I recently read an article about the baby boom generation. The author was quick to point out the self indulgent nature of our generation and how we squandered what our parents’ generation worked so hard to leave us. Baby boomer bashing is all the rage these days and there’s nothing but praise for the “Greatest Generation”. It seems to me that each generation can be praised or condemned depending on what factors are accentuated. World War II gave our parents’ generation a cohesiveness which makes it easy to define them in a positive light. When the bad guys tried to take over the world, they stepped up to the plate, both on the home front and overseas, overcoming tremendous challenges and in the end saving the world. And there are many other positive qualities of this generation. They insured that greater numbers of us could get an education. We were well supplied with food, shelter and opportunities for work. In general, it could be said that our parents’ generation were good, decent, hard working people who sacrificed for the betterment of their families and the country.
But when you look at what the “Greatest Generation” left us, we had our challenges too. It was their generation who got us involved in Vietnam and then forced us to deal with it. For those of us who participated in that war, we came home with a seriously tarnished view of our country, our leaders and the people who supported them. We inherited a more dangerous world, the remnants of an arms race that caused us and the Russians to produce an arsenal of weapons that could totally annihilate all living beings on earth many times over. We inherited an America where capitalistic interests were confused with democracy and allowed to influence government decisions and policies at the expense of the natural environment. Capitalistic exploitation and military might became our primary forms of diplomacy around the world. The profit seeking super companies gobbled up small businesses and family farms. We inherited a dependency on the automobile because the highway system was given priority over other forms of transportation, like subways, trolleys and trains. This led to suburban sprawl which contributed to the death or near death of our cities and towns. We inherited a total dependency for energy on finite natural resources, with no plan of transitioning to renewable forms of energy. This insured our current dependency on foreign oil which continues to get us into all sorts of trouble.
In the 1960’s, our generation not only celebrated sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, (hey, we were young), but we also discovered that many of the priorities and values of the “Greatest Generation” were wrong. Subsequently the hippie movement was born. On college campuses across the country, young people began establishing a new set of values. The essence of these values were; all people on earth are brothers and sisters and we should work out our problems peacefully keeping this in mind. Every human deserves equal respect no matter their race, culture, sex, sexual orientation or age. Each individual has great potential and can make a difference by their personal choices and lifestyle. We should not continue to exploit our natural environment, but learn to live in harmony with it. We should strive to live more simply and not accumulate unneeded possessions. Animals have rights too and should be treated respectfully, even farm animals. Don’t blindly trust government and institutions, but look at what they are preaching and how they are acting, then decide for yourself whether to support them. All major religions have truth at the core and these truths are much greater than the differences on the surface. We should strive to live more simply, grow our food locally, and make more of the decisions about our lives at the local level. Peace and love are the guiding principles.
During my college days in the 70’s, I internalized the “hippie values” and was guided by them. They influenced how I thought and acted, how I voted, what I bought or didn’t buy, and the profession I chose. These values were sort of a “What would Jesus do?” guide for me. In fact maybe Jesus was the first true hippie. Using hippie logic, I could also ask, what would Buddha do? What would Krishna do? Or what would Lao Tse do?
The Beatniks laid the groundwork for the Hippie movement. Their proponents were mainly writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg, and the philosophy was expressed in literary form. The pied pipers of our generation were musicians. They came out of the early 60’s folk music scene and were influenced by the songs of the labor and civil rights movements of the 50’s. Although he denies it, Bob Dylan was our first pied piper in his early years and then with the help of the Byrds showed our musician/poets how to translate the message into rock’n’roll. Unlike today, we were all listening to the same music back then and it was broadcasting the hippie values. The airwaves were full of positive message songs like, The Times They are a Changing, What’s Goin On, Imagine, All You Need is Love, Get Together, Peace Train, He Ain’t Heavy and the list could go on and on. Hollywood jumped on board as well and produced movies like The Graduate, Dr. Strangelove, Little Big Man and The China Syndrome
Across America in our towns and cities there are currently individuals who have kept the hippie values alive. They should be our guides into the future. They sell organically grown produce at farmers markets. They use recycled material in their homes and renewable forms of energy. Many are partially or fully living off the grid. They buy locally and don’t shop at stores or buy products that exploit third world countries or do damage to the environment. And many of them are young people.
At the core of the sixties phenomenon was a significant paradigm shift in how we think about and live in the world. Those who never made this shift in thinking, cannot judge the movement accurately. Our generation inherited huge problems and much of the country is still in denial about them. But there are a significant number of us who embrace the hippie values. The sixties were a time of trial and error. Now in our older years, we should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, for the world needs us and our hippie values more than ever. Peace brothers and sisters.