Tactical Discourse: Hippies

Flower Power (Oct. 21, 1967) by Bernie Boston

For our first episode in this tactical discourse series, we will be examining another rule of combat. Far from the Geneva Convention style of the first rule (the Golden Rule), this one serves an unapologetically lethal end: “Aim for the heart.”

When planning to strike down an entire system of thought, it might not be obvious where to launch your attack. We do not want to miss our targets with red herrings, maim them with ad hominems, or torture them with straw men. The goal is to penetrate right to the heart of the issue. Remember, the heart may be a vital organ, but it is also a small one, often presenting itself in a single word or phrase from the opponent. When in doubt, listen for a bold statement repeated often.

This brings us to our series’ first victim: a far-out relic of the ’60s and ’70s known as the hippie. This blast from the past was known to occasionally spout the claim to have “found himself,” an assertion we will scrutinize at length. (For the sake of simplicity and clarity, a hippie will be defined as someone who follows the general lifestyle, hold the basic beliefs, and shares the core sentiments of the prototypical flower child.)

Now that we have our target phrase, it is time to tune-in our scope, beginning with large, crude adjustments and working our way to small, fine ones. The latter requires nuanced and controversial reasoning (i.e., rationality), but the former will usually be done with our ever trusty tool: logic. When it comes to truth detection, there’s nothing better. Logic, at least first-order classical logic, rests on indisputable laws (e.g., law of noncontradiction) which reliably and drastically narrow the scope of possibilities. Discovering these possibilities is usually a matter of asking “Why?”

To demonstrate, one might reasonably question why almost everyone who “finds themselves” always turns out the same, a hippie? If we are to take them at their word (re the Golden Rule), only a few logical explanations present themselves.

(1.) All are born hippies. → Some embrace hippiedom. → These find themselves

(a.) Everyone is, in their core, the same, thus everyone who truly “finds themself” finds the same hippie person(ality).

(1.) Some are born hippies. → These embrace hippiedom. → These find themselves

(a.) Unrealized hippies (or, those temperamentally inclined to the cause) are attracted to the lifestyle, so when they enter it, they invariably “find themselves” to be a hippie.

(1.) None are born hippies. → Some are made to embrace hippiedom. → These become hippies → These find themselves

(a.) The hippie lifestyle (or some other confounding, extrinsic factor common to all hippies) turns you into that type of person.

The first explanation is very near unfalsifiable—there is no way to prove, one way or the other, if all us non-hippies are repressing our desire to smoke pot and join the drum circle. It does, however, fly in the face of modern psychology, which has shown a great degree of variability in the distribution of the Big Five indices across all measurable populations. That is to say, the multivariate personality profile of the hippie occupies only a small subsection of the observed responses to the Big Five Inventory.

If this evidence carries no weight in the eyes of the hippie, perhaps the glaring contradiction might: the one who claims to accepts every person simultaneously denies the authenticity of those persons. The implicit assumption in explanation #1 is that all those outside the hippie ranks, from Adam to you, have been leading inauthentic lives. (Yes, even the hippie himself was living a lie before his conversion.) So, far from accepting everyone in hallmark hippie fashion, he arrogantly strips all outsiders of their honesty, self-awareness, and individuality.

The case is even more untenable if its defendant is a believer—unlikely as it may seem, the Christian hippie did exist. It takes quite an uninspired or impotent God to create a humanity so homogeneous, and it takes an egodystonic or malevolent one to do so while also imbuing us with an unquenchable thirst for diversity—that is, unless the defendant is willing to contradict themselves for a second time by regarding diversity as a thing not to be desired.

In truth, every Christian knows that, far from a transcendental monolith, the God of the Bible breathed life into a complete, living body, one with a great multitude of parts, each deeply valued in their idiosyncrasies. I’d even venture to say that every religion, absent Buddhism, affirms and celebrates the uniqueness of each created person. It is the mark of a poor philosophy to not comport with the general human experience, least of all this most precious aspect of it.

The second view, that all those who “find themselves” are, by nature, predisposed to the hippie lifestyle, seems appealing but misses the mark in similar fashion. Starting again with hard evidence, we turn our gaze from the young hippie to the aged one. Or, at least, we try. You’d have better chances finding an albino termite in the Antarctic.

Why don’t you see hippie septuagenarians dropping acid and smelling flowers in the streets? Perhaps the hippie movement didn’t age well because the “selves” that the hippies had found weren’t their true ones. We know from statistics that, as we advance in years, we generally grow more conscientious (i.e., industrious and orderly), more conservative, more agreeable, and less open (i.e., creative and intelligent). If we view hippiedom as a transitory product of youth, these results make perfect sense. The question of why the movement was so pronounced in the youth of a single period, the 60s and 70s, will be addressed later.

For now, let’s refocus on the second explanation’s central claim that the hippies were born to be hippies. If it is a matter of simply coming into one’s own, then why is it not expressed in those terms? Is the hippie ever so generous as to extend the phrase to a class clown turned comedian or a math wiz who landed in accounting? Never. Instead, the words are delivered with an air of condescension, as if they have less to do with the hippie and more to do with the stiff on the wrong side of the beachfront.

This is a recurring glitch in the hippie’s ideology. More than anything, he considered himself a countercultural, so much so that, in his eyes, a modest rejection of conventional values won’t suffice. Not only were social norms and mores not for him, they weren’t for anyone; they went against not just their nature, but everyone’s!

See what has happened here? We have landed ourselves right back at explanation #1. Universalizing narratives are supposedly the hippies’ greatest enemy. In their fear of them, they construct a fort for themselves; in their hatred for them, they blind themselves to the universalizing narrative out of which it is built. Another inconsistency on the board.

The third view postulates that hippies were born of ordinary, perhaps indeterminate, men, hooked in by some force, swept up in the movement, and transformed from the outside in. This, I’m sure, was most often the case; hippiedom is a young man’s game, and where there is youth, there is plasticity. Seen in this light, the hippie was a positively banal figure, just like the rest of us. So, what was it that drew the loathsome phrase out of these Sneetches’ starred bellies?

It was that initial, compelling force. Unlike most professionals and tradesmen had, there wasn’t a Board of Hippies subsidizing newspaper adverts for the regional Positive Vibes Conference, nor were there hippie recruitment centers sending representatives into high schools. Nobody in a tie-dye button-down ever rode door to door with a bong under their arm asking for a minute to talk about their Chord and Player, Jimmy Hendrix. There wasn’t even the crooked finger of the government wagging them in.

More common was the man who stumbled into the mix seeking a place to hide. The hippies were a movement of people who began their journey running away from one thing and ended it running toward a whole other. To see this, we need only imagine one, prototypical hippie, born in 1940 and converted in 1965. Let’s call him Johnny.

From birth, Johnny sat back and watched as the horrors of war unfolded in front of him: his dad fought overseas all throughout his childhood, his mom struggled in poverty, his schools practiced nuclear fallout drills, his friends were drafted and killed in a pointless war. All the while, he’s asking himself why a strong government, a stable career, a Christian faith, or a large family offered none of the protection he and his loved ones were promised it would. In fact, by all appearances, these conventional establishments caused all the tragedy.

Well, the older generations might be too stuck in their ways to see the problem, but Johnny boy is in college now, surrounded by enlightened liberal professors and sour students whose mouths water at the thought of another young soul disillusioned with the system. It doesn’t take long before his hatred for large institutions (religion, government, corporate America) and all the limitations that they impose drive into him the tender arms of the hippie movement. It is in those arms that he “finds himself.”

Panning out a bit, it’s clear that Johnny found himself not by falling into a mold, but by falling into whatever space exceed the molds. There’s a reason why the hippie slept with anyone; seldom bathed or shaved; ate vegetarian; worshipped music; lived in nudist communes; and dressed in neon, beaded, shaggy clothes. It’s because no other group of people did any of those things, let alone all of them. No doctor, priest, businessman, lawyer, housewife, architect, soldier, professor, or any other type of mold (especially in his Western world) featured those characteristics. The hippie had found himself by virtue of losing everyone else.

It wasn’t that irrational of a plan either. In a world where universalizing molds and conforming norms destroy lives, it may seem best to imagine a meta-mold and become its antithesis. Sure, you will be regarded by most as unsuccessful and very near worthless, but you will have one thing that they do not: the ability to claim that you have “found yourself”.

Unfortunately, this is not a long-enduring plan. Just as a secret ceases to be secret as soon as it is shared, the countercultural movement ceases to be countercultural as soon it is followed. How can the hippie claim liberation from conformity if the twin ideologues to his right and left are busy doing the same? By the late 1980s the hippie movement had grown and outgrown a mold of its own.

We have seen this same phenomenon with the hipsters of the 2010s, and I believe we will see it again with the socialists who grow richer by the day. If we are to learn from our mistakes, if we are to silence history’s boisterous stutter, we must identify what could have prevented the birth of such a hollow movement. It would be asking too much of past generations to demand that they had avoided all the evils of the 20th century which precipitated the hippie revolution, yet a few decisive steps could have been taken to keep it from sinking so deep into the bones of the American youth.

For one, the Church could have better preached the true gospel, with less of an emphasis on legalism and more on creatio imago Dei. For another, the home could have been a place of refuge instead of fear. Finally, the American government could have chosen integrity over the corruption which eventually caught the moralizing eye of future generations.

We must ask ourselves: Why would anyone seek to “find themself” outside all molds when, from birth, they were loved and nurtured in a tailored mold created by God, supported by family, and protected by state? Now, there’s a deadly important question aimed at the heart of something truly great.

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