Honestly, I always sorta hated hippies.
Not the way William F. Buckley did, or Johnny Rotten for that matter.
But still, I could never really abide them.
Historically, they were, for the most part, apolitical stoners and libertine vagabonds who thought the most important things to do amid war and racial strife were to “tune in, turn on, and drop out,” by taking acid, smoking lots of weed, and pissing off their parents.
Although they were often thought of as radical leftists, there was nothing revolutionary about them.
Their “live and let live” ethos meant removing themselves from substantive activism and replacing it with music, drugs, and sex as ways of coping with or shutting out the world, rather than changing it.
In return, Nixon, Agnew, the FBI, and J. Edgar Hoover, were emboldened, bolstered by the apathy of the music festival masses. The impact of the hippie “movement” was to enhance the position of reactionaries, not weaken it.
The hippies prioritized what made them feel good — narcissistic and hyper-individualistic to the core — no matter what else was happening around them.
Children of post-war affluence, they had never known a world of limits like that of their parents, who had lived through the Depression. As such, they saw the need for few if any self-imposed restraints or rules.
Rather, they lived for the moment and for themselves. Because those were all they had ever known.
Even their opposition to the Vietnam War was more about their own desire not to get drafted and die, or see friends die, than because they cared about the fate of Southeast Asians or had a deep critique of American empire.
In that sense, the “counterculture” was incredibly mainstream and hardly counter to anything other than certain aesthetics, like traditional hairstyles, clothing, and personal hygiene.
In fact, what the great Molly Ivins called the “black-and-white ’60s” (and which she said she much preferred to the “color ’60s”) were quite a bit more countercultural in all the ways that mattered.
The Civil Rights Movement, for instance, actually challenged the culture of segregation and Southern white supremacy.
Sure, the foot soldiers typically wore suits, ties, and Sunday church dresses, but despite their conventional appearance, what they did and stood for was infinitely more radical than anything coming out of the Summer of Love or Max Yasgur’s Farm.
Yesterday’s hippies are today’s “spiritual seekers,” self-help cultists, and pain denialists
Aside from a handful of aging burnouts, hippies are blessedly rare today.
But their “don’t worry, be happy” attitude has lived on — it’s just been branded, slapped on a T-shirt, and made the stuff of self-care columns.
As in the ubiquitous “Positive Vibes Only” nonsense you’ll often hear from folks, especially those who insist they’re on some “spiritual journey,” requiring them to see goodness in all things.
These are people who roll their eyes at any column or social media post about systemic racism, economic inequality, long haul COVID, the climate crisis, or any major societal catastrophe.
They accuse those who write such pieces of being depressingly negative and those who read about them as doom scrollers, missing out on all the positive things we could focus on.
Why can’t we look on the bright side? Find the joy and beauty in life? Take a walk in nature? Take up a new hobby? Something, anything, which might replace the negative vibes with positive ones?
Why can’t we just be the change we want to see? They ask.
And so, if you want peace, be peaceful in all things — which means don’t be angry about injustice. Just learn to accept it or fight it with positivity. The energy alone, presumably, can make the difference.
And if not, well, at least you’ll feel better!
If you want a healthier nation, engage in healthy behaviors. Eat better, exercise, and do “breath work.” If enough people catch the wave, we’ll see significant improvements across the board in national well-being.
And if not, at least you’ll feel better!
“Don’t harsh, my mellow bro,” appears to be the sum of their politics.
Because they don’t have politics.
They say things like, “Ugh, I hate politics. I don’t even follow it. It’s all so depressing.”
Yeah, thanks, we know.
But some of us are trying to do something about it because we feel obligated to our fellow citizens, human beings, and the planet.
Because we understand that whether or not you attend to politics, politicians will attend to you.
And because there are legit fascists and other authoritarians actively working to end what limited democracy we have, and responsible, ethical people should resist that.
Which typically requires talking about it, which, in turn, requires us to descend into vibes that are admittedly other than positive.
Meanwhile, some folks are out here trying to monetize their disinterest, stoicism, and ability to distance themselves from pain.
They’re making detachment a lifestyle brand.
And also a sign of remarkable privilege.
Ya know who doesn’t have the luxury to marinate in the vapid world of online influencers 24/7 or spend their time backpacking across Asia or laying around on the beach soaking up the sun and all those positive vibes?
Like, 99.9 percent of the human population, and, if you’re an American, the vast majority of people in your own nation too.
They’re too busy trying to survive, afford food, insulin, rent, college, or child care, to relish in the wonder of God’s creation while sitting on the side of a mountain in the lotus position, reciting Omkara.
To insist on “positive vibes only” in one’s life is not a strategy for being healthy; it’s a strategy for sacrificing the fullness of one’s humanity on the altar of escapism.
Life is tragic every bit as much as joyful.
Indeed, joy can have no meaning except in so far as we understand its opposite — pain, and heartache. To run from the latter in the name of the former leaves us incapable of appreciating the very happiness we seek.
It’s just self-centered hedonism and puffery masquerading as purpose.
It’s toxic positivity, which represses the natural range of emotions that makes us human and renders us incapable of empathizing with those in pain because we end up judging them for not being better regulators of their sadness.
Positive thinking may be fine when there are no other options — but we have options
It’s gotten so bad that even the story of Anne Frank is, in the hands of some, just one big Successory poster.
For fuck’s sake.
Frank was in an attic trying to escape the horrible reality going on outside the home in which she was hiding.
She was a child, and her diary was escapism because escapism is a quintessentially childlike thing to do. It makes sense.
And in a moment like that, it’s probably the healthiest option. Why? Because there was nothing else she could do.
She couldn’t come down out of the Goddamned attic and fight Nazis.
But right now, we are not Anne Frank. At least not yet.
We do have options beyond staying upbeat.
We can resist injustice and those who perpetrate it.
So yeah, if you ever find yourself in an attic, hiding from fascists who want to kill you, feel free to escape into the world of endless optimism and positive vibes by writing trite aphorisms in a diary.
But perhaps if you’d come out of your self-induced happiness coma now and deal with the world as it is, not merely as you’d like it to be, we might get to a place where no one has to hide anymore.
Not from Nazis, medical bills, no-knock raids, new COVID variants, climate catastrophe, or anything else.
Because when it comes to being positive, I’m only positive about one thing: constant positivity is a recipe for disaster.
This post was previously published on An Injustice!.
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