Millennials Are Hippies Who Hate Hippies

Left-wing activists and countercultural rage: a dialogue

Photo by Natasha Polyakova on Unsplash

Part 1 in a three-part series of reflections on the hippy movement.

I’ve noticed that I feel more positively towards hippies than most — in fact, I prefer their generation to my own — and investigating that feeling has led me into some political, ethical and spiritual territory I’m really enjoying. Hope you enjoy it too.

‘I don’t care what anyone says, I like hippies.’

‘So, who doesn’t?’

‘Everyone. Their right-wing parents hated them because they were too rebellious, and their left-wing parents hated them because they weren’t rebellious enough. Frank Zappa found a way to hate hippies and their parents simultaneously. The punk generation really hated hippies, and they’ve held a ridiculous amount of sway over pop criticism ever since. Even though Year Zero was 43 years ago now.’

‘Go on…’

‘The ’80s decided thumbing your nose at capitalism was childish. The ’90s re-embraced rebellion but stripped it of any shred of utopianism or brotherly love. And the teenagers of the 2000s were the most nondescript generation in human history, so they didn’t even know what they liked — they just sorta vaguely hated hippies.’

‘Hey, I was a teenager in the 2000s.’

‘My point exactly. Hell, hippies didn’t even like themselves after about 1970. A few of them kept the faith, but they mostly lived in caravans on big plots of land where they couldn’t do any harm. The thinkers among them became disillusioned and nihilistic, which explains why they leapt at punk the second it came along. But most of ’em were content to renounce the foolishness of their youth and became The Boomers — i.e. America’s most hated demographic.’

‘Why are we talking about America all of a sudden? You’re not American.’

‘I know, but Americans force us all to pretend we are. My country didn’t even have a Summer of Love, so there’s not much point talking from that perspective. Thankfully I wouldn’t be born for another few decades.’

‘And when you came into the world you Summered it right up, didn’t you.’

‘Thanks for noticing. And that brings me to the younger millennials and older Gen Z-ers. Some of them are those same boring teens from the 2000s, others only hit puberty in the 2010s. But somewhere after 2010 these people all turned into…hippies. They rediscovered politics. And radicalism. And passion. And brotherly love. And drugs that are actually supposed to make you happy. And the generation gap — only they skipped a generation and rebelled against their grandparents.’

‘Aren’t their grandparents the Boomers?’

‘Exactly. My generation’s made up of people who act like hippies for all intents and purposes, but still hate hippies.’

Photo by Giacomo Lucarini on Unsplash

‘Sounds like biting the hand that feeds you.’

‘Well, let’s not be too harsh about it. Like I said, the Boomers as they exist now are hippy defectors, people who gave up on their dreams and embraced late capitalism with a vengeance. They have wildly disproportionate power in politics, business and the media (ever noticed how old presidential candidates are?), which explains why they’re hated by Gen X-ers and Gen Z-ers alike. And they’ve been systematically disenfranchising the little guy since at least the Reagan/Thatcher era. Today the worker has less power than ever. Meanwhile everything’s been privatised, including environmental action and even space exploration. The wealth gap is spiralling out of control. Things have shifted so far to the right economically that ideas that used to be openly discussed and debated are now treated as dangerously radical or just ignored altogether. Until recently anyway.’

‘Assuming you’re not blowing things out of proportion, isn’t that the exact opposite to what we’ve seen happening socially? When it comes to sexuality and other identity matters the Overton window’s been shifting rapidly to the left ever since the ’60s freedom movements got their Power to the People on.’

‘Right: “After the Sixties, the right wing gave us pop culture, but took over everything else. And convinced us that pop culture was all that mattered”. “Pop culture” is a little limiting, so let’s just say “culture”, which is a broad enough term to take in identity politics, the media and the “culture wars”. Anything that isn’t primarily an economic matter basically: LGBT issues, feminist discourse, sensitivity training…’

‘So the left keeps winning the cultural battles and shaping the mainstream narratives, while the right keeps making all the money and gerrymandering their way into political power. The left controls speech, the right controls opportunity. And because both impact every aspect of your life, both sides perpetually feel like the other side controls everything and is successfully marginalising them.’

‘Plus you get all these odd contradictions: middle-class liberals focusing endlessly on identity questions while ignoring the white working-class. Corporations preaching to you about gender and race while making their CEOs obscenely wealthy and denying their workers a living wage. Things have never been more left. And they’ve never been more right.’

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

‘But since Occupy millennials and Gen Z-ers have been focused on economic injustice almost as much as social justice haven’t they? Can’t open a publication without reading someone complaining about the 1%, denouncing the billionaire class or suggesting some kind of wealth redistribution. Even socialism and UBI are back on the cards. Plus, a lot of today’s hottest “culture wars” debates are inseparable from economic concerns: reparations, the pay gap, sex work, preferential hiring and so on.’

‘That’s just what I’m leading up to: just when it looked like unfettered capitalism had won the day forever, just when it looked like the Boomers had finally completed their 180° turn from the values of their youth, just when it looked like authentic rebellion had finally been crushed forever, the kids turned around and said Not today! In 2020 there’s a genuine counterculture again. And a Man worthy of the counterculture’s rage. The Man just happens to be the people who used to oppose the Man.’

‘But despite all that you still…like hippies.’

‘Love ‘em.’

‘And how do you feel about your own generation?’

‘Less enthused.’

‘Explain yourself.’

‘With pleasure. My analysis won’t contain any facts or figures, more a loose collection of sweeping statements, anecdotal evidence, kneejerk reactions, half-formed conjectures and vague gut feelings.’

‘I wouldn’t expect anything less.’

‘Thank you. So let’s leave what the hippies became to the side and focus on what they were in their young, idealistic days. In a nutshell, the hippies of 1966 to 1973 make me feel good. And a lot of the resistance leaders of today make me feel bad.’

‘You certainly weren’t kidding about the “vague gut feelings” thing.’

‘I never lie to my friends. Anyway, hippies were very similar to modern lefties in many ways: some were pacifists, others wanted to attack “the pigs” and burn down their precincts; some wanted to work within the system, others wanted to transform it and still others wanted to violently overthrow it. But it’s fair to say the prevailing mood then was sunnier, more hopeful, less contemptuous.’

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

‘From what we can tell without having been there.’

‘I think the cultural artefacts from the time speak for themselves: the bouncy music, peace ’n’ love poetry, tie-dye t-shirts.’

‘You know what though, I remember our generation seeming happier in the early 2010s. Annoyingly bubbly, actually. Made me miss the down-to-earth pessimism of the ’90s, before things got so silly and infantilised. But for the past five years at least everyone has seemed…angrier. Incredibly angry, actually. Of course, being a lost generation that’s systematically disempowered while authoritarianism makes a comeback will do that to you.’

‘Right. See, I don’t blame people my age for being angry, although I think we’re being encouraged to misdirect our rage. My future’s just as uncertain as anyone else’s from my class bracket, so I can completely see why anger would be the mood of the times — but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.’

‘The anger does seem to be having an effect though, doesn’t it? The hippies tried getting angry and the Man instantly smacked them down: infiltrated them, fed them hard drugs, discouraged them and eventually mowed them down. Nixon got elected in 1969 on a “law and order” ticket. Whereas Trump’s just tried the same thing and it didn’t work. Western countries are more diverse now. The media’s more sympathetic to liberal causes. Even corporations promote lefty values. It’s hard to tell where the culture ends and the counterculture begins.

‘Except that the same people have all the money and political power. And the more you influence the corporate and political worlds the more they influence you back. Today the language of resistance is indistinguishable from the most insincere brand of corporate-speak: “this event promotes diversity and inclusion”, what, seriously? Nice sentiment, but there’s no need to sound like you got the board of directors to sign off on it.’

‘Well it’s more concrete than “peace and love maaaaan”.’

‘Is it? At its best the hippies’ language of resistance was poetic, uplifting, inspiring. They fought capitalism, and the system in general, by rejecting its pervasive influence over the mind, rejecting its frames of reference, being happier than it.’

Photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

‘But if everyone was saying the same things, how sincere were any of them individually?’

‘Impossible to say. Yes, a lot of the hippies talked alike. And a lot of them weren’t that perceptive. They liked to rant and rave about conspiracy theories a lot. But I’m not sure how much they wilfully set out to conform with one another. Maybe terms like ‘Peace, man’ and ‘flower child’ didn’t emerge spontaneously and freely, from the ground up. Maybe they were imposed from the top down and suddenly everyone had to say them on pain of banishment from the tribe, the same way all today’s counterculture terms are handed down to us prepackaged from academia. But I suspect it was more a matter of — ’

‘Everyone being on the same drugs?’


End of Part 1. Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here



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Wabi Sabi

Wabi Sabi


Writer, composer and filmmaker, into soul music and Chinese philosophy. Editor @ The Small Dark Light