When I grew a beard, let my hair grow long, and
starting acting and speaking like the stereotypical
"hippie," one of my best friends called me a phony,
and stopped being my friend. But I didn't care. There
was a war going on, young people were dying, and I
was going to do whatever I could to stop the carnage.
The "Sixties" was more than just the decade that
came after the fifties and before the seventies. It
was more like an epoch, a place in time when almost
everything we knew changed forever. Some of the movements
that changed the world had their roots in the sixties.
Many of the basic tenets of our society were scrutinized
and either rejected or embraced by a generation, depending
upon where they fell in along the continuum of "hipdom."
Was love cool? Sure, "peace & love man," but not when
Sinatra sang about it, because he supported the war
effort, and went out of his way to criticize the new
music. Was working and getting a job cool? "No, man,
not really," it just supports the corporations who
support and fund the war. Was getting an education
cool? Well, yes, but not business or financial curricula,
the arts and sciences only.
And so it was that virtually every institution in
our society, many of which had remained unquestioned,
unchallenged, and unchanged for centuries, suddenly
came under the microscope of this new generation.
What percentage of this country's and the world's
young people were "hippies" remains an open question.
But the influence this group had on this time period
and beyond was way out of proportion to the number
of people who actually participated in the "movement."
Paramount among the concepts examined was the whole
spectrum of human rights and whether we even approached
the high-minded idealism of those who proffered them.
Whether it was the Bible, the ancient Greek philosophies,
or our Constitution, my generation wanted to know
why we weren't living up to the ideals held within
them, ideals to which, allegedly, we all subscribed.
How could war, any war, be reconciled with the primary
doctrine of the Bible, which so clearly and unambiguously
states: "thou shalt not kill". How could we reconcile
the bedrock tenet of the American Constitution, "all
men are created equal," with segregation and racial
and gender discrimination. These had become such accepted
threads in the fabric of our society that they became
institutionalized in the form of Jim Crow laws and
exclusionary voting rights. How could man be "good,"
as Plato postulated, when he continued to be so heartless
to his fellow man and other living beings? How, in
fact, could we go on building our nest, crafting our
futures, and striving for success, when everything
seemed like such a sham?
Well, many of us didn't. We developed an alternate
culture, "tuned in, turned on and dropped out." This
counter-culture's basic ideology was "peace, love
and compassion for others." Included in this anti-establishment
movement were the seeds of the environmental and animal
rights movements, as a large percentage of this generation
began to extend its compassion to future generations
and those non-human beings incapable of protecting
themselves. The movement that was fueled by drugs,
free love, and rock and roll music, developed it own
institutions such as "love-ins" and Woodstock, and
gave new life to the appreciation of nature and Eastern
And then a funny thing happened. The war in Viet
Nam ended, and suddenly we were a generation of rebels
without a cause. And just as suddenly, in the years
1973-1975, almost everyone got busy with their careers
and building their lives. The pursuit of the all-mighty
buck now re-asserted its influence on those who had,
just a short time ago, rejected it. So what became
of the high-minded ideals and compassionate concepts
we lived by during those years of turmoil? Well, most
of us dismissed them as so much youthful angst and
replaced them with a more realistic view of life as
an inevitable struggle to survive at any cost.
A small minority, however, remained loyal to the
causes for which they fought. No clearer can this
dichotomy be seen than in the "post-revolutionary"
lives of two of the movement's leaders, Jerry Rubin
and Abbie Hoffman. Rubin made the 180 degree turn
and became a thriving member of the "establishment."
He opened a New York disco and became a millionaire,
attaining the lifestyle he had so vehemently opposed
just a few years earlier. Hoffman, on the other hand,
continued to fight for the down-trodden and against
social injustice. He died broke and alone, at a very
So in the final analysis, what were we? Were we a
bunch of spoiled self-indulgent trouble-makers, running
from a war, and afraid for our own skin? Or were we
the vanguards of a new, more compassionate, caring
humanity? No matter how we will ultimately be judged,
no one can deny the influence we had on society. "Equal
Rights" are now much more than just an empty slogan.
The "Sexual Revolution" produced a society with much
looser mores than those of previous generations. And
the environmental and animal rights movements, quite
tangential to the main raison d'Ítre of the movement,
have stuck, and have been gaining strength over the
thirty years since their re-birth in the "sixties."
On a personal level, I got my act together, but not
without a great deal of difficulty. I went back to
claim my destiny, that of being the first in my family
to graduate college. I got the degree, the good job,
the wife, kids, home in the suburbs. I lost my starry
notions along the way. Some people still view me as
being a phony in those years, running away from my
problems and toward a bogus, pointless life. And who
knows, they could be right on some level. But when
I stopped to look at my life at forty-four years old
(my mid-life crisis), I became a vegetarian, because
I needed to get myself back to the garden. I needed
to get back in touch with who I was, and more importantly,
who I am. I was NOT pretending.
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