Sunday, September 25, 2005

Hippies- Then and Now

I read the comments regarding the “hippie” term quickly, anxious to rebuff and holler about “numbers” after the big march on Saturday. (See previous CB entry and comments) At first I thought it was strange that it started with such semantic weirdness- until I recalled that the ‘perception’ and “culture” issues are essential to the dynamics of 2005 protest. (And why ANSWER got covered more than UFPJ) What does the media want you to believe about us? Why do they borrow and glean their criticism from the hypocrisy of the sixties instead of the dynamic, paradigm-shifting elements of the sixties? Certainly we on the left are used to being viewed as disenfranchised margin-hugging caricatures and sandal slinging hairy feminists. We are also used to the defensiveness that drools from our mouths as we combat the image question. Linkage to hippies is rendered both a curse and a blessing. A curse in that it evokes memories of privileged college brats painting flowers on their asses, not questioning war until the draft of middle class white kids- yet, a compliment because it is an admission that progressivism in the US is likened to a subculture of such influential proportions.
CB seems to have used the term simply as cultural shorthand, as we use neocon or bible thumper or wingnut. We should forgive a degree of linguistic and vernacular whoring when precision does not lend much to the discussion at hand. But maybe precision does come into play… and we need to think about the deliberation of our words.
Benett suggested that CB’s use of the term ‘hippie” was misguided, as he claimed hippies to be ‘apolitical” and concerned about “lifestyle”. Debatable points. I want to start by saying that I do not believe lifestyle and politics to be exclusive and I don’t think that it is accurate to define “hippies” as apolitical. To say that muddles terms like ‘politics” with establishment. Establishment encompasses a broad range of entities- religious, academic, social, bureaucratic… anti-government but not really in the libertarian sense. Anti-establishment is an aversion to the legislation of dogma and ‘values’ upon a free-thinking populace. Entities perpetuate propaganda and are suspect. Then and now, beads or Birkenstocks- it is about rejecting blind obedience to unsubstantiated and baseless regulation or policy. Lifestyle should be free of establishment control, but the obligation to provide for those in need separates this from the libertarian view. We need government for we see as ‘hippies’ that we must be concerned with social questions and inequity. We see a place for government in such remedies versus libertarians who often do not. We fear a history where religious groups provided the foundation of charity and aid to the poor. We fear a return to trading freedom of thought for food. We fear the implications on women, children, and minorities in reducing the role of politics and government. Where perhaps in the past this differed, today we view policy and law as machinery toward equity. Our defense.
The saying “the personal is political” attempts to connect the notions that what we do is a manifestation of what we think, and what we think collectively shapes policy which in turns shapes lifestyle. To categorize 60’s hippies as apolitical is simplistic and presumably based on the fact that for many it was a lifestyle with little substantive action. If we can agree that hippies were a culture, with elements of such- language, commonality, dress- we can assume that subgroups would have emerged that ran the spectrum of phonies to committed academics and activists. We can assume that any culture has subgroups, that are not without their criticisms. We tend to look at the contradictions of 60’s hippies and point out that they were often childishly disconnected, self-serving, and disinterested in politics because of a lifestyle that did not lend itself to much examination of anything. But today’s neo-hippies are not the same Haight Ashbury souls, despite the fact that they too have their range of phonies and contradictions. We owe them for questioning norms, for empowering those marginalized by a status quo of obedience.
When the Romans revived Greek Hellenic cultures, they took their favorite elements and recreated them into what is known as “Hellenistic”. Classical standards and works that reach forward into new generations become neo-classic, and so it goes. Both the movement and the hippie lifestyle have evolved and therefore would now be better articulated as “hippie” and “hippie-istic”. Hippie is anti-establishment, not anti-political. Hippie is anti- authoritarian, anti- mandates. Hippie-istic embodies those things but incorporates a global view, a backlash against consumerism and materialism, and is less about being “in”. It is only movement, not fashion. The earlier was both. The latter, significantly less so.
If we look at it as a ‘movement” we have a different conversation but can make the same distinctions. Movements have both drivers and passengers, those that float and those that paddle. The movement aspect of the 60’s is different in the sense that we have a more global view with information access never before seen. Neo-hippies do seem to connect lifestyle very much to politics because they can understand that lifestyle choices reflect priorities- consumer choices and social choices. Hybrids versus SUV’s, box store versus local, fair trade versus exploitive economics… all are lifestyle choices but they are co-mingled with politics.
This is a trend that distinguishes ‘new hippies” from the last generation. The term and associated characteristics have morphed into a new version but it did not overwrite the old. Both versions exist just as the parallels of fashion and social movement coexisted. Just as lifestyle and politics coexist. To extrapolate is to oversimplify.


Cantankerous Bitch said...

Absolutely goddamn brilliant, Lily. Thank you. (I think I like "neo-hippies").

Lily said...

aw shucks. I wanted to add something-- a point about the pretext for war in Vietnam- it was later learned that Johnson had lied about the circumstances- sound familiar? BUT the thing is, I have taken many history classes from childhood though graduate level- and never did I hear about that. I event took a course specifically ON THE SIXTIES and did not get into that.
That really upsets me. Expect some kind of rant on that know how my mind gets going.
Today naturally I was on a roll on that topic and the people I talked to did not know even WHAT prompted us to go to Vietnam.... Communism?
Communism was an afterthought just like Democracy is an afterthought for Iraq... how will our future generations learn about our events???