Ode to Hippies

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I was very much the product of the Hippy Movement and was born in 1967 during the ‘Summer of Love’ – my parents were hippies. Hippyism did not just ‘stop’ at that date, but it is probably true that it reached a high water-mark in its history. As a counter-culture movement, it was at the zenith of its powers. Tim Leary (a Harvard Professor) told all young people to ‘tune on, turn in, and drop out’, and his friend Richard Alpert (also a Harvard Professor), advised people to take-up the practice of yoga, go into the forest and look at trees, and turning on the nation by placing LSD in the country’s water supply. At the time, hippies were perceived as Communist-inspired subversives that were trying to bring down Western civilisation from within – not by bullets and bombs, but rather through unconditional love, consideration for others, and a disregard for material possessions and the acquisition of money. Unlike Communists, however, at least the Communists of the time, hippies preferred to smoke dope and drop acid in mutually supporting groups, or alone in beautiful and inspiring environments. The Communism of the USSR and China, for instance, viewed itself as hyper-logical and scientifically advanced, and believed that by changing the outer world, the corresponding inner world could be altered for the better. Hippies more or less believed the exact opposite. They believed that all a person had to do to change the world was to withdraw consent from participating in a system of capitalist excess (live an alternative lifestyle) and everything would be alright.

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The Christian church feared Hippyism dramatically, and many leaflets warning against its influence within Western society were published by various congregations. Hippyism was the enemy within that abandoned good old fashioned Christian teachings, and instead actively engaged in the courtship of the heathen religions and philosophies of Asia – philosophies like Buddhism which is found in China and Vietnam – two Communist countries and perceived enemies of the USA. The Christians of the West believed that the Buddhism of the East – as it was non-reliant on a god-concept – was working hand in hand with the forces of International Communism, and converting Western youth away from the material-worshipping work ethic of the modern church. Although it was true that hippies were on the most part anti-materialist, this fact did not necessarily dove-tail with the assumption that Buddhism (or communism for that matter), had any hand in this transformation. The church authorities were afraid that they might once and for all lose their power over the minds of Westerners (and possibly be tried for the church’s historical crimes), and so its ideologues and strategists formulated responses that only really amounted to firing blinding in the dark and missing the target all the time.

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In the UK – with its extensive Socialist inspired Welfare State – the official hysteria seen in the USA was not so forthcoming. A Socialist British Labour Party that routinely kept in telephonic communication with the Kremlin had no real desire to rock the boat of the British status quo and had the good sense to keep out of the US-initiated Vietnam War. No, criticisms of the hippies in the UK amounted more to the elder generation shouting at younger people to get their hair-cut and get a job! That was about it. In the meantime, there was a relaxing of class distinctions, and many working class hippies found themselves mixing with middle and upper class people who also shared in the ‘peace and love’ mentality – at least on the surface.   In the UK the hippy movement was very much an attack on institutional conservativism. It loosened the bonds of conventionality, and led to a future tolerance and understanding. Of course, this was not all at once, and sometimes not always easy to see. Racism and intolerance, murder and rape, still exist in the UK, but for peace and love to eventually prevail the memory of the Peaceful Revolution of the 1960’s must never be forgotten.

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