It is now popular to look back to the sixties for inspiration and insight into how to change society for the better. Candidates are trying to capture the charisma of JFK and other leaders. However, most baby boomers are quick to distance themselves from the hippie counterculture. This social movement is more relevant for our young people than their parents want to admit. Young people see their parents and others as hypocrites for abandoning the hippie agenda for a better world.
I have spent the last decade studying the impacts and implications of the hippie counterculture. In fact, I have a peer-reviewed website that contains a lot of information and inspiration from this amazing movement. For example, I have developed “Seven Habits of Highly Happy Hippies.” In this post I want to share two articles with you that sum up the legacy of the hippie counterculture. Hope this helps you to get hip, happy, high, and healthy.
WE OWE IT ALL TO THE HIPPIES BY STEWART BRAND
(founder of The Whole Earth Almanac)
TIME Magazine SPECIAL ISSUE,
Spring 1995 Volume 145, No. 12
Forget antiwar protests, Woodstock, even long hair. The real legacy of the sixties is the computer revolution
Newcomers to the Internet are often startled to discover themselves not so much in some soulless colony of technocrats as in a kind of cultural Brigadoon – a flowering remnant of the ’60s, when hippie communalism and libertarian politics formed the roots of the modern cyberrevolution. At the time, it all seemed dangerously anarchic (and still does to many), but the counterculture’s scorn for centralized authority provided the philosophical foundations of not only the leaderless Internet but also the entire personal-computer revolution.
We – the generation of the ’60s – were inspired by the “bards and hot-gospellers of technology,” as business historian Peter Drucker described media maven Marshall McLuhan and technophile Buckminster Fuller. And we bought enthusiastically into the exotic technologies of the day, such as Fuller’s geodesic domes and psychoactive drugs like LSD. We learned from them, but ultimately they turned out to be blind alleys. Most of our generation scorned computers as the embodiment of centralized control. But a tiny contingent – later called “hackers” – embraced computers and set about transforming them into tools of liberation. That turned out to be the true royal road to the future.
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Do it yourself,” we said, happily perverting J.F.K.’s Inaugural exhortation. Our ethic of self-reliance came partly from science fiction. We all read Robert Heinlein’s epic Stranger in a Strange Land as well as his libertarian screed-novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Hippies and nerds alike reveled in Heinlein’s contempt for centralized authority. To this day, computer scientists and technicians are almost universally science-fiction fans. And ever since the 1950s, for reasons that are unclear to me, science fiction has been almost universally libertarian in outlook.
As Steven Levy chronicled in his 1984 book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, there were three generations of youthful computer programmers who deliberately led the rest of civilization away from centralized mainframe computers and their predominant sponsor, IBM. “The Hacker Ethic,” articulated by Levy, offered a distinctly countercultural set of tenets. Among them:
“Access to computers should be unlimited and total.”
“All information should be free.”
“Mistrust authority – promote decentralization.”
“You can create art and beauty on a computer.”
“Computers can change your life for the better.”
Nobody had written these down in manifestoes before; it was just the way hackers behaved and talked while shaping the leading edge of computer technology.
In the 1960s and early ’70s, the first generation of hackers emerged in university computer-science departments. They transformed mainframes into virtual personal computers, using a technique called time sharing that provided widespread access to computers. Then in the late ’70s, the second generation invented and manufactured the personal computer. These nonacademic hackers were hard-core counterculture types – like Steve Jobs, a Beatle-haired hippie who had dropped out of Reed College, and Steve Wozniak, a Hewlett-Packard engineer. Before their success with Apple, both Steves developed and sold “blue boxes,” outlaw devices for making free telephone calls. Their contemporary and early collaborator, Lee Felsenstein, who designed the first portable computer, known as the Osborne 1, was a New Left radical who wrote for the renowned underground paper the Berkeley Barb.
As they followed the mantra “Turn on, tune in and drop out,” college students of the ’60s also dropped academia’s traditional disdain for business. “Do your own thing” easily translated into “Start your own business.” Reviled by the broader social establishment, hippies found ready acceptance in the world of small business. They brought an honesty and a dedication to service that was attractive to vendors and customers alike. Success in business made them disinclined to “grow out of” their countercultural values, and it made a number of them wealthy and powerful at a young age.
The third generation of revolutionaries, the software hackers of the early ’80s, created the application, education and entertainment programs for personal computers. Typical was Mitch Kapor, a former transcendental-meditation teacher, who gave us the spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3, which ensured the success of IBM’s Apple-imitating PC. Like most computer pioneers, Kapor is still active. His Electronic Frontier Foundation, which he co-founded with a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, lobbies successfully in Washington for civil rights in cyberspace.
In the years since Levy’s book, a fourth generation of revolutionaries has come to power. Still abiding by the Hacker Ethic, these tens of thousands of netheads have created myriad computer bulletin boards and a nonhierarchical linking system called Usenet. At the same time, they have transformed the Defense Department-sponsored ARPAnet into what has become the global digital epidemic known as the Internet. The average age of today’s Internet users, who number in the tens of millions, is about 30 years. Just as personal computers transformed the ’80s, this latest generation knows that the Net is going to transform the ’90s. With the same ethic that has guided previous generations, today’s users are leading the way with tools created initially as “freeware” or “shareware,” available to anyone who wants them.
Of course, not everyone on the electronic frontier identifies with the countercultural roots of the ’60s. One would hardly call Nicholas Negroponte, the patrician head of MIT’s Media Lab, or Microsoft magnate Bill Gates “hippies.” Yet creative forces continue to emanate from that period. Virtual reality – computerized sensory immersion – was named, largely inspired and partly equipped by Jaron Lanier, who grew up under a geodesic dome in New Mexico, once played clarinet in the New York City subway and still sports dreadlocks halfway down his back. The latest generation of supercomputers, utilizing massive parallel processing, was invented, developed and manufactured by Danny Hillis, a genial longhair who set out to build “a machine that could be proud of us.” Public-key encryption, which can ensure unbreakable privacy for anyone, is the brainchild of Whitfield Diffie, a lifelong peacenik and privacy advocate who declared in a recent interview, “I have always believed the thesis that one’s politics and the character of one’s intellectual work are inseparable.”
Our generation proved in cyberspace that where self-reliance leads, resilience follows, and where generosity leads, prosperity follows. If that dynamic continues, and everything so far suggests that it will, then the information age will bear the distinctive mark of the countercultural ’60s well into the new millennium.
The Hippies Were Right! By Mark Morford,
SF Gate Columnist Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Green homes? Organic food? Nature is good? Time to give the ol’ tie-dyers some respect. Go ahead, name your movement. Name something good and positive and pro-environment and eco-friendly that’s happening right now in the newly “greening” America…
I’m talking about, say, energy-efficient light bulbs. I’m looking at organic foods going mainstream. I mean chemical-free cleaning products widely available at Target and I’m talking saving the whales and protecting the dolphins and I mean yoga studios flourishing in every small town, giant boxes of organic cereal at Costco and non-phthalates dildos at Good Vibes and the Toyota Prius becoming the nation’s oddest status symbol. You know, good things.
Look around: we have entire industries devoted to recycled paper, a new generation of cheap solar-power technology and an Oscar for “An Inconvenient Truth” and even the soulless corporate monsters over at famously heartless joints like Wal-Mart are now claiming that they really, really care about saving the environment because, well, “it’s the right thing to do” (read: It’s purely economic and all about their bottom line because if they don’t start caring they’ll soon be totally screwed on manufacturing and shipping costs at/from all their brutal Chinese sweatshops).
There is but one conclusion you can draw from the astonishing (albeit fitful, bittersweet) pro-environment sea change now happening in the culture and (reluctantly, nervously) in the halls of power in D.C., one thing we must all acknowledge in our wary, jaded, globally warmed universe: The hippies had it right all along. Oh yes they did.
You know it’s true. All this hot enthusiasm for healing the planet and eating whole foods and avoiding chemicals and working with nature and developing the self? Came from the hippies. Alternative health? Hippies. Green cotton? Hippies. Reclaimed wood? Recycling? Humane treatment of animals? Medical pot? Alternative energy? Natural childbirth? Non-GMO seeds? It came from the granola types (who, of course, absorbed much of it from ancient cultures), from the alternative worldviews, from the underground and the sidelines and from far off the goddamn grid and it’s about time the media, the politicians, the culture as a whole sent out a big, wet, hemp-covered apology.
Here’s a suggestion, from one of my more astute ex-hippie readers: Instead of issuing carbon credits so industrial polluters can clear their collective corporate conscience, maybe, to help offset all the savage damage they’ve done to the soul of the planet all these years, these commercial cretins should instead buy some karma credits from the former hippies themselves. You know, from those who’ve been working for the health of the planet, quite thanklessly, for the past 50 years and who have, as a result, built up quite a storehouse of good karma. You think?
Of course, you can easily argue that much of the “authentic” hippie ethos — the anti-corporate ideology, the sexual liberation, the anarchy, the push for civil rights, the experimentation — has been totally leeched out of all these new movements, that corporations have forcibly co-opted and diluted every single technology and humble pro-environment idea and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone and Odwalla smoothie to make them both palatable and profitable. But does this somehow make the organic oils in that body lotion any more harmful? Verily, it does not.
You might also just as easily claim that much of the nation’s reluctant turn toward environmental health has little to do with the hippies per se, that it’s taking the threat of global meltdown combined with the notion of really, really expensive ski tickets to slap the nation’s incredibly obese ass into gear and force consumers to begin to wake up to the savage gluttony and wastefulness of American culture as everyone starts wondering, oh my God, what’s going to happen to swimming pools and NASCAR and free shipping from Amazon? Of course, without the ’60s groundwork, without all the radical ideas and seeds of change planted nearly five decades ago, what we’d be turning to in our time of need would be a great deal more hopeless indeed.
But if you’re really bitter and shortsighted, you could say the entire hippie movement overall was just incredibly overrated, gets far too much cultural credit for far too little actual impact, was pretty much a giant excuse to slack off and enjoy dirty lazy responsibility-free sex romps and do a ton of drugs and avoid Vietnam and not bathe for a month and name your child Sunflower or Shiva Moon or Chakra Lennon Sapphire Bumblebee. This is what’s called the reactionary simpleton’s view. It blithely ignores history, perspective, the evolution of culture as a whole. You know, just like America.
But, you know, whatever. The proofs are easy enough to trace. The core values and environmental groundwork laid by the ’60s counterculture are still so intact and potent even the stiffest neocon Republican has to acknowledge their extant power. It’s all right there: Treehugger.com is the new ’60s underground hippy zine. Ecstasy is the new LSD. Visible tattoos are the new longhairs. And bands as diverse as Pearl Jam to Bright Eyes to NIN to the Dixie Chicks are writing savage anti-Bush, anti-war songs for a new, ultra-jaded generation.
And oh yes, speaking of good ol’ MDMA (Ecstasy), even drug culture is getting some new respect. Staid old Time mag just ran a rather snide little story about the new studies being conducted by Harvard and the National Institute of Mental Health into the astonishing psychospiritual benefits of goodly entheogens such as LSD, psilocybin and MDMA. Unfortunately, the piece basically backhands Timothy Leary and the entire “excessive,” “naive” drug culture of yore in favor of much more “sane” and “careful” scientific analysis happening now, as if the only valid methods for attaining knowledge and an understanding of spirit were through control groups and clinical, mysticism-free examination. Please.
Still, the fact that serious scientific research into entheogens is being conducted even in the face of the most anti-science, pro-pharmaceutical, ultra-conservative presidential regime in recent history is proof enough that all the hoary old hippie mantras about expanding the mind and touching God through drugs were onto something after all (yes, duh). Tim Leary is probably smiling wildly right now — though that might be due to all the mushrooms he’s been sharing with Kerouac and Einstein and Mary Magdalene. Mmm, heaven.
Of course, true hippie values mean you’re not really supposed to care about or attach to any of this, you don’t give a damn for the hollow ego stroke of being right all along, for slapping the culture upside the head and saying, See? Do you see? It was never about the long hair and the folk music and Woodstock and taking so much acid you see Jesus and Shiva and Buddha tongue kissing in a hammock on the Dog Star, nimrods.
It was, always and forever, about connectedness. It was about how we are all in this together. It was about resisting the status quo and fighting tyrannical corporate/political power and it was about opening your consciousness and seeing new possibilities of how we can all live with something resembling actual respect for the planet, for alternative cultures, for each other. You know, all that typical hippie crap no one believes in anymore. Right?