Shout-out to Kode9, recently unearthing Mark’s old essay “SF Capital”, written back when he still didn’t trust the hippies. He noted that the following passage is oddly resonant with the Postcapitalist Desire lectures:
The smooth transition from hippy to hyper-capitalist, from slacker hedonism to authoritarianism, from engagement to entertainment, retrospectively reveals what the punks knew so we when they cackled ‘never trust a hippie’. Far from posing any threat to capitalism, the dope-smoking, soap-dodging rockers of the 60s were acting as capitalism’s reserve army of exploiters, whose time spent at festivals and on the experimental avant-garde fringe did little or nothing to engineer lines of collective escape, but yielded instead resources for the new forms of enslavement that loom everywhere around us now.
In our present moment, and following the softening of Mark’s militantly anti-hippie sentiments, the hippies remain far from vindicated. The issue, perhaps, is that we can’t trust the punks either. Far from posing any threat to capitalism, they lay the groundwork for new forms of reaction.
Post-punk? In 2020, even Nick Cave is an anti-masker.
I’d say this speaks more broadly to how our entire society has become reactionary from high levels of stress, anxiety, and trauma (see the work on high inequality such as Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, but particularly Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder). Sure, many hippies became yuppies and Democratic corporatists, war-mongers, and tough-on-crime authoritarians. But maybe just as many punks became Republicans, Tea Partiers, Fox News watchers, and Trump supporters.
This is what the reactionary, as a mind virus, can do to any of us. To scapegoat a single group as a stereotype is not helpful. I would note there is some interesting info that came out of the most recent PRRI values survey. Like a recent Fox News poll, it showed that the vast majority of Americans are fundamentally and broadly progressive, not reactionary. That isn’t to say the average American can’t be manipulated by reactionary rhetoric, but it indicates that this is not their first impulse. The thing is, in a banana republic that is highly propagandized, it’s not hard to maintain social control by targeting the most reactionary elements.
For example, white evangelicals are a tiny percentage of the population and yet a quarter of the voters. They are part of a small minority that includes partisan Republicans, specifically Republicans who watch and trust Fox News. That is what the PRRI data showed. They are a minority and yet in the corporate media and corporatist politics, including the supposed ‘liberal’ media, they are treated as a majority or near majority. The megaphone given to this extremely reactionary demographic causes the suppressed and silenced majority to not realize they are a maority. Still, I don’t know if it is helpful, much less compassionate and wise, to blame this highly indoctrinated and manipulated part of the population.
Anyway, it’s far from clear that most hippies and most punks ever joined the reactionary forces and embaced the counter-revolution. Plenty of evidence indicates otherwise. But we don’t live in a representative democracy, much less a direct democracy. What most people think, believe, value, and want is irrelevant to the functioning of this authoritarian system. It would be sad to blame the disempowered and disenfranchised majority for the dominance of a minority. More than any individuals or groups, it’s the whole society and culture that has turned reactionary as fear, distrust, cynicism, and outrage has taken hold.
Don’t ever trust what you hear in the media, especially not the corporate media. But even be mistrusting of much of what you hear in the alternative media that often follows the ideological and narrative framing of ‘mainstream’ media. Is blaming the hippies or else blaming the punks (or blaming both) really any different than Richard Hofstadter earlier last century blaming the populists by portraying them as a caricature? It can feel like those criticizing reactionaries are often reactionaries themselves. History has shown that the rise of authoritarianism often has depended on the support of a well-educated middle class that turns reactionary.
As such, even public intellectuals, not limited to the highest echelons of the intellectual elite, can easily fall into the reactionary mind. This is too often true of many otherwise critical leftist voices who otherwise are discerning. I’m constantly surprised where I see reactionary tendencies popping up, often in ways that the individual is oblivious to. None of us is immune from such mind viruses in their memetic power and persuasion. At this point, we might all be carriers of this madness, what some call Wetiko. The moment we look to blaming others we are most vulnerable. We have met the enemy and he is us.
I posted a comment. And it didn’t show up. It did have two links in it. Knowing WordPress, it probably got thrown into Spam or Trash. Could you look for it and retrieve it from oblivion? Thanks!
There are some other thoughts related to my disappeared comment. I was thinking about these groups more demographically, as I was l looking at the demographic data in writing the recent posts I liked in that other comment. It’s often helpful to dig down into the specific details of the groups we are talking about, as opposed to using generalized stereotypes tha have been distorted by decades of media reporting, political rhetoric, and historical revisionism.
I’m not sure about ‘punks’. It’s hard to imagine what exact demographics that might corresond to, at least in terms of what would be found in polling data, voting data, census data, etc. The category of ‘hippies’ is also a bit vague, but it’s easier to grasp that with some historical knowledge of who joined the various movements in the 1960s. Hippies were never a single, coherent movement, although there were some common groups that were involved.
As a side note, it’s easy to forget that the 1960s was also the time of the rise of the Young Republicans and the new evangelical movement. The latter sometimes overlapped with the hippies. Many hippies were or became born-agains or other varieties of Christians who adhered to non-hierarchical and non-authoritarian views. There has long been a mix of counterculture, communes, homesteading, homeschooling, etc. What was considered alternative forms of Christianity was a part of this mix.
As with early countercultural libertarians who were left-wingers, evangelicalism wasn’t always associated with the reactionary mind, right-wing politics, and the Republican Party. In the 19th century, evangelicals were the strongest defenders of the separation of church and state. There was a radical element in that tradition that carried over into mid-20th century. The hippy emphasis on love easily resonated with certain Christian views that emphasized God as love. I’m familiar with this because I was raised in such a Christian sect that attracted many hippy types.
All of that said, there were other lines of countercultural development that bypassed the hippies and punks and whatever they turned into. These others swam against the reactionary tide. There were those cultural icons like William S. Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and Robert Anton Wilson who sought to confront what humanity and freedom could mean in a time of authoritarian power and conrol. Many hippies and punks would have been drawn to these voices, but they remained a separate stream of thought and influence. It’s interesting to think where WSB, PKD, and RAW would be politically positioned today if they were still around.
It would be interesting to have a survey done on the older generations. What are their demographic details now and when they were younger? What were they doing in youth and early adulthood and now in older age? What views and identities did they hold back then compared to presently?
I was wondering about this as there are some patterns one can see within certain groups. In traveling around Iowa where I live, one will run into a lot of old hippies who moved back to small towns and rural areas. I suppose they did so for cheaper housing, raising kids, being closer to family, etc. But I don’t know where they ended up politically.
Then I think of another category of people. What is common to Hillary Clinton, Arianna Huffington, and Thomas Frank? They are all appoximately of the Boomer Generation and originally were Young Republicans. A large part of the New Democrats or Clinton Democrats are former Republicans when it was still a party with a memory of Ike. That is how the Democrats became the new conservative party.
Punks or former punks could make for an even more fascinating study. We might need an anthropologist to dig into that sub-population. Actually, an anthropological study of any of these aging groups would probably bring up unpredicted info and surprising insights about how people change and why. Anthropologists have studied other populations like rural whites, evangelicals, etc. Why not these other groups?
On a related note, do you know the documentary about Fox News, The Brainwashing of My Dad? The filmmaker explained that her father, before being indoctrinated into reactionary thought and right-wing politics, was quite liberal and tolerant when she was younger. The same was true of my parents to some degree prior to rise of Fox News and right-wing talk radio. My mother now rails against abortion as baby-killing, but my dad said when they were first married she was pro-choice which she now denies.