June 29, 2017
To: Ken Winter
From: Jim Crowfoot
Some Reflections on “The University of Haight-Ashbury”
I liked reading your interesting and informative essay written in the summer of 1967, based on your 6 weeks experiencing the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. We both experienced the “60s” but from different family backgrounds, different geographic places, and with different living experiences. I was aware of “the Haight,” but never experienced it and reading your observations provided me more information than I previously had about the iconic place during the “summer of love.”
I admire you choosing to go to the Haight and spending 6 weeks experiencing this “alternative place and culture” and being able to critically reflect on this experience while in your early 20s. As you wrote about it you clearly perceived hippie, counter culture as an important and potentially viable means of living and working very differently in contrast to the U.S. “main stream” culture of the 50s-60s including its vocational roles and statuses achieved via higher education.
I was on the traditional high school to college track and never considered any other option nor at the time really focused on the 60’s counter culture until graduate school where I discovered a peer group attracted to an alternative that they sought to at least temporarily create and inhabit.
While 4 years older than you I would not have been able to critically reflect on my choices relative to other major options open to me — at least in theory — at that time in U.S. history. I grew up in a lower middle class family with parents who had not gone to college and who had been deeply impacted by the Depression. I did experience more than average difficulty (17 years of higher education) in finding/deciding on my area of adult work/vocation — initially engineering & business, then pastor/religious leader/chaplain in a state mental hospital, then social psychologist as a means of contributing to social change, and then finally a college teacher in an interdisciplinary setting in a specialty focused on socio-environmental change via environmental advocacy on behalf of marginalized groups/populations.
As I now think about U.S. society in the1950s, I do perceive it as fundamentally flawed and having many bad values and impacts. At the time I was in my early 20s I viewed U.S. society as positive/exemplary ok because the U.S was better than most if not all societies. My ancestors had worked hard to survive but it could have been better for them better potentially for me and others if we had more education had more education that allowed access to better jobs and higher incomes along with greater numbers of life choices.
As you wrote on the second page of your essay having already concluded that U.S./our society was fundamentally bad and you thought and felt, “it is possible for us to encounter the fundamentals anew and to set them aright if necessary. We see how we live, and we can change it, when we encounter al alternative to it: preferably not a paper utopia, but a culture of real people who are living real lives by different everyday axioms.” You learned from the mass media and underground press that in the Haight that people had “simply and directly gone about living a life where love, direct experience, community, vocation, passion, creativity, joy and generosity came first and their experiment was thriving and growing. You report in your essay that you were drawn to SF by a sense that such a living alternative was happening among the hippies that were concentrated in the Haight.
I like that you perceived a wider hippie network across the U.S. of which the Haight had a denser concentration of these hippies. Also you perceived that this movement blended into and included “young activists on college campuses” and “older liberals in govt. and professions and some neighborhoods.” You experienced that “within this formless, expanding network already the alternative is real: people are living it and finding it viable” and that Haight Ashbury is now not a community but a university: a center of vitality and experiment where the young come to learn new definitions of what it is to be a person, to experience and assimilate the alternatives it offers, and usually” after a relatively short period of time much like traditional colleges and universities will return to some part of “straight/traditional 50s” to live and spread the hippie alternative –i.e. “hippie love thing” as best they can.
You perceived that in this “school” everyone is a teacher and much of the learning is active learning and thus experience based and not didactically and abstractly presented and learned. You asserted that the “University of Haight-Ashbury is a better school than yours or mine. You tell your reader that you offer them” a hodgepodge of the hippie movement’s events and facets and people — juxtaposed, whenever possible, to corresponding aspects of our “straight world.” And enjoin us readers to use this to “assemble a picture of the whole as we wish, and decide if it interests us.”
You described the alternative values, attitudes, behaviors, relationships –to people and things — that you observed and experienced. From my reading these alternative you included
Authenticity in relationships — along with minimal judgmentalism (grooving with minimization of judgements).
Fluidity in the uses of time, relationships, material things, intoxicants
Diversity of ages, races, class backgrounds, genders, mental status, etc.
Minimization of ownership and maximizing of sharing
Minimization of economic needs via sharing, simplifying, dematerialization, and time spent working for money
Seeking and accepting intrinsic valuing of persons and things
Letting go of ideas/beliefs and “owning and defending them”
Having dropped out of the system in which she/he were born and found unlivable –there is little symbolic revolt in the Haight
Fully involved in the here and now and “doing his/her thing without holding back
Owning the streets + Diggers Free Store is the paradigms
Trust and faith that an individual’s needs will be met — accepting abundance, future unpredictable and you can deal with matters as they arise
“ …Religion is not a matter of words — a concrete mysticism — an awareness that beyond scientific laws and formal theory, right now you are part of a world that you didn’t create; it stretches tangibly but inexplicably all around you; and being in harmony with this world is heaven and being out of harmony with it is hell. The interesting thing is not the hippies’ clumsy attempts to theologize about where or who this entire world came from, but their easygoing search for the lost harmonies.” Page 18
Vocational problem — — Your long middle paragraph on p. 19 — -really drew my attention as your statement of the challenges learning, internalizing and practicing hippie values and at the same time the graduates of H-A would have needs or useful goods and services and at the same time a need to “do important and satisfying work.” Involving bringing about better uses of America’s beautiful technology” And through doing this. They would “create” real community.
You state the above is possible though you don’t at the time feel that the students of “H-A University” will really do this and you go on describing why — — that much of what takes place in the “Haight” is really fundamentally characterized by a sort of consumerist experience of temporarily altered consciousness — -and the accompanying different forms of malaise –including the panoply of addictions –substance, work, sex, gambling..etc. already present in the main line culture — though at the same time the Haight offers a time and experiencing of drug based and other kicked-back releases from the struggles of groups of young people rebelling from the established culture and sub cultures into which they were born. In the process a few people in the H-A university find a job/vocation related to and expressing something of the counter culture but most do not.
1. What were/are the impacts of the 60’s counter culture on the rest of your life? My life? And persons who we came to know in depth?
2. And now the culture and sub cultures of our elder years as we each observe/experience them generally? E.g. Here at Sunward, and in other ongoing peer groups we each are presently experiencing as well as
3. The “national” polarizations we are experiencing and/or observing?
You end your valuable essay on the note that our society via education — turns lower-class kids into middle –class kids, and then the latter into flower children. “….the whole thing has a crazing, infectious kind of power.” The mystery of fundamental culture change
1. how “withdrawal,” dropping out by individuals is and is not basically transformative by itself unless and until it leads to ongoing growing up in that is basically different than what the former generation experienced and accepted whether willingly or unwillingly.
2. What conditions lead to partial and more than partial transformation from what our parents and their peer groups lived out?
3. What hippie values and practices can be practiced in the present and can be observed as being practiced?
4. What hippie values do I, do you still value? And what future do we see for such values and practices
As you can read — — your essay has helped me begin to reflect on the 60s/counter culture’s impacts on me.
If your open to conversation in response to my reactions to what you shared or questions you are having now revisiting the H-A University…I am up for it.