Thursday 28 October 2021

Counter-Cultural Counter-Revolutionaries.

The Political Economy Of "Hippyness": Small businesses selling “whole-foods”, pottery, furniture, or (if the small business was bad) a little home-grown weed, swallowed up the hippy “movement”, leaving only a peculiar social sub-set devoted to “doing their own thing”. Refugees from the dominant culture: suspicious of, if not downright hostile to, the demands of “Society” and “The Man”. Easy meat for the Anti-Vaxxers.

“NEVER LET A GOOD CRISIS go to waste” has become something of a cliché in contemporary political writing. The thing about clichés, however, is that they become clichés by describing real situations succinctly and effectively. The current Covid-19 crisis, for example, has aroused the ire of those who reject the idea that enjoying the benefits of human society incurs a reciprocal obligation to preserve its wellbeing. Often associated with the Left, this rights-based, libertarian impulse actually sits more comfortably with the Right. Certainly, the Far Right has shamelessly exploited the Covid-19 crisis to pull a depressingly large number of confused libertarian leftists down goodness knows how many phantasmagorical rabbit-holes.

To clarify this proposition, it helps to recall the curious phenomenon conjured-up by the word “hippy”. Conservatives loathed and detested “hippies” on account of their rejection of the buttoned-down world of the early-1960s. The era which the makers of the television series Mad Men evoked so powerfully. With their long-hair, beads, headbands, free-love, drugs, crash-pads and communes, the radically non-conformist hippies appeared to be rejecting the American Dream in toto. But were they really the counter-cultural revolutionaries the mainstream news media proclaimed?

Consider the classic hippy formula, “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out” – attributed to the guru of LSD, Dr Timothy Leary.

Rejectionist though it most certainly was, Leary’s formula was utterly inadequate to the challenge of building something enduring to replace the “rat-race” that was capitalist America. Like the Romantic Movement of the early nineteenth century, from which the hippies drew so much inspiration, the Counter-Culture of the 1960s and 70s was a reaction to the transformational impact of rapid technological change. Rationalism and science were in the driver’s seat, and there no longer seemed to be any social space for spontaneity, creativity, intuition – or fun.

But fun has its limits, and capitalism doesn’t. Dropping out, when it didn’t end in addiction and criminality (like Charles Manson’s murderous “Family”) almost always saw the hippies take one of two roads: either back into the rat-race, or, off into what Karl Marx would have called the petit-bourgeoisie. Small businesses selling “whole-foods”, pottery, furniture, or (if the small business was bad) a little home-grown weed, swallowed up the hippy “movement”, leaving only a peculiar social sub-set devoted to “doing their own thing”. Refugees from the dominant culture: suspicious of, if not downright hostile to, the demands of “Society” and “The Man”.

Old hippies could be relied upon to react antagonistically to the demands of collectivities of all kinds. Not only to the collectivism represented by the state and its institutions, but also the collectivism of the working-class. These small business people were no friends of the Tax Man, but they also distrusted the trade unions. The communities inhabited by ex-hippies were, first and foremost, collections of individuals. Places where “characters” could enjoy their freedom from the demands of society, living “close to nature” without interference.

Now, if this summary of the ageing hippy’s convictions strikes you as having a lot in common with the young libertarian capitalist in his high-rise apartment, then that may not be entirely accidental. At the root of both ideologies lies the deep-seated fear of being swallowed up by the inescapable expectations and obligations of social existence. That both thought-systems represent an infantile and potentially dangerous refusal to recognise the claims of other human-beings, in no way lessens their appeal. For such individuals, the attraction of negative liberty – the absence of constraint – has always been irresistible.

For the libertarian capitalist, the opportunities for evading social constraints are, understandably, considerable. (What else are lawyers and accountants for?) For the ageing hippy, however, the enjoyment of negative liberty often entails rejecting the claims of reason and science, along with the social and political expectations derived from them. It is but a small step from “leave me alone” to “you can’t tell me what to do”. In normal circumstances, these evasions of responsibility, while corrosive, are not critically so. In times of crisis, however, when both the problem and its solution are rooted in collective activity, any rejection of social obligation is fraught with danger.

The libertarian capitalist, pulling all the levers at his disposal to secure the freeing of the economy from Covid-19 restrictions, will make allies wherever he can. The ageing hippies, with their lifelong hostility towards the horrors of Big Science, and the dangerous concoctions of Big Pharma, fit the bill nicely. With their preference for living “close to nature”, the state’s public health demands for mask-wearing, social-distancing and mass vaccination are all-too-easily construed as evidence of the iron fist of tyrannical government they have spent their entire lives trying to escape.

Snugly ensconced in their on-line communities, where individual obsessions all-too-easily become comforting prejudices, these sad old hippies are easily recruited to the libertarian capitalists’ invaluable fifth column – the Anti-Vaxxers. Negative liberty, thus weaponised, is translated into the language of “rights” and “choice”.

That the true definition of humanity: creatures born with individual rights and social obligations; would be forgotten in this rabbit-warren of selfishness was as inevitable as it is tragic.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 28 October 2021.


Kat said...

The feeling is somewhat moody and blue……..

Timothy Leary's dead
No, no, no, no, he's outside, looking in…..

Ride, ride my see-saw,
Take this place
On this trip
Just for me.

A O said...

Where's the science, the study behind this need to forgo 'rights' and 'choices' in the name of social obligation. It is high time that we discovered the truth behind the wealth of information that has shaped our beliefs on all matters Covid-related. If we are to do, this, that and the other then just how understanding of the wealth of Covid information and the science behind it, are we? Name your claim, provide the scientific proof behind it, and try and rescue a long-time Leftie like myself from identifying more and more with the Right side of the political divide!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jon Stewart: "Individual Freedom" requires collective action. When the requirements for that collective action are viewed as "oppression" then we lose the ability to preserve "Individual Freedom."

Tom Hunter said...

I haven't seen any influence of hippies and libertarian capitalists on the primary unvaxxed group in New Zealand, young and middle-aged Maori. The latter group - as you have noted previously Chris - is going to be quite a handful for all the Covid mandate tough guys commenting here, which recently has included yourself.

manfred said...

Politics by individual feelings and taste is reactionary. It has nothing to do being left wing. The same goes for radical liberalism, or wokeness. It's about the personal fixations of mostly middle class white people. It has nothing to do with the science of liberation which is what any kind of genuine left wing politics are supposed to be about. However I don't think all hippies were like that. A lot of people from that era are just kind of centre left. A real hippie lifestyle isn't sustainable. Getting high all the time destroys people completely. For me, the real 60's is Malcolm X, MLK, Catholic Worker. People who have real social consciences and are in touch with the people are actually very 'straight'. Far too boring for the fashion obsessed bohemian types.

Jeremiah said...

This article makes sense if you think what is going on is socialist. It isn't, it's closer to fascism.

The new co-funding model this government is pursuing may sound lovey-dovey, but it is government and iwi partnering with the richest multinational corporates ever known to man, like Amazon and Microsoft - who are also partners of the military industrial complex that John F. Kennedy warned us about. That is the model. It looks like we will all be getting a UBI, and that will be tied to our behaviour. In other words, we will no longer make money freely but be granted store credit, which is contingent on whatever the present government believes goes towards our well-being. Surely, they won't get that wrong... we can trust them, right? And Microsoft...

Take a look at an Amazon shop floor, and how they treat their workers. Look at Mr Gates' medical experiments in Africa, and how he is even using refugee camps to run "new normal" experiments ostensibly for their well-being but really as experimental subjects, who are also the product.

Mr Gates is now the largest owner of arable land in the United States. He hopes to convert the world to plant protein. All well and good. But it is not socialism. And being one of the richest men in the world still doesn't make one right, but it may make certain outcomes inevitable, that can be foreseen...

Underneath all of these changes is the fact that there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the poor and the middle class to the billionaire class, and the central banks are all bankrupt. If you think our welfare, or some international spirit of socialism, is driving all of these changes, you're a fool.

CXH said...

You seem to have forgotten the left leaning hippy that wanted to overthrow the system, grew up and moved into the education system.

From there they have quietly continued the idea. Moving up the ranks and only employing those with a similar bent. Making being a journalist something that needs a degree, coming out from the tutelage of the same aging hippy.

Now we are having to deal with the result. Is another view point allowed? Certainly, as long as you are limited to a blog like this. Are you allowed to question? Not at all.

Is capitalism a good thing? Maybe not, but it doesn't shut down anyone that thinks differently. Unless we give it the freedom of Facebook etc.,then it is also a problem.

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah you are an oracle! Many are aware of the agenda for the NWO. We are old enough to see the building up of the programme which seems to be coming to fruition. However, being the hopeful type I think even the best-laid plans can go awry. A little resistance will always help.
I do despair though that the young ones have been/are being indoctrinated and think we are just old and crazy!
I suggest as an interesting website, as you may know, to feel the mood internationally and realise how mad things are in USA.

sumsuch said...

I know this well re anti-vaxxers as a useful 5th column, auxiliaries, but you have yet to address the core of the army of 'the people for plutocracy'. You skirt around it. There is no reason to do that because of your intellectual subtilty and command of nuances. And it doesn't require either to be the first one to shout this thing right, into the public interaction.

You've made a choice not to but you've out-skirted yourself with this post. You have to address the born-again christians. Or, the anti-rational anti-democrats in our midst.

sumsuch said...

'Their ' own media, 'their' own science. It's here in NZ now. Wish my intelligent brother didn't die at 21 in the 70s. That's the closeness of my knowledge. Versus 4 years ago when even these twit relatives were appalled by Trump. God, I hate people who come in at politics from the completely ignorant side.