rejected popular music in favor of indie rock bands. They rejected alcohol in favor of marijuana, which they believed provided a better experience with fewer side effects. They rejected traditional marriage and experimented with new forms of sexual activity, including open relationships and communal marriage.

As set out by the speakers at the Human Be-In, the goals of the counter-culture--aka hippies--were simple yet profound.

Personal empowerment

Hippies believed in self-expression, no matter what form that expression took. This conforms with the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. The government attempted to jail hippies for burning the flag and profanity. Today: Court rulings have largely favored hippies, finding that you can't ban speech for one group without banning it for all.

 Cultural and political decentralization

Hippies objected to the society and mass media telling them what music they should listen to and what the definition of "art" was. They made their own music and art, which they used as a unifying principle. They also refused to accept the candidates that major political parties nominated if those candidates were not sympathetic to their views. This led to the rejection of Hubert Humphrey as a presidential candidate. The establishment resorted to force to put this rebellion down, but without success. Richard Nixon became president and proceeded to mock every ideal the Republicans held. Today: Elections have become more open, with primaries that nominate candidates, not political party bosses.

Communal living

Hippies rejected the suburban lifestyle, which leads to single adults living in houses intended for families and wastes resources. Hippies lived in cities and on communal farms. Today: Middle class people are moving back to the cities, abandoning their suburban utopias. This trend will undoubtedly continue as oil and coal become less acceptable for ecological reasons. 

Ecological awareness 

Hippies were mocked for their opposition to clear-cutting and experimentation with live animals. They believed in the interrelatedness of all living beings, so favored vegetarianism and organic gardening. Today: The world is coming around to the hippy position. Whole foods are good; coal and oil are hazardous. Extinction of species has taken on a more serious meaning. Environmental groups are influential in politics. Continued awareness of global warming is likely to make people even more concerned about the environment.

Higher consciousness

Hippies rejected traditional religion. They were looking for a deeper and more personal connection with the divine. They frequently used psychedelic drugs to achieve this end. Today: The interest in meditation and eastern religions is much wider-spread and more main-stream than in 1967. Polls reveal that 16% of Americans meditate daily using a secular meditation practice, while another 9% use an eastern meditation practice.

Counter culture drugs

Hippies used marijuana and many other drugs. The establishment responded with increasingly harsh sentences for marijuana use. Their severe laws filled the prisons with prisoners whose only crime is taking a relatively harmless drug that is not approved by the establishment. Today: The prisons are still full of non-violent drug offenders, but states are beginning to legalize marijuana. Some states, notably Mississippi, have recognized the folly of locking up non-violent drug users and paying for their upkeep, sometimes for years. The great logjam of strict drug laws is starting to break up.

Hippies triumph

Fifty years ago, hippies were attacked and mocked for their eccentric views. Today, their views are either mainstream or becoming so rapidly. The Tea Party are the same folks who mocked the hippies then. These latter-day bigots seem to be dying out and leaving the hippies to inherit the world.

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