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(crossposted from the front page of My Left Wing)

First of all, the stereotype for hippies is about as reliable as the stereotype for any other people, that is to say not at all.  Hippy culture was never monolithic.  It encompassed well over half of every kind of kid there was in the late 60s and early 70s, and spanned every socio-economic strata of American society.  If you weren't a hippy in those days, what you know and think about hippies is probably wrong.  It's not your fault.  The media has distorted the reality as a part of the conservative culture wars.  They are, and have always been, threatened by hippies who never had any trouble seeing straight through them and who consistently called them on their bullshit.  Progressivism (or enlightened thinking), started well before the age of the hippies, but for that one seminal decade, hippies were its natural home (though not exclusively of course).

(more below the fold...)

What do you think when you hear the term hippy?  Most likely you think of spaced out goofballs without anything more than a tenuous connection to reality, mildly dangerous dope fiends who blather endlessly about inane bullshit, or hippy-dippy airheads without an intelligent thought or coherent idea worth noting.  That kind of outrageous distortion is what a conservative and unprincipled media is capable of doing.  Were there people who approached the stereotype somewhat?  Sure - somewhat, although practically no one is that goofy or detached from reality.  Was that a majority?  No, not even nearly so in my experience.  It was at most a distinct minority, and again none of them were as goofy as the conservative propaganda has many believing.  It's all a rightwing `big lie', just like the one about liberals being idiots, or pacifists being pushovers.  No truth to it, just a big ugly lie told over and over to `catapult the propaganda'.

I have often encountered strongly biased attitudes toward hippies.  Most of the time there's not much point in saying anything.  Too often people don't want to be educated about hippies.  Hippies are beneath them, an object of scorn or derision.  I understand that it's usually just rightwing propaganda having its way.  You can't avoid it and if you're insufficiently discerning, if you don't have your bullshit detectors on, why almost anyone could end up believing it.  The other day I came across this comment in a thread about the lack of activism on the part of today's young people, which BTW thereisnospoon did a fine job of debunking in his thread Where are the Youth? I'll tell you where they are!

We've grown up being too afraid to rock the boat. Many of us grew up learning that although Vietnam was a mistake and a bad war, the protestors were even worse. "Dirty hippies who spit on soldiers" is the last thing we want to be compared with.

~ anonymous young kossack

The rightwing noise machine has our kids right where they want them.  Afraid to rock the boat and of becoming no better than `dirty hippies' (who spit on soldiers).  There were some goofy hippies and there were some dirty hippies (though most weren't), but I never saw ANYONE spit on a soldier.  Most soldiers related well to us and vice versa - especially the one's who had been to Nam.  They always came off the boats shooting peace signs at us, and us to them.  They hated the war and we did too.  We were natural allies.  There was no spitting. Seeing the horror and fucked-upedness of Vietnam showed people that the hippies were right all along - and that our government was strictly bad news, full of fucking liars and chickenhawks who were willing to let them die for nothing.  Well, the more things change the more they stay the same.  And the one thing I can tell you all is that it is high time to rock the fucking boat!

Also, let me point out that `dirty' people (as bad as that sounds) are merely people with dirt.  Being clean doesn't make you a better person - only cleaner.  I'd much rather associate with Jim S., the dirty homeless man my son and I had lunch with recently (Nam vet, former heroin addict, borderline alcoholic with a strong core of human decency that shone right through all the dirt and pathos) than to get anywhere near the spit-shined K Street crowd or the gleaming, buttoned-down, slicked-up, squeaky clean neocons out to destroy humanity.  Quaint homilies aside, cleanliness does NOT equate to human decency - or Godliness.

Another big slam on the hippies is about all the drugs they used.  First, let's face the fact that on this issue, as with so many others, our overly conservative culture is shockingly hypocritical.  The fact is that people have always used drugs and always will.  It's just a question of whose drugs are in and whose drugs are out at any given time.  You can't smoke pot, but drinking yourself to death is just fine.  Alcohol, one of the very worst drugs, destroys millions of lives each year--and it's perfectly legal.  Fancy that.  The next worst drugs after alcohol are crystal meth, heroin, pcp, and pharmaceuticals in general.  These substances are very destructive.  They attack the person who uses them.  My father is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit because the Vioxx he took for three years gave him a near fatal stroke.   Some pharmaceuticals are milder than others--but it's all bad medicine.  The good medicines are organic: plants, fungi, cacti, which are often illegal.  Plants like cannabis, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and peyote are strongly outlawed in most countries these days, yet traditional peoples often viewed these substances as medicine as well as allies, friends and guides to assist them on their spiritual journeys.  Pharmaceutical companies hate medicines that people can grow themselves or find in the forest.  It cuts into their obscene profits from the poisons they push.  In 1971 Richard Milhouse Nixon declared the `War on Drugs'.  Tricky Dick had a pathological hatred of `drugs', and yet swilled scotch like a drunken monkey.  His so-called `War on Drugs' has caused irreparable harm to our society, torn families apart, ruined millions of individual lives, and overwhelmed our courts and prisons.  We should have listened to the hippies.  Drugs should be legal, rehab should be free, and education and harm reduction should be our focus.

There was a time when the pull to become a hippy was damn near universal for my generation.  When this simple song came out, it spoke directly to us all.

If you're going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you're going to San Francisco
You're gonna meet some gentle people there

For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair

All across the nation such a strange vibration
People in motion
There's a whole generation with a new explanation
People in motion people in motion

For those who come to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there

If you come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there

~ written by 'Poppa' John Phillips, recorded by Scott McKenzie

There really was a strange vibration all across the nation.  We all felt it - me and all of my friends, and millions upon millions of others.  You didn't really have to decide to become a hippy, you either felt the vibe or you didn't.

Most of the hippies I knew were extremely bright, full of intellectual curiosity and life - and were just a lot of fun to be around.  Think of college kids today, now imagine them as much more liberal (and progressive), much more keen to engage the larger world in a profound way, and inhabiting a time of great cultural and spiritual upheaval. Throw in some recreational drugs, a massive dose of primal rock-n-roll, an `establishment' that stunk to high heaven and of which we wanted no part, the paranoia of a bloody shooting war in Vietnam and an active draft, and you begin to get a picture of what hippies were really like.  In school they were more often the smart kids than the dumb ones.  They tended to be intellectuals, or in some cases just different - although there was also room for the underachievers as we were pretty much equal opportunity employers (so to speak).

Hippies attracted kids who were offbeat or not readily accepted in other cliques, kids who looked a little strange or thought a little differently.  Why?  Because hippies were tolerant and accepting people who would try to love you even if the reasons why they should were not abundantly apparent.  Love, peace, and kindness were our highest ethics.  Almost anyone could find a home with the hippies as long as they were non-violent.  That's what made the hippy sections of large cities so damned interesting - the sheer variety of colorful characters who felt at home there.  Hippies were welcoming and generous people.  They cared about humanity for humanity's sake.  You didn't have to be an important person, a successful person, wealthy, accomplished, learned, or whatever.  You could be any of those things or none of those things.  It was enough to be a person.  The idea was to be a good and decent person, an authentic person, a person unlike those who thought it was okay to drop bombs on people.

Plastic people, ooh baby now, you're such a drag!  ~ Frank Zappa

`Plastic people' was what we called those who were so superficial and lame that they never questioned anything they were told by the `authorities' - the same sort of folks sometimes referred to as sheeple these days.  Hippies were different - we questioned everything.  We believed that everyone should think for themselves.  Contrary to popular belief, virtually all of the best and brightest of our generation were hippies.  If you were between the ages of 15 and 30 between 1965 and 1975, and you were smart and had a soul, you were most likely a hippy.

It was fun being a hippy.  We were like a large extended family.  We sheltered each other, fed each other, and helped each other.  We raised money to pay for free clinics, food co-ops, and bail funds for busted hippies.  We acted as a real and unusually caring community.  There were crash pads if you needed a place to stay, free food was generally available, and people took care of each other as the need arose.  

As a hippy you could go into any large city, find the hippy part of town, and instantly connect to like-minded brethren - though all were strangers.

Let me acknowledge that I am generalizing somewhat because hippies were not all alike by any stretch of the imagination - yet we tended to have certain things in common, certain philosophies.  We opposed war, the one in Vietnam that was ongoing at the time, and all others as well.  We believed it was possible for civilized people to work things out without resorting to violence.  We believed in tolerance, acceptance, and compassion.  We advocated peace, love, and understanding.


What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?


~ Nick Lowe

The hippies I knew and respected most were among the most serious people I would ever meet.  They were radically curious and unwilling to accept false or facile answers to tough questions.  We were very serious young people who took our responsibility to understand the world accurately and to act upon it in a profoundly positive way very seriously indeed - much more seriously than a majority of our non-hippy peers I dare say.

But mostly we were brothers and sisters embracing an ethic of gentleness and kindness, and who felt a deeply human and humane connection to one another.  My closest friends, hippies all (or freaks as we came to call ourselves), as I look back on them in all their joyful idealism, were among the noblest creatures to ever grace this planet.


1967 is the year the hippy movement took root in the USA, though it had been building for years.  I turned 15 that year and was already dialed in.  I knew all about Timothy Leary (turn on, tune in, drop out), had read all about pot and couldn't wait to start smokin' it.  I worshipped the Beatles and the Stones and all the other rock gods.

I was a hippy waiting to happen, and when the wave came I caught it.  I smoked, dropped acid, and took mescaline.  I left home, dropped out of school, and hit the road hitchhiking across the country to get a real education.

Everywhere I went I had an instant connection to other hippies.  We all instantly recognized each other (most of us were sort of hard to miss :D ).  Flashing a peace sign was like showing ID.  It said `Hey!  I'm one of the cool ones!'  Most hippies were generous and kind to a fault.  Most anybody you met would offer you a place to stay for a day or two, and treat you like an honored guest whilst you were amongst them.

Hippies would always pick me up hitchhiking, and usually get me stoned, feed me, whatever.  There was a powerful sense of brotherhood between hippies.  It was a trip...like having family you never met in every city.  There was a ton of goodwill between us.  We all believed in peace and love after all.

The height of my hippy career was Woodstock in August of 69...three days of peace and music...I can still feel the love.  :)  I haven't felt a sense of brotherhood like that since those days went by the wayside.

Though I don't much look like it these days, I will always think of myself as a hippie.  It was the best damn thing I ever was.

~ Easy Livin', coolest hippie I ever knew

Hippies had a major impact on the broader culture.  For all of those who hated us, others were inspired by us - people such as artists, musicians, and intellectuals.  Popular art was strongly affected by the counter culture.

We also influenced the fine art of the day - or perhaps it's more accurate to say that we shared influences.  

Our numerous wonderful and colorful influences on American culture were appreciated by many, but not all.  Conservatives, whom the culture was trying desperately to break away from, hated us.  We saw them for what they were and we called a spade a spade.  We called them pigs because that's what they were (and still are).  They didn't much like that - or us for that matter.  They hated the truth about themselves or about anything else - and they hated us for telling it.  Because of their grip on the propaganda machine, their voices dominated and we faced horrible discrimination as a result.  Ironically, this only served to strengthen our bonds with black Americans, Native Americans, gay Americans and all others who experienced the same sort of treatment.  We embraced Truth, Love, and Peace.  Nothing is more threatening to those who live on Lies, Hatred, and War.  We preached against materialism while their whole world ran on it.  Greed and materialism was what they were all about and we told them so.  We filled them with fear and loathing, and they were merciless towards us.  

The legacy of the hippies:

- There's nothing funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding.
- Peace is better than War, Love is better than Hate, and Understanding is better than Ignorance.
- An opened mind is a useful approach to life.
- People deserve to be loved, accepted, and cared for.
- Drug warriors and laws against drugs do infinitely more harm than drugs themselves.
- People should be totally free as long as they aren't hurting or causing harm to anyone.
- We should all have more respect, empathy, and concern for one another.
- War and violence suck and have no place in civilized society!
- Our government lies like a fucking rug and must be restrained by the people.
- The excesses of capitalism must likewise be restrained by the people.
- It is easier to mock, scorn, or trivialize than it is to understand, but understanding is worth the effort.


Originally posted to One Pissed Off Liberal on Wed Aug 09, 2006 at 12:03 PM PDT.

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