How the ‘60s ended
The last time that I talked about the ‘60s, as part of the groundwork for showing how liberal and conservative interests overlap, I said I would describe some of the best aspects of that time.
If you only saw the events of that time from the outside, from news footage of riots and demonstrations, you wouldn’t know the goodness people often held for each other. Not all of course. There were certainly self-destructive groups.
But if you were lucky enough to spend time with some of the better groups, whether in a country commune, or in urban shared-housing or a college campus, you would find people full of hugs for one another, constantly trying to give one another positive re-enforcement, keeping one another honest by dealing with minor phoniness or unfairness in an open and positive way, trying to create a sense of community based on the best things in being human. An atmosphere similar to what you will find in some of the best churches.
Fortunately you can still find that attitude in a variety of places including small groups dedicated to trying to make things better today. You can find some of it right here at our own Prescott College.
Of course we were good at generating controversy along the way. “Free love?” Keep in mind these were a lot of 20 somethings with newfound independence and normal hormones. There’s nothing new under the sun. Psychedelic drugs? When drugs such as LSD were first available they were considered a spiritual experience. You may think that was a mistake, but remember, we were trying to find alternatives without a roadmap. Addictive drugs? There are addicts and hangers-on in every era. Marijuana? It should be classified as a recreational drug like alcohol, and it’s the less destructive of the two.
So what happened to all that good will? To some extent it accomplished its goals. Civil rights were extended. The Viet Nam war ended. Then most of us melted into the main culture. What else are you going to do? Few people have the natural eccentricity to comfortably stand outside the culture around them. It's contrary to human nature. In fact we didn’t want to be a separate culture. We wanted to be part of the world we grew up in, but we wanted it to be better. We saw too much materialism and too many blind spots of hypocrisy and we tried to instill the culture with more heart.
All the better parts of the movement were subverted. Take any number of examples. An open, healthy attitude towards the human body as a beautiful part of creation is entirely different from an endless preoccupation with prurient titillation. But which item makes news? If you're a money-focused movie producer who knows a lot of scenes of "free-love" sells, what do you do? And what do people outside the movement make of it when their impressions are formed by such media?
Another example: If a segment of society rejects the mainstream religions as being empty to them and pursue Buddhism and other alternatives to find a stronger spiritual anchor, and someone comes out with the quote "God is dead", what gets broadcast? Despite their spiritual commitment they’re remembered as a bunch of unprincipled hedonists.
The sincere ones were some of the first to sound the alarm that there was something missing from our culture, and to try to goad us into rejecting the easy immersion in commercialism and seek something better. Years later with the materialistic and prurient culture they warned us about having come to fruition, those who don't like the result mistake the messengers for carriers, and blame them.
The budding executive of the 60's who left his job to join the Peace Corp, the hippie who dropped out of business school to participate in a culture that held more meaning for him, the housewife who stopped being one to go protest the war, and, yes, the conservative who rants about the moral bankruptcy of our current culture, all have one thing in common, whether they know it or not. They all find our culture of materialism to be flawed.
It is in our best tradition, repeated in many periods, that people inherit our culture in one state, have a vision of how it can be better, and being a creative people, jump right in and give it our best effort, warts and all. The key thing is to have a clear vision. I think we can come closer to that if we see what we have in common and what our common obstacles are, which I will get to next time.