Hippies, What We Won and What We Lost

We all look back at the way things were, what might have been and what actually was, don’t we? I do. I look back at my days with the hippies and how sure we were that we would win the battle to redefine America and the world.

Before The Hippie Movement

Even before the 1960s kicked into gear, the beats were tearing away at the cultural conformity embedded deeply in American culture. The Free Speech Movement and it’s leader in Berkley, Mario Savio (see Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s. Siegfried Sassoon still wrote verses making a passionate case for peace. Mark Kulansky’s 1968 make the truth more evident.

My own novel, Fusible Links, takes place in the dark years between the assassination of JFK and the light the counterculture shined on our generation.

More to read, related pages:

  • Being Hippie in 1968
  • What Is a Hippie Philosophy?
  • A Hippie Summer

Things Change

It’s unlikely that the Hippie Movement would have happened as it did without the catalysts we had no role in sparking.

  • First came the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, an event that for those of us still forming our world views destroyed the illusion of American exceptionalism the public schools drilled into us. The rushed, clumsy cover-up that followed swept away what was left.
  • Anger that the demands of blacks for equality, especially in the South, triggered and the indifference of the federal government that forced activists to go it alone, proved that equality’was selective and that the government we saluted was not going to help get more power or freedom. White Southerners bombed children in Sunday schools. And it got worse. The only truth we’ll probably ever be sure of about the assassination of Martin Luther King is that the official story is not true, but a the best cover-up the establishment could come up with.
  • Just as the Vietnam War showed us the duplicity of our government in kowtowing to the Chamber of Commerce and the military-industrial complex, the draft, which hit the hippie generation more squarely than any other, extended our perception of how cheap human life was considered in our nation’s capital. Not only were American lives lost by the tens of thousands with many more wounded, hundreds of thousands of Asians were sacrificed for a war fought under false pretenses, the Domino Theory being a contrivance, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident fake to get it rolling.
  • After these incidents, my generation, especially those of us who were in the Hippie Movement, might have been ignored as a flabby collection of cowards and self-absorbed elitists, if we hadn’t turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.

Forty Years of Losses After The Hippie Movement

No thinking revolutionary believes radical changes won at the start will stick permanently. Exhausting diligence would be required, and the overthrown past had things worth saving. If we’re lucky, the elements seeping back in are the best. As far as what we won in the hippie movement, it’s a mixed bag.

We can be proud that we backed off the masters of war enough that the massive bloodletting of Vietnam has not been repeated, but at the time of this writing, we are engaged in five conflicts, for none of which is there any convincing argument that we have anything more to gain than an expanding economy.

In civil rights, minorities fare better than they did. After decades of flight, blacks are returning to the South. Still, gaps in employment, crime, incarceration rates, wages and life expectancy all point to lasting gaps in equality. It’s conjecture to say that discrimination is the single cause, but we know better than to think we are not our brothers’ keepers. We are in this thing together, no matter how the data gets sliced.

Marijuana gained broader acceptance, backing off the tide of conservative scare tactics. But no door seem open for other mind-expanding drugs.

The stiffs have not found a way to ban or restrict meditation, leaving society more spiritually aware (not religious) than before. We’re free to watch Wayne Dyer’s spiritual presentations on public TV, and even Oprah Winfrey, probably our most popular celebrity, gives air time to The Power of Now author, Eckhart Tolle, and even to the Amway-trained spiritual hucksters, Esther and Jerry Hicks.

The most painful loss we’ve suffered is in education. Did you ever think you’d see the day when teachers became public enemies? I didn’t. Conservatives have succeeded in turning schools at every level into work force factories instead of places where people learn to think.

The collapse of liberal education can be traced to the terror that our ability to think and see through the establishment’s bogus presentations struck in the powerful. Nixon was powerful, but weak in character, and we drove him nuts. Others had more fortitude, and education was reshaped to produce professionals and consumers for whom ethics and mindfulness were not concerns.

Lucky for us, nontraditional learning stepped up, enhanced by the Internet.

It shouldn’t take you more than fifteen seconds or more immersion in the hippie movement to figure out what will be attacked by the establishment next.

David Stone, Writer

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