Rootsie's European Roots  

The Fallacies of the Hippie Movement  
August 08, 2003
By Rootsie

As a young girl coming of age in the late 60's and early 70's, I quickly and eagerly became a hippie. Here for me was the call to true freedom, of mind, of heart, of spirit, of body. America was entrenched in the brutal and evil Vietnam War. Even as young as I was, I saw the evil of it, and I needed to make a move that would separate me, in the eyes of the world and myself, from affiliation with this country. What I did not see then is that hippies are as American as apple pie, just another means by which white middle and ruling-class Americans shun responsibility for what the West has made of the world.

Hippies were so cool to me: their clothes, their hair, their marijuana, LSD, art and music. Out of the same motivations I'm about to describe, we see many white dreadlocked Rastafarians today. They offered me a way to declare my difference, and my opposition to European and American attempts to carve up the world and divide the spoils between them.

But also, to my credit, I looked beyond the superficialities to what I saw was a deeper truth: these people were saying that spiritual enlightenment can save the world, bring an end to war and injustice. We had that part right, but not in the way we understood it: like most Americans, we were not fond of the idea of having to engage the legitimate suffering and true effort which spiritual development requires. In general, we don't like to work very hard at anything. And we would rather engage 'mystical' understandings and call this spiritual development, rather than working on integrity and conduct, the unromantic day-to-day of true spiritual growth.

I spent 30 years defining myself in opposition to 'Western values', first as hippie and then as Rasta, or so I thought. It was an extremely comfortable mode of rebellion. I found like-minded people wherever I went, and we spent many joyful hours singing and dancing, smoking herb, and engaging in discussions about the state of the 'Babylon' world on which we always agreed: it is falling, and we are the people, the real people of the world; we are the answer. It was not dissimilar, I imagine, from an exclusive country club, where corporate giants reflect contentedly on the progress being made toward their vision of a capitalist utopia. Well, our music was better, our food more natural, our homes more eclectic and artistic. We really felt far superior to all 'straight people', and took great comfort in the fact that we were not part of the problem, but the solution.

To our credit, we had no illusions about where our comforts were coming from, and who was paying for them. We knew that the West lives off the backs of the rest of the world, and some of us engaged in political activism, or became schoolteachers like myself, or social workers or organic farmers and food activists, and did productive work in 'the real world.'

But what is irking is our complacency, our slipshod methods of organizing to truly get things done, our victim mentality in relation to 'the system', and our sense of superiority over other whites. We have all the answers, if 'they' would only listen to 'us', but of course they won't, and so we can live relatively free of responsibility, having lots of fun which is something we are truly good at, engaging in our haphazard spiritual searches, and going from one Rainbow Gathering or World Peace Festival to another: good ganja, good music, good company.

It is my habit these days when making evaluations of American and European assumption to ask, "How does the rest of the world see us?" Whether hippies or their more blatantly capitalist brothers and sisters of the 'New Age' or other 'alternative people' like it or not, they are seen as Westerners like all others, as rich whites like all others. That assessment is correct. People in the West cannot morally distance themselves from the system of global white supremacy simply by declaring, in thought, word, hairstyle, or dress, their difference. Even if ones live in a tipi in the woods, grow their own food, and heat their water with the sun, they cannot erase the fact that they are the earth's elite, and benefit directly from the sufferings of so many others. To be an elite with a set of vocal chords or fingers to write, and an education, in a time when action is needed to stop the sufferings which their countries inflict on the world, to fall back into Luddite quietism, is hypocritical and dishonest. No matter how we might attempt to distance ourselves from the other privileged ones in our societies, this does not mitigate the facts.

The marijuana issue is most interesting in this respect. I realized with horror some time ago that marijuana prohibition had rendered some of the best and the brightest of my generation silent, for fear of retribution from the government through marijuana laws. But what I did not understand until quite recently is how convenient it then is for white middle class and upper class people to assume the 'victim' identity and thus ally themselves with the rest of the world's oppressed. In this way they can take a fatalistic view of their government, "Well they are going to do what they're going to do. I can't do anything about it. They don't want to hear what I have to say. Just let them fall on the weight of their own evil. We the people will win in the end.," and justify their own lack of true response to its immorality.

I would say that most hippies feel they have rejected Judeo-Christian values, but apparently do not see that such a stance reflects utterly the Christian idea of divine intervention at the end of time to redeem history. Many European and American hippies take a special interest in Native American teachings, and in particular, their prophecies of 'the end-times.' Is this not just another justification for a selfish and hedonistic lifestyle, for making no response in a time that begs for response?

The sense of superiority which one group of affluent whites has over another group of affluent whites also speaks to the Judeo-Christian 'chosen people' construct which has laid waste to the world. What hippies fail to see is that any assertion of spiritual and moral superiority within a spiritually and morally bereft system is laughable, and merely again a way of avoiding the discomfort of realizing complicity. Further, any assertion whatsoever of the superiority of one group over another is part of the problem, and certainly could not possibly contain the solution.

There is a tragedy in this situation, for all of its absurd comedy. In the hippies, after all, we have a group within the West that has made a correct analysis of its moral and spiritual corruption, and is trying to live an alternative. But how to live an alternative while benefiting all the time from the privilege the system confers? Certainly, the answer cannot possibly be to withdraw from the complexities of the situation by setting up an illusory Maginot line between 'us' and 'them'.

Every white American and European is 'them', like it or not. And there must be one item and one only on the agenda: to dedicate excess funds and excess leisure and use the voice privilege gives us to bring down global white supremacy. This can take as many forms as there are humans to envision it, but if this is not the one motivation in the hearts and minds of every privileged white, hippie or not, any happiness they think to find in life on Earth will always be elusive. There is not a meditation technique powerful enough or a quartz crystal big enough to give enlightenment to a spiritually and morally degraded people.

There is one thing that characterizes white privilege perhaps above all else, and that is the attempt to mitigate the pain of one's complicity in it. Whether through mainstream diversions like material consumption, the media, sports, entertainments, and alcohol, or alternative forms of 'feelgoodism' like hippie fests, 'free love', sweat lodges, and clouds of ganja smoke, the attempt is the same. What makes the hippie movement so irritating is that they believe they are truly living an 'alternative lifestyle', that they 'walk lightly on the earth.'

The white West is the one-ton gorilla sitting square on history. Some whites clearly feel it is enough to voice their opposition through an alternative lifestyle and all of its trappings. What they fail to see is that a much more serious and focused response is required, one that involves personal sacrifices, another idea met with discomfort by the privileged. If hippies think that by playing poor and powerless they can deflect responsibility from themselves, I have only one question: what's that you smokin'? And if smoking it is what keeps them from confronting the challenge to create a truly peaceful and just world, I suggest they stop.

Continue Black on the Inside


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