The Shoulders of Giant Hippies
To stand on the shoulders of giants, we must not stand where they stood.
When you see our vision on the front page of our website, you might be reminded of the Hippies of the 1960s. We have taken a lot of ideas and vibes from the visionaries of that time. John Lennon’s Imagine describes a world not so different from the paradise we imagine. The Whole Earth Catalog inspired people to take their lives and their world into their own hands, and we hope to do the same.
In the United States, the hippies are some of our most direct cultural predecessors. They dropped out of the old institutions, expanded their minds, and dared to oppose the authorities who raised them. They were idealists who believed that a better world was in reach.
And they failed to reach it.
Some people are turned off by the ways in which our idealism parallels the idealism that the hippies had (including some old “ex-hippies”) because they saw that idealism fail to change the world in the major ways they thought it would. In designing Real Hedonism, we have frequently thought about the Hippies and how we might carry some of their fire without repeating their mistakes. There are quite a few reasons why we think we have the potential to succeed where they once failed, but we wanted to write an article, not a book, so we will keep it at three. Here they are:
1. Better Communication Mediums
There are many problems with the internet. The infrastructure that the internet is built on is owned by companies. The majority of the internet that most people experience is also owned by companies. Furthermore, this popular part of the internet has come to be dominated by social media, which is now notorious for echo chambers, fake news, and the all around destruction of community and relationships (not to mention the actual loneliness epidemic that is going on right now).
All that said, in terms of its revolutionary power, the internet is light years ahead of the 1960’s iteration of the television, and this is an indispensable difference between our revolution and the one that came before us.
When people talk about the failure of the Hippie movement to take over the mainstream, they often forget that, from a functional standpoint, spreading revolutionary ideas to the “silent majority” of America, those who prided themselves for despising the Hippies, was nearly a technical impossibility. Most of the people who made up this mainstream base, nearly all of whom were white, were completely inundated by the “American Dream”.
They lived in a nuclear family. They lived in a suburban house that offered little contact with the realities of the nearby cities. They went about their day to day lives with a near-religious procession: work or school, television, sleep, repeat. Their lives gave little opportunity to imagine a world any different from the one they were living in. They thought everything was pretty great, and every ounce of disagreement was met with fear and anger.
All of this was made significantly worse by that all-encompassing center of the household: the television. When we think about the corporate ownership of the “popular” internet with disdain, we must remember that it truly is a step in the right direction (when compared to what came before). The television of the 1960s had three channels. The messages they put out were government and corporation approved, written and produced exclusively by white people. No other messages got airtime. It was the age of the sitcom, and every one of them reflected a slightly different version of the nuclear family that white Americans experienced at home.
Today’s internet is not perfect, but it does allow for more cross-pollination of ideas than the TV ever did. Because of the internet, Cameron was exposed to the world's religions in middle school and anarcho-communism in high school. Because of the internet, a little Mormon Rayla was exposed to Fairies and Wicca and naughty fan-fiction. The kids of the ’60s could never have been this exposed to the outside world. They would have had to go to college campuses to learn even a little bit about the same things.
The internet allows for a steady stream of subversive and revolutionary ideas into the homes of middle-class kids in the suburbs and the countryside. In turn, it brings a growing number of people to Black Lives Matter marches and Extinction Rebellion protests, people that wouldn’t even know about those movements otherwise.
Perhaps far more importantly, it provides countless voices to online discussions and in turn, gives them a voice they would not have had otherwise. Every voice must be heard in order for a truly transformative revolution to occur. The internet creates the infrastructure for this to be possible, infrastructure which simply didn’t exist in the ’60s, nor anytime before.
It is the medium on which you are reading this article; the medium that the Hippies never had.
2. Clear Vision
The Hippies had a “groovy vibe, man”, but no clear philosophical structure within which to ground that vibe. Some Hippies were Maoists, communists, or staunch anarchists, while others believed that the path to a better future was to forget the politics and work exclusively on the technology that could underpin a change in consciousness. There were dropouts from Ph. D. programs and simple rule breakers, people just looking to get high and activists dedicated to marching in civil rights and anti-war protests.
A problem that the Hippie movement never outgrew was that they did not have a clear vision of the world they sought to create. In general, the Hippies had fairly standardized values among them: peace, love and the expansion of our minds. These values were extremely meaningful and were truly authentic. There is so much good in the world today that we can trace back to these hippie roots, but these values did not extend into a clear vision of the future, and so instead of a magnificently changed world, we live in with the remnants of their ephemeral movement.
Many people flocked to California for the summer of love, chasing grand ideals about a future that was truly different. They experienced free love and LSD and stepped, if only for a moment, out of the culture of their time and into a liminal space where dreams could come true.
And then most of them got drugged out on opiates or “grew up” and got jobs. They are a couple of pages in a history book rather than the culture writing the history books.
A clear vision does the same things to people that a Sun does to rocks in space. Simply by being there, it pulls the disconnected incoherence of millions of smaller rocks inward, into its orbit. In turn, these rocks collect into moons and planets. They become something bigger. They become signal out of the noise.
Only time will tell if the vision we are putting forth is resonant enough to be a sun and pull people into its orbit. But we begin this journey with a clear vision, and that just might be what makes the difference.
3. We have their mistakes and successes to learn from
The Hippies failed to completely upend the world order in their moment of cultural importance. But can we blame them? I mean, radically changing the world in the space of a generation is a tall order. A really tall order. And in so many ways, their world simply wasn’t ready for that revolution.
One of the greatest things that we have at our disposal is the experience and wisdom of those who came before us, something that they did not have. They didn’t know that values and acid fall pretty flat without a vision for the future. They didn’t know that changing the minds of millions of people requires a strong ideological framework. They didn’t see how they were playing out the same old power dynamics as those they were trying to rebel against, simply in different costumes.
All that said, our world would be significantly less ready for this revolution without the uncountable contributions made by our cultural predecessors. The hippies definitely weren't the only ones doing the important work that was necessary to get us here today, but they certainly made a huge and important impact.
They stepped away from the deeply embedded ideological and spiritual ideas of their time en masse and eventually created a widespread dissatisfaction with the dominant cultural systems in our country that has persisted for many generations after.
They infiltrated the corporate world and, slowly but surely, have pushed companies to be less exploitative and take more responsibility for how they affect people.
They created a spiritual ethos that enlivened the environmental movement.
Without the Hippies of the 1960s, we wouldn’t be who we are.
So we must say, thank you for these shoulders to stand on.