The years of rebellion. Of challenging authority. Of unrest and desire for change.
All these copious energies didn’t succeed in pushing their society towards change. In fact, they dutifully pushed the pendulum one way for a little while and then let it go.
This period is seen in retrospect as a time for new ideas, yet nearly every movement or faction was at most pseudo-intellectual. ‘Original’ ‘ideologies’, were advertised with catchy slogans: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”
“Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
What happens when you turn 30 and have attachments to established ideas?
Many period organizations flaunted their activism, their ‘deep’ and radical thinking, their protests, their new styles of dress or public nudity.
There was constant display and drama, but the failure of the many rebellion cultures was their almost unanimous lack of a complete and compelling ideology. Seemingly every group was wrapped up merely in the thrill of breaking rules.
No one seems to have really honestly thought about a world where the rules were broken for good. Beyond fuzzy notions of a final triumph of love, peace, and freedom there was utter vacuum. To the extent that there was any thought at all, they seemed to believe that world and its problems would be solved with new hairstyles and hip catchphrases.
The aversion expressed towards persons over 30 was indicative of the mood. No coherent idea of a future existed. A group of young people embraced a widespread fantasy that they could be rebels living forever in the first glamorous party days after the revolution.
No one was seriously asking:
-What happens after our revolution has succeeded?
-What happens after our rules become the new establishment?
-Are we the first people to live in small groups of co-dependent members? If not, why would it result in a society of pure love this time if it didn’t succeed before?
-When societies go through a change in leadership, existing hierarchies re-establish themselves. Why would the final triumph of our movement be any different?
-Doesn’t it take more than drugs and slogans to hold together a society for any length of time? Does our vision produce a society better than the previous one? If so, why?
From thinkers such as Aldous Huxley came the idea of using hallucinatory drugs used by tribal shamans around the world to achieve personal enlightenment. The counterculture embraced these ideas in theory, but the reality was one of far less thought and imagination. The drugs were much more a means of self-indulgence and social defiance than self discovery. They were another way of fitting in with the counterculture along with the costumes and the music. They had shock value in the orthodox culture and therefore the ability to get much desired attention. Ultimately, the sacred drugs of the shamans joined the canon of party drugs.
The hippies are a prime example of the shallowness and banality of social defiance for its own sake. If one fails to move beyond breaking the existing rules they are still very much a part of the system they denounce. It is the rules of their society that define them and give them meaning. They need the accepted order to give them recognition as outsiders and make them into celebrities. Success in overthrowing the orthodoxy would destroy them. So they are limited to making loud noises before they eventually retire to a life of obedience. Having vented their youthful passions in futility, they are ultimately more docile than previous generations.
The shallow thought, the lack of a concept of future, the absence of a coherent grounding ideology meant the 60s and 70s counterculture more resembled a child running away from home for a few days rather than a serious attempt to leave home and start anew.
The case of the hippies teaches us that undertaking social protest with a mob mentality is a way to become a mere cyclical fluctuation of the quotidian. A blip on the graph of society. A simple swing of the pendulum. A force soon nullified by exhausting itself and by instigating an opposite reaction. Indeed, the hippies in their recklessness did much to discredit criticism of the orthodoxy for decades to come.
Someone who would really bring change has a responsibility to move beyond platitudes and demagoguery. To create a true philosophical foundation for a new order. To study past upheavals and plan for all the setbacks, excesses, and downfalls. To figure out why predecessors failed. To know why their system is better after the revolution.
A shallow ‘rebel’ lives in the present and dies after the day of revolution. A true rebel thinks first of the world after rebellion and constantly asks, “Is this world truly better than the one we have now?”