When I first started to reflect on his, I was inclined to cite the obvious big forces – the superrich, their military-industrial-financial complex, and a host of similar drains on the common good. I’ll let Bernie Sanders carry that side of the argument for now.
Instead, I’m thinking of some of the themes that play out in my novels Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.
- Individualism. The do-your-own-thing outlook had its upside, but it also dampened our ability to come together for sustained work toward shared goals. Ultimately, it lessened our common identity. Like Kenzie’s housemates at the farm, finding much common ground could be elusive.
- Fuzzy goals. Knowing what we were against, often fueled by anger, was rarely balanced by knowing what we were for – nobody had a clear idea of how to go to the better world we sensed was possible. Lifting the draft, for instance, was only one step toward making a more peaceful world. And not wanting to have a marriage or a job like those our parents endured wasn’t the same as raising children in a new way or running a small-is-beautiful successful business.
- Disrespect for labor. Yes, I know the “lazy hippie” slur, but I did see a lot of effort put forth, too. An expectation of something for nothing, though, had a divisive impact. Respect for labor also means knowing how to perform a job well and how to earn a livable wage. We were so naïve on so many fronts here.
- Drugs. Admittedly, passing the pipe had a tribal quality, but too much simply removed an individual from action. In that sense, the rumors of CIA involvement in the importation of hard drugs as a way to blunt the peace movement begin to sound deviously rational. And LSD left a lot of wreckage.
- Sexism and racism. It was there, one way or another. By the way, we didn’t see a lot of black hippies, did we? That in itself could be another topic of discussion.
- Free love fallout. For many, it was fun while it lasted. Some even ended up in marriages that have lasted. For many, though, it led instead to betrayals, breakups, and bitterness – not exactly the ideal image when you define hippie as happy.
- Irresponsibility. Think of the vanishing food from your shelf in the refrigerator or the things that got permanently borrowed without anyone asking. The list of examples will be long.
- Aging. It was a youth movement, maybe the first generational tide in history. Geezer is not part of the definition of hippie – never has been, never will be. Besides, can we trust anyone under 30?
- Violence. Few of us have turned out to be as consistently gentle as we’d like. Even if we never crossed over into physical hostility, we’ve likely been verbally wounding. Anyone else remember a few from back then who bought a gun – for self-defense, as they always argued? Especially if they were involved in dealing?
- Global warming. I’m not kidding. This will completely thwart any Revolution of Peace & Love as everyone runs for the hills. Or tries to swim in the riptide.
What would you add to the list?
Talk of pooling income and possessions thrived in the hippie era, though it rarely took form in practice – and, when it did, the results were often disastrous.
More common was the kind of shared rent arrangement like the farm I describe in my novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.
Here are ten from American history. Utopian socialism was a common theme.
- New Harmony, Indiana. Robert Owen, 1825-1829.
- Oberlin Colony. Ohio, 1833-1843.
- Fourier Society. Based on the ideas of French philosopher Charles Fourier, communes existed in New Jersey, 1841-1858; New York state, 1844-1846; Wisconsin, 1844-1850; Ohio, 1844-1845.
- The Transcendentalists. Brook Farm, George and Sophia Ripley, 1841-1846, and Fruitlands, Amos Alcott, 1843-1844, both in Massachusetts.
- Oneida Colony. John H. Noyes, New York state, 1848-1880. The first of a series of communes with radical ideas about free love and open marriage. (I love the name of one of those in Ohio, 1854-1858: Free Lovers at Davis House.)
- Icarians. Followers of French philosopher Etienne Cabet established communes in Louisiana, Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and California, 1848-1898.
- Home, Washington. 1895-1919, based on an anarchist philosophy.
- Twin Oaks. Virginia, 1967 to the present.
- The Farm. Stephen Gaskin, Lewis County, Tennessee, 1971 to the present.
- East Wind Community. Ozark County, Missouri, 1973 to the present.
Any you’d add to the list?
Thinking of freedom, we can see it as personal expression as well as political opportunity. For some of us, that was a big dimension of the hippie movement.
The 50th anniversary of Woodstock is coming up next month. Normally, that would mark a jubilee, some even acclaiming it as a celebration of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Alas, the dark ages we thought had passed have returned from the dead, in intensified deadliness at that.
Jubilee, by the way, is drawn from the Biblical book of Leviticus, and it’s a most radical idea. Every 50 years, all the wealth in the land is to be redistributed. The scriptural passage is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, so don’t tell me it’s not American.
One of the passages I cut before the final version of my novel What’s Left is one where she’s asking her aunt about the hippie experience:
I’ve never asked you about your own drug use.
OK? Can I say it was just enough to convince others I wasn’t a narc?
So were you really a hippie? I mean, you had such short hair!
You trying to say a hippie couldn’t have short hair? Don’t you know how radical my style was? You ever think I could conform to anything?
Well, you’ve indicated you weren’t stoned. I’m going down the list.
Have you considered the impact of the Pill? Or free love?
Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.
For the record, some of the truest hippies I’ve known weren’t promiscuous or do drugs. And some others never marched in a protest.
Still, as an image of the era, let me ask: What’s your impression of Woodstock? Have you ever been to a big, multiday festival? What’s your favorite music? How do you best express your free spirit?
- No clearly defined identity. Long hair or passing the pipe was pretty superficial, ultimately.
- No underlying unity or structure. It’s not like we had a manifesto or membership cards or even paid dues.
- And bad trips. Especially bad trips.
- No reliable leaders or prophets. And definitely no reliable followers.
- End of the military draft. Not that it was the end of the war now, was it? But it turned the heat off the burner.
- Not enough self-discipline. Even before we got to the hard stuff.
- Demands of jobs and families kicked in after all. And since many of ours weren’t like our parents’, we had to keep improvising. There weren’t many guidelines left to follow.
- The soul mate who wasn’t. Or as they say in Zen, what’s the sound of one clap handing.
- Everyone else left. Maybe with your lover.
- The Grateful Dead couldn’t carry the beat forever. Even with all these oldies still hanging on.
What would you add to the list?
- Peace and nonviolence.
- The environment.
- Racial and sexual equality.
- Yoga and spirituality.
- Nature and the outdoors.
- Alternative health.
- Vegan. Vegetarian. Natural. Farmers markets.
- Comfortable clothing.
- Music and dance.
What would you add to the list?
Returning that matter of bohemian identity, here are ten more options.
- Peace activist.
- Organic gardener.
- Civil rights activist.
- New England contradancer.
- Sanctuary volunteer.
What more would you suggest for the list?