Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the Rise and Fall of America's Counterculture (1967-1972)

Tune in, turn on, and drop out!” was a phrase coined by Timothy Leary and offered at 1967’s Human Be-In in San Francisco. Psychedelic. “It’s a happening, baby.” The Summer of Love. “Oh, groovy.” Plastic. Go to the love-in, be-in, teach-in, sit-in. Bed-in. Laugh In. Flower Power. Smoke a banana peel, but don’t Bogart that joint, my friend. Hitch a ride. Communes. Meditation. Yoga. Flower children. Hippie. Yippie. Freaks. “Hair!” Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. “Hell no, we won’t go!” Burned draft cards. Students for a Democratic Society. “Make Love, Not War.” Gen. Lewis B. Hershey was parodied as Gen. Hershey Bar. The Chicago Seven. Buddha. Haight-Ashbury. Clean Gene McCarthy. The Age of Aquarius. Muhammad Ali conscientiously objected to the draft. Black Power. The Black Panthers: Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver. The Black Power salute at the ’68 Olympics in Mexico City. “America: Love It or Leave It.” Feminism. “Burn the bra.” “Ban the bomb.” “Peace.” “Can you dig it?” The Moratoriums and black arm bands. Student strikes. The Kent State massacre. Arlo Guthrie's “Alice's Restaurant” became a Thanksgiving listening tradition. Civil Rights. Timothy Leary and LSD. Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters taught us how to pass The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation. Alan Watts. Baba Ram Dass. “Is God dead?” Bagism. The Generation Gap. LBJ had a Credibility Gap. Victor Maymudes’ mandala, made from burnt baby doll parts, symbolizing the bodies charred in Vietnam from napalm, carried through 1967. Wavy Gravy. Woodstock. “You can't trust anyone over 30.” The Beatles' worldwide satellite broadcast of “All You Need Is Love.” The assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy. All these references are very small pieces to the puzzle which was the ‘60s and the counterculture.

Why were we searching? What did we seek? Seekers, one and all, a lost generation, we built upon the un-firm foundation lain by The Beats. Why did the counterculture attract so many in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s? I can offer a point of view from someone who lived through the times and experienced the cultural phenomenon. I am not going to attempt a detailed sociological study of the times. Instead, I want to provide nostalgic reminiscences which incorporate my own personal commentary on the times, the events, the movements and the people as well as other factors which I find of interest.

The first and foremost ramification of experiencing the times can be seen in the blossoming of community, inclusiveness and a sense of belonging which permeated the underground subculture we commonly called the counterculture. The bonding process assisted the youth in their search for liberation from the shackles of Victorianism and Puritanism, the throwing off of rules and repression, and the assertion of individualism and personal freedom. It all began like the dream sequence out of a Hollywood movie once liberation and idealism were ushered through the doorway with the appearance of The Beatles.

The Beatles spoke to my generation in such universal terms they demanded attention. The Mop Tops communicated to us on our own level and in our own terms. The Fab Four knew us and expressed our deepest feelings because they were we, just as we were they. John Lennon sang that himself in the lines from the song he wrote with Paul McCartney, “I Am the Walrus”: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” The Beatles combined humor, a message, and a “we’re-all-in-this-together” point of view. Their sense of humor lifted our spirits while their biting sarcasm stung the Establishment acerbically. They always spoke inclusively and with a positive message. That they were also handsome lads with tremendous amounts of charisma didn’t hurt.

However, something far more meaningful permeated through those qualities. Every aspect of their work exhibited intelligence, insight, deeply human emotions and transcendence. Everything about whom and what The Beatles both were and represented made them hip and cool. Nearly everyone wanted to be hip and cool in the same way that The Beatles were. This universality made The Beatles more than a pop band. It converted them into cultural icons capable of galvanizing public interest and opinion.

One of the things The Beatles brought to culture was casualness amid all the stuffy, uptight, button-down-collar types who ruled the world. Radio waves were bombarded by innocent sounding pop from British Invasion groups like the Dave Clark Five, The Who, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and California’s surf music from the Beach Boys whose competitiveness, and Brian Wilson’s genius, would not let them take a back seat to any other group. At the same time, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, and Donovan brought a poetic consciousness to Folk Music. A burgeoning Pop-Folk hybrid arose out of that stew of cross-influence.

Folk Rock took off with more erudite lyrics than those which had been common for pop songs usually played on the radio and which were also pointedly anti-authoritarian as bands like the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield experimented with message songs. Even Sonny and Cher chimed-in by covering Dylan songs. Soon, rock musicians found a harder edge could be accepted on the airwaves. Cream and Hendrix insinuated Acid Rock into our consciousness, psychedelicizing everyone’s point of view, spawning Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly. Even Tommy James gave us a long, psychedelic version of “Crimson and Clover.” Light shows were “outta sight” and everybody who was anybody wore love beads.

Transistor radios carried all these unseen seductions to my generation. Hip DJs on underground radio stations told us about each new group as their songs rose to the top of the charts. We danced to the Motown of the Supremes, Four Tops, Temptations, and Smokey Robinson at sock hops. We learned to turn up our noses at shortened solos on singles, and then stopped collecting singles as we went straight for the meat of album cuts.

There was also radio’s anti-Establishment and politically seditious comedy as first presented by The Credibility Gap: Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, David L. Lander and Richard Beebe, along with a few other friends who performed with them from time to time. They spoofed the news on KRLA-AM, making the nation’s political leaders appear petty, ridiculous and absurd in the process. Eventually, the satiric group moved on to the underground radio station, KPPC-FM, joining the movement of the youth culture from the saccharine-sweet sounds of teeny-bop pop served up on commercial AM radio to the hard-edged, raw honesty of thrill-seeking and consciousness-raising underground FM radio where kids congregated their ears as they congealed into a mass of anti-authoritarian protesters who were so Born to be Wild they took a Magic Carpet Ride on psychedelic air waves toward the kind of world everyone wanted to Imagine for the Age of Aquarius.

The introduction of satiric comedy on the air waves provided the growing youth movement with a poignant awareness of the issues of the times. The Firesign Theater, and later Cheech and Chong, came to the world out of the growing, grassroots understanding that the public’s awareness needed to be raised. George Carlin, who had been a smooth Vegas kind of comedian when he began his career, turned counterculture and let the hair down on his comedy as he, simultaneously, grew his hair much too long to be acceptable to most of the uptight variety shows on television at the time.

Not only did underground radio stations pop up, but so did underground just about everything else. There were underground comix like The Freak Brothers, Mothers Oats, and the work of R. Crumb. Of course R. Crumb grew into popularity along with a free, underground press as Art Kunkin published Crumb in his L.A. Free Press tabloid which stoked the growing rebellion living within the youth movement by printing the truth about what was going on with the government, social equality and the war. There were underground “head shops” like The Psychedelic Conspiracy on Sunset Strip, where “heads” could shop for paraphernalia, cool patches for their jeans, rolling papers, peace-sign emblemized anything, and black light posters.

The kids were tight, man. They were boss, bitchin’, groovy and cool. Kids everywhere flashed each other the peace sign – riding in cars, walking along the street, at the beach, across the quad at school. The longer a guy’s hair was, the more popular he was likely to be. They walked barefoot whenever possible or wore sandals. Paisley was everywhere. The riots on Sunset Strip occurred as the “pigs” decided to take the Strip back from them. But “the Man” never got the kids down. Friends became “brothers” and “sisters” as the young discovered greater affinities among people of like minds their own age than they shared with those of common bloodlines. Patchouli incense mixed with strawberry wine, joints of Acapulco gold, or hookahs containing red Lebanese hash, and water coolers filled with “electric” Kool Aid while light shows and loud rock music liberated minds, hearts and souls to create an alternate reality the kids shared as they co-invented it.

The youth culture was a community encountered, but not one carried on in bars; sometimes behind them, perhaps, but not inside of them. Rebellion was real. Its smell was thick upon the air. It smelled like peace and love and truth and marijuana mixed with patchouli. One could hear it in the music given to us by Sly and the Family Stone and Jefferson Airplane, Janis and Jimi, a no longer “little” Stevie Wonder and an even more freewheelin’ Bob Dylan; as well as in voices crying out for racial equality and justice like Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Even The Champ, Muhammad Ali, took a stand and refused induction on the basis of his conscientious objections. The uptight, ass-clenching prigs of convention stripped him of his crown for it, proving their allegiance to bigotry and racism in the process.

Television made space for the youth as the Establishment deigned to cash in on the faddish pop culture. Ed Sullivan made time on his show for bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the doors. Kids needed an escape from the plastic indifference of variety shows like Andy Williams, Dean Martin and Lawrence Welk. So, television air waves became subverted by the hip humor and acerbic satire of shows like Laugh In and The Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour. Meanwhile, the nightly news brought the horrors from Vietnam right to the family dinner table, tearing fathers and sons apart in the process.

In that climate, one must factor the influence of politics during the period in assessing the viability of the counterculture as a mass movement to whatever degree it can be considered a mass movement. The counterculture during the era which ranged from 1967 to 1972 was not merely cultural in scope. It was also a socio-political movement. A large faction of counterculture people entertained revolution as their hoped for response to the decadent, violent, intolerant, murdering, consumerist Establishment that they saw their country and culture had become.

After the blood from Vietnam spilled out from our television sets, it ended up in puddles on the streets of Chicago. Indignant Tammany Hall styled remnants of smoke-filled, backroom politicians practiced the politics of tear gas and Billy Clubs on young people who protested the immorality of the war and the illegitimacy of the draft. Soon, inner cities erupted with people of color who protested their conditions, their suffering under racism and bigotry, and its application through the draft to seek and destroy minorities by sending them to seek and destroy Vietnamese.

The politically correct world of today takes for granted that all people are equal and that all have equal opportunity. Certainly, there is a truth in saying the present times have striven far toward reaching that still hoped for end. However, if you weren’t consciously aware during the mid-‘60s then you cannot know the pervasiveness of white-America’s antagonism toward black-Americans - perpetrated by segregation, separate bathrooms, separate swimming holes, separate drinking fountains, separate schools, curfews enforced against black-Americans by groups like Alabama and Mississippi police departments, the John Birch Society and the Klu Klux Klan. Certainly, not all whites were bigots. However, bigotry was still something to which huge numbers could subscribe and do so publicly and somehow, even proudly. The U.S. seemed to be two countries, one of opportunity for white people, one of slums, joblessness, slung racial epithets, unmerited hostility, fear and distrust for African-Americans.

Ideally, governments are created to promote the common good by like-minded people who live in close proximity to one another. A government is to the body politic as the solar plexus is to the body. That does not mean the solar plexus has the right to override the needs, processes and responsibilities of the brain or the heart. In just the same sense, effective and responsible governments derive their authority by entering into, and always remembering to respect the implications of, a reasonable and viable social contract with the people governed. Experiments in government which are most effective reflect the group consciousness vis-à-vis the degree of that government’s perception of, and willingness to, engage in the public’s common understanding and common needs, while always respecting the autonomy and self-determination of each and every individual living within the nation's borders, citizen or not.

The counterculture arose as a socio-political force because the youth coalesced into a viable movement and they recognized that their government stopped adhering to those principles. In “physio/psycho-logical” terms, the solar plexus (which ruled autonomic nervous functions) symbolized by the government determined they knew what was best for the body politic and silenced the free expressions of the heart (needs of the people) and brain (wishes of the people). The critical factors creating a schism between the youth and their elders in this instance included: the war in Vietnam, the draft, the racist treatment of African-Americans (who loving, kind, thinking and wise white Americans discovered had been freed from slavery only to be indentured to the conditions of poverty, bigotry and lack of opportunity engendered upon them and persistently maintained by bigoted-white America), a failure to recognize what constituted the common good, and a failure to hold an honest and open debate so everyone could democratically participate and assist with commonly determining defined goals for society.

Vietnam was a war forced on the public for a whole host of reasons which really had nothing to do with preventing the spread of totalitarian Communism or the illogical theory that one day the United States would awaken to a world in which it would be an island of freedom in a sea of totalitarian Communism (John Foster Dulles’ Domino Theory). Nonetheless, that was part of the two-prong argument promoted by the Johnson and Nixon Administrations, which they used to sell the war to the public who were intentionally kept in an uninformed state. The second prong of the sales pitch was the theory that we, as free and affluent Americans, owed it to the poor, peasant Vietnamese to protect their liberty; that the U.S. had done this in WWI, WWII and Korea, and now the call came again.

That second intention may have carried some small degree of influence in the impetus for the Eisenhower Administration’s initial response of providing some advisers to the propped up government in South Vietnam. It may even have continued to carry some weight as the Kennedy Administration maintained that limited “assistance” to the ever-changing regimes (changing because the CIA initiated multiple coups and assassinations of Vietnamese leaders in a search for the perfect puppet to run the perfect puppet government) in South Vietnam. However, JFK saw through the fallacies of those all-too-transparently-veiled lies and propaganda. So, the Kennedy Administration issued a special order which recalled 1000 of the 16,000 troops in Vietnam in November of 1963, apparently intending to initiate a full withdrawal of American troops. The special order was issued just 3 weeks the prior to John Kennedy's assassination.

Upon assuming the office of the Presidency immediately following Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Baines Johnson halted the withdrawals, rescinded the special order and recommitted American military interests to the battlefield. Meanwhile, LBJ ran for and was elected to the office of President on the basis of being the “peace candidate” as he painted his opponent, Barry Goldwater, a dangerous warmonger. Once secure in the wealth of his “political capital,” due to his mandate (the size of his majority), Johnson increased the intensity of his war rhetoric. Within a year and a month of Kennedy’s assassination, and after defeating Goldwater and within a month of being sworn in, Johnson and his Administration lied about U.S. ships being attacked by North Vietnam, intensified promulgating the propaganda of the Domino Theory, and escalated U.S. involvement. The result was a bunch of old men with nothing to risk and great financial rewards to gain drafting young men, primarily from ethnic minorities, against their will to fight in a war which had no basis in the falsely alleged act of aggression by North Vietnam.

Now, young men throughout all ages of history have believed the honorable thing to do is fight for king or country when told to do so because of an immanently clear threat to national security. Even Elvis gave Uncle Sam a tour of duty at the height of his career. Young Americans at the outset of the escalation of conflict in Vietnam were no different. However, as the death toll mounted and the legitimacy of the Johnson Administration’s position came more and more into question, young men’s willingness to die in a war of choice which had no end in sight amid the crystallizing realization there was no threat immanently impinging the security of the U.S. to require our presence in Vietnam reduced dramatically. Nonetheless, the American youth suffered continued conscription into the armed services in ever-greater numbers against their will. Many young men felt forced into what amounted to indentured servitude to an employment which offered very high odds of one being mentally or physically injured, maimed or killed.

The counterculture deemed the Government breached its social contract with the people. There also persisted a growing understanding concerning the Government’s violation of its sacred duty to respect the autonomy and self-determination of the individual. The longer the killing and dying persisted, the more young men and women (after all, they had a stake in this, too, since their husbands, sons, brothers, and boyfriends were sent off to die or be maimed either physically, emotionally, or both) banded together to reassert their individual rights and demand the Government respect those rights to autonomy and self-determination as well as stop breaching the social contract with the American public by finally telling the truth about Vietnam. The counterculture also demanded the Government do the honorable thing – get out of Vietnam. As this movement grew, the counterculture of the youth began to see freedom from conflict as an inalienable right vesting in all humanity.

Something which seems to always go unnoticed and uncommented upon by conventional wisdom, pundits, historians and politicians of today in its assessment of the Vietnam War is that the peace movement proved correct in all of its assessments while simultaneously disproving the Domino Theory. Furthermore, those same analysts seem incapable of understanding that the grassroots peace movement grew out of the will of the people which acquired an adamant determination to persist in its mass opposition to the war because of the people’s will, ultimately, until America’s war machine finally was forced to withdraw due to popular duress and social upheaval amid the realities on the battlefield that Vietnam was a war America could not win.

What the warmongering right has consistently offered in response to grassroots peace movements in America is to brand every peace movement which has arisen as unpatriotic and anti-soldier. Nothing could be further from the truth. The intended stance of all peace movements has always been anti-military, but never anti-soldier. The wisdom of peace movements simply does not want soldiers lives risked and lost when there is no real threat to the nation. They see this as highly patriotic. Patriotism, as they understand it, has no connection to the ideology expressed in the phrase, “My country, right or wrong.” No, they see patriotism as being emblematic of molding their nation’s foreign policies to reflect the will of the people. After all, only the will of the people legitimizes governments.

There is an additional factor to consider when viewing the creation and growth of the counterculture. To become a culture, the generation needed to sanctify their union with a common rite or cultural ritual. That cultural ritual was the shared experience of smoking marijuana and the dropping of acid.

LSD was legal in the U.S. until October 6, 1966. Why Did the U.S. pass a law making possession and use of LSD illegal suddenly in 1966? After all, the Merry Pranksters had been conducting Acid Tests in public since 1964 when they toured the country on the Furthur Bus. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert had been conducting their experiments with LSD since 1959, and by 1964, Leary and Alpert were creating a burgeoning quasi-religious movement centered on LSD usage. No, what happened to induce the government to change the law can be seen in the rapidly spreading antiwar movement on college campuses, draft card burnings, and a protest movement which threatened to change public opinion regarding support for the war effort. The U.S. government had even experimented extensively during the Cold War with the idea of using LSD for interrogation and mind control as well as for large scale social engineering. The program backfired when everyone discovered the LSD use actually had the opposite effect. LSD did not lend itself to mind control and social engineering because it was an agent for mind and consciousness expanding promoting individual freedom, encouraging increased intellect through a heightened interest in education, and potentially offering paths to liberation and enlightenment.

For basically the same reasons, I contend, the US government has always fought legalization of marijuana primarily on the specific ground that its use tended to inculcate the coalescing of users into groups who form a subculture or shadow culture and whose minds and interests generally become liberated, resolving in heightened awareness, the search for greater autonomy and freedom, and an increased sense of spiritual awareness which also offered a potential path to enlightenment. The roots for both marijuana use and LSD (through its connection to other psychedelic substances like mescaline, psilocybin, “magic” mushrooms and peyote) use actually trace back to shamanic rituals for exactly the purposes cited above.

Why else is the government afraid to sanction the private use of such an innocuous and relatively harmless relaxant? Certainly, the fear isn’t based on the fact that marijuana is actually less harmful than either tobacco or alcohol and is not addictive. There are all kinds of wild accusations made about marijuana and the harms it either causes or to which it will lead. These are all, essentially, false or overstated to the point of losing all basis in reality, as I know from personal experience. The drugs sanctioned by the FDA and administered by doctors all across America contain far more serious, potential dangers from their usage, are usually addictive, and the funds from their sale buy favors through lobbyists and politicians, making sure to keep the practice just as it is.

No, the real fear is that legalizing marijuana and LSD will lead to a permanent and ever-growing counterculture which could be capable of holding government to the strictest parameters of its social contract with the people, and one which could set up collectives allowing groups of people to opt out of the economy. The Government was, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and continues to be to this day, afraid that we, the people, will demand that power flow up from us, that individual rights will remain paramount, and that the tyranny of the rich – the government of the rich by the rich and for the rich which has evolved in our Republic – will be replaced, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, by “government of the people by the people and for the people” as the Constitution’s framers (a collection of radical, violent revolutionaries) originally conceived and intended it to be. We met in cabals of brown rice fasts, group meditations and encounter groups. We were seekers who explored trips leading into the unknown, hoping to bring back heightened clarity and spirituality. Some ate acid three times a week; well, the few who could handle it anyway (I not among that group). Communal living meant women felt free to say no when asked or expected to do the cleaning. The rush of being one of twelve breaking into an ROTC building, holding an antiwar sit-in right there with numbers swelling into the hundreds, not sleeping for days, multiplied by the rush of speaking at a rally to a couple thousand students and having them respond to you and join in the protest, went super nova on my ass even more intensely than playing in a rock band.

But the heat of the inner city never lets up. African-American children were robbed of their rightful opportunity to pursue development of what should have been their full intelligence as neurogenesis was inhibited by blaring burglar alarms, the wailing sirens of cop cars and ambulances, arguing parents, racial epithets slung by ignorant, white bigots, and the vacuum of hope permeating the den of the inequality which gripped their every waking moment. Tempers flared in the absence of Dr. King’s voice. Inner cities rioted out of frustration and despair. Soon, people chanted, “Black is beautiful.” This was, of course, a way to reframe the public’s views concerning African-Americans. Affirmative action and integration gave some few African-American children an opportunity to escape the blight of the inner city at the same time as white Americans obtained firsthand knowledge of the common humanity shared by people of all colors, races and religions. Others grew up on the streets. Some sang, some played ball, some acted. Those endeavors encapsulated all of what bigoted-white America was willing to acknowledge as being the value for people of color. “Just don’t send a white man to a black doctor.” That’s how they felt, secretly, inside, and sometimes in weak moments, even confessed to their families.

Education was the ticket to every single manifestation of the counterculture. Education fueled the counterculture every bit as much as education fueled the drive for civil rights. Education is also responsible, to whatever degree, for the success integration has brought in the last 45 years. Education helped the neurogenetically challenged out of the limitations of their environment. Education led people out of slums and into the white collar world. Education taught people to accept their neighbor as their equal, learning that all humans come from a common origin, all possess the same potential and all deserve respect, fraternity, opportunity, support and love. Education fueled the student movement to end the war and draft. Education fueled the sudden spawning of a neo-Renaissance along with a brief glimpse of Camelot at Woodstock. Ultimately, education made it possible for Barack Obama to be the first man of color elected by Americans as their President in 2008.

However, America’s right-wing elitists saw education as the greatest threat to any security for maintaining their positions of wealth and power. So, Governors, like Ronald Reagan in California, cut funds for education. By 1971, the student deferment from the draft was rescinded. Almost immediately thereafter, college and university tuition rates began to skyrocket.
How did the counterculture come to an end? There are those who will say it never has; that it reduced in size and morphed through the intervening decades, and that a thread of it still exists and can be seen in events like Burning Man. However, as a major cultural influence, the counterculture which arose as an infant of the Beat movement and spread through the ‘60s even into the early ‘70s, lost its socio-political importance, lost its mandate, lost its impetus, and dissipated. There are a variety of contributing factors.

For several years, the counterculture seemed to cycle through new students as they went off to college. As the costs for higher education have risen dramatically, there has been a corresponding decline in the pervasive population's educational level, especially for the poor. Right-wing reactionaries like Ronald Reagan cut funding for all schools, not just higher education. College and University tuitions increased steadily, pricing the poor, and even many middle class, out of any opportunity to pursue higher education. This signaled a gradual (and hoped for imperceptible) return to a time when a college education remained primarily a benefit of the rich and near rich, helping them feel secure in their continued positions of power and increasing the difficulty for any populist movement to rise seeking to vest power back among the people.

A less educated general public-at-large would be less apt to protest any Government activities. People would be so consumed with the process of survival they would not have time to consider matters of social and political importance. Additionally, the likelihood was reduced that populist leaders (who invariably seem to come from poorer, downtrodden classes) of broad political or social movements for change would arise and galvanize public support in its own interest. The oligarchy had to insulate itself from being overrun by the masses spurred on to affect a social and political evolution into greater egalitarianism.

In addition to the decreased availability of higher education, other factors in diminishing the counterculture as a movement included the end of the draft and the war in Vietnam, along with the breakup of the Beatles: those primary magnets, which acted as glue for the movement. Another issue stemmed from the rise in communal living. In a sense, the flocking to communes during the early and mid-‘70s created living spaces for counterculturistas which insulated them from the outside world. Thus, the immediacy of class distinctions’ inequalities which previously led to protests ebbed for those individuals.

Another factor to consider lies in the Diaspora-like dispersion of counterculture types across the country, but segregated from one another. In other words, as people left college and left home, they left their friends and associations. In time, absence led to a diminished sense of community. Then, many former hippies found themselves married, perhaps also with children. So, they enlisted in the Great Wheel of the Economy and found Capitalism offered enough shiny seductions to induce their gravitation away from being anti-Establishment into becoming the new Establishment. All the while, the shared ritual of smoking marijuana gave way to a kind of narcissistic indulgence. Sharing pot stopped being like taking Communion at a Catholic Mass – a ritual among brother rebels, or even a quasi neo-shamanic spiritual custom, and instead became a reflection of the preceding generations’ fascination with drinking alcohol in bars. With the loss of the subjective criteria which had given birth to the counterculture, the objective, physical manifestation of the movement may not have completely died, but it certainly appeared in a coma and on life support.

There are a few legacies from the counterculture which arose in the 1960s. One stems from Earth Day and is expressed by environmentalism. Another is the international movement to secure and promote Human Rights and can be seen in groups like Amnesty International. The “Great Peace March” of 1986, which expressed the then held desires to put a stop to use of nuclear power in any and every way, was another outgrowth of the ‘60s counterculture. Movements and trends to organic farming grew out of environmentalists’ concerns and the natural approach preferred by those living on communes.

For the most part, the idealism of youth gave way to the realities of adult life. Jobs, marriages, children, responsibilities, upward mobility and consumerism all took root in the frontal lobes of former socialists, individualists, anti-authoritarians, bohemians and experimentalists. All this led down the road to the ultimate development of the Yuppie culture which emerged in the ‘80s.

The counterculture is alive today in other ways, however. There exists a growing trend for people to opt out of Capitalism by joining the fast growing subculture known as “Freegans.” What these people do is drastically cut their spending habits and live-off consumer waste. A lot of these folks earned 6 figure incomes before dropping out of the economy. They sell their homes and condos and find more compact and economical housing. These people then scour the garbage from local Whole Foods markets, independent bakeries, and restaurants. The name came from a combination of free and vegan, though today’s movement has spread to meat-eaters and just about anyone adventurous enough who is committed to conservation. They trade at flea markets and make great use of recycled clothing and furniture.

Before you turn up your noses, realize that New York City, alone, throws into the trash and incinerates 50 million pounds of food every year while 20 million more pounds a year of the same food is donated to the poor. One can find perfectly good canned and other packaged goods, milk and meat products, just about anything.

D’Agostino’s, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods – freegans’ most popular dumpster diving sites – donate edible food to agencies that prepare it for the poor, according to their spokespeople. But freegans and food experts say a large amount of edible food still gets thrown away. Smaller businesses don’t always have agreements with food banks, they say, or they have not taken time to donate.” [The foregoing quotation was excerpted from the article “Free-lunch Foragers”, by Erika Hayasaki, a Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, and was published by the Los Angeles Times on September 11, 2007.] “The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans create 245 million tons of waste a year, about 12% of it food. Much of the food that stores throw out is still edible at the time of its expiration date.

It would be a far more useful approach to conservation, waste and hunger for un-purchased food to be given to the poor and needy rather than to simply send it to the dump. Giving food to the needy or allowing “freegans” to raid supermarket dumpsters instead of throwing food away is also much more humane and life affirming. Unfortunately, Capitalist groceries would rather waste the food than help the needy. The public doesn't even empower its city governments to purchase the food for distribution to the poor.

It remains incumbent on all free thinking, liberty loving, self-determining idealists to push the boundaries of each preceding generation’s cultural movement for a unique identity encompassing greater personal liberty further as each new generation assumes its socio-evolutionary role – rebellion against the repression of what came before it.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The test of progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” He also informed us, “A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward.

Remember, too, these words from Mark Twain, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.” You may also discover the accuracy in Arthur Schopenhauer’s observation, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.

No comments: